Toilet designed by a fashion designer

These are a few slides from a talk I gave to a group of high school students on the media messages and their impact on our lives/body image last year, as part of the Eating Disorders Foundation of NSW‘s annual Youth Forum.

fashiondesigner1.jpg

Fashion designers work to a fantasy of what the human body looks like. They are taught how to draw human figures in a distorted, idealised way.

fashiondesigner2.jpg

The two figures in the middle are typical of fashion design drawings. Designs are based on these oddly proportioned, fantasy, body shapes.

The figures on either side were statistical averages from a series of anthropometrics studies done with US military personnel. Whilst limited to a select age range and profession, these nonetheless are based on measurable and observable reality. These are real body shapes. ( From Human Dimension & Interior Space by Julius Panero and Martin Zelnilk)

fashiondesigner3.jpg

If a product designer were to work off the same fantasy body shapes that fashion designers so, a typical toilet would look like this.

None of us would willingly climb a stepladder every time we need to use our toilet – how silly would that be? And yet, why is it that we continue to try and fit into clothes that were not designed for our bodies to begin with, or shoes that are uncomfortable and damage our feet?

This is most peculiar.

38 comments

  1. Stilgherrian · If fashion designers made toilets… said:

    [...] Click though to see what this distorted image would mean for the design of a toilet. [...]

  2. Stilgherrian said:

    In a lovely coincidence, this week Polish researchers announced that we’re sexually attracted to legs 5% longer than average.

    Short legs are linked with “a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes and with higher levels of a body fat called triglyceride, which is linked to the clogging of the arteries, heart disease, strokes and insulin resistance in men”.

    Yet another example of “sex sells”, it seems.

  3. Zern said:

    I also read somewhere that the current ideal for the female figure as portrayed in the media actually matches that of a 10 year old boy in reality. Now that’s seriously warped!

  4. Veronica said:

    thats crazy about what zern said

  5. brigette said:

    its great that your speaking to teens about body image and eating disorders influenced by media; but do more in depth research about fashion illustration before you stereotype the fashion figure as “fantasy idealized figures”. I am a design student my self and we are not told to draw them in a fantasy way because that’s ideal; but rather the proportions with longer legs are created to make the sketch more efficiently to convey important garment details such as hems, pleats, gathers etc.

  6. Zern said:

    Thanks for the comment Brigette.

    I did not know that the distortions to the body shape are done to help designers communicate details of the design that would otherwise be too small to represent clearly.
    So the intention is not to portray or push some ideal body shape. This is good to know.

    Having said this, and assuming I have understood you correctly, this practice still supports my point.

    If you design to a distorted basis (regardless of the intention behind the distortion) then you are not really designing for reality. And if you are not designing for reality, you are making art (which does not have to conform to reality).

    Taking the same logic, one would expect to see the blueprint for a car with a HUGE engine and tidy cabin. This would be because the engine is the most complex, and therefore the blueprint had to be distorted to show all the details.

    Similarly, the blueprint for a house would show a GINORMOUS kitchen and bathrooms, as these are the most complex elements of a house. And therefore the drawing has to be distorted to show all the details.

    I somehow doubt punters will flock to buy such distorted houses and cars.

    Indeed, coming back to fashion drawings, I could contend that typically, the trousers and skirts I have seen tend to have less detail in the leg area. The most detail tend to be around the waist area – pockets, seams, pleats, belts. Going by this logic, shouldn’t the figures have relatively short legs and HUGE hips instead?

    :)

    I apologise if I seem to be attacking you personally Brigette, believe me I am not. I am simply questioning a long-held practice. A practice that has implications on wider society. These drawings are shown to the public afterall.

    Perhaps it is time to revolutionise production drawing for fashion designers? If the drawing is too small to show details, draw a close-up view at a larger scale. Architects and product designers have been doing it for ages. Some inter-disciplinary learning could be useful here.

  7. Gavelect said:

    The clothing or fashion market is a multi-billion-pound industry and the constantly changing styles that dominate it are largely dictated by well-known designers who showcase their new seasonal collections several times a year at fashion shows in cities such as New York, London and Paris so because it is something I am interested in I thought I would try my luck at getting a piece of the action and wright some fashion fashion blogs – so I hope you don’t mind that I am scouring the net to get some idea’s from other peoples blogs to see exactly whats hot and not, yours has giving me a few fashion science tips, Thanks

  8. Fashion Trends said:

    I love your thoughts! I normally don\’t even bother to leave comments, but I wanted to let you know that you hit the nail on the head!

  9. Zern said:

    Awww – thank you Fashion Trends!

  10. kairi said:

    I think this is so true. I hate the fact that fashion designers design in the fantasy world, it makes the more vulnerable believe that’s how we should look and leads to many eating disorders… your opinion is very logical. I’m an artist and I have to conform to the rules of the real world. to draw a figure correctly as nature intended is VITAL. why should fashion designers be any different? are they designers or abstract artists? you’re completely right in saying that the clothes that are designed on those models aren’t made to fit us. because they’re blatantly not. it’s unrealistic. fashion designers should be forced to conform to realistic proportions if they are to design something for real people in the real world.

    and @ bridget… if all designers including *graphics architectural, and product designers* distorted their designs to fit in more detail. nothing would work correctly. your argument makes no sense. If I were a graphics designer, I would be set a format to create for… you HAVE a format to design to, you just choose to ignore it because it is not aesthetically pleasing enough… humans come in all shapes and sizes… the sooner people embrace that fact, the sooner we can all have garments that fit. regardless of whether you’re a trained fashion designer or any other form of designer. you should know the importance of KNOWING your proportions.
    as Zern said “If the drawing is too small to show details, draw a close-up view at a larger scale. Architects and product designers have been doing it for ages. Some inter-disciplinary learning could be useful here.” designing to a fantasy figure will only give you flawed results. take it from a seasoned character designer… someone who knows what humans look like in the real world

  11. kairi said:

    oh and one last thing… according to leonardo da vinci’s rule of proportion. an average human is 7 to 8 heads long for a whole body standing upright, in the image supplied it’s around 13 heads long! I counted 8 by the time I got to the knee!! the feet should have been there! that’s just surreal! nobody can say that they can realistically design on that.. it’s no wonder I can never find jeans to fit me.

  12. Existential mulling 1 – Blogging said:

    [...] thought. They have been consistently enlightening and supportive. An example is my post about how fashion designers work from a basis of fantasy, unlike all other design [...]

  13. A fashion industry “revolution” said:

    [...] See also my previous post Toilet designed by a fashion designer… [...]

  14. American Fashion Designer said:

    Unfortunately, your shortsighted and narrow criticism is with a partial and bias view tarnished with mockery, for the true reality in fashion design is unreality (fantasy), a necessary evil, because on the catwalk (showroom) it is still a “fashion concept” that requires at this presentational state “theater” and the pushing of the design envelop to generate the essential enthusiasm and visual excitement required to persuade buyers to purchase the pieces for distribution, outlets and the marketplace, way before the public ever sees the ultimate refined product subsequently adapted from the catwalk for average human bodies and for MASS PRODUCTION. If the element of the unreal and fantasy were entirely suppressed in an effort to design for average people and average models wearing the average fashions, then the created pieces would appear extremely mundane and mediocre on the catwalk and gross disinterest would prevail from the buyers. Just like in the automotive industry, the “concept cars” (in the presentational showroom) serve to generate buyer and consumer enthusiasm but are never actually sold, bought and used by the general public; instead, they are adapted later into a final product that can be MASS PRODUCED and cost reduced for the average consumer. You really should become more abreast and familiar of the processes involved from design to marketing, instead of getting caught up in PC reaction and criticism based on what uninformed outsider to the design industries extol.

  15. Zern said:

    @American Fashion Designer: Thank you for your comment. You have raised several interesting thought-provoking points.

    I love fantasy; exciting conceptual stuff that is not based on reality – for their ability to generate excitement and wonder. That’s why I enjoy movies like Avatar, go to the theatre, and visit contemporary art shows. For the same reason, as you have pointed out, I enjoy looking at concept cars, show houses, concept laptops, and concept furniture.

    The thing that I will point out is this: concept cars, laptops and furniture all still universally conform to the realities of the average human body. This is an immutable fact, a necessary constraint of the design profession.

    Doing otherwise will make these art pieces, not design. Art is great, it frees the creators from the constraints of usability, ergonomics, mass manufacturability and indeed ethical concerns. Perhaps that is the basis of the discussion here – fashion “design” as it is portrayed on mass media is actually art, not design! Because it is based on fantasy.

    A concept car designed for 6-limbed aliens would be a piece of art.

    I disagree with your comment that if we remove the fantasy element, we will kill the industry. None of the other design professions out there pass off fantasy as reality like the fashion industry does. The architecture profession certainly does not base their marketing primarily on mass media-fuelled shows of concept houses designed for headless people, or Jovian atmospheric gasbags.

    I am entering my 18th year as a design professional so I think I know something about product development – including user needs analysis, ergonomics, user psychology, usability, ethical production, sustainable design, and yes – fun and delight and beauty and joy.

    I know there are many MANY talented real fashion designers who actually design. Is it hard for you guys in an industry where the fluffy unreal conceptual stuff seem to overshadow everything else?

  16. Natasha said:

    Interesting to see how much power the words ‘design’ and ‘designer’ have. I think that perhaps the words have no power at all, but the meanings inferred and implied do. I think that perhaps our urgency to fix the definition, to condemn another’s interpretation reflect the urgency we feel to be understood and not to be limited in ways that make little sense to us.

    Helps me think about why I hate being called a copywriter – when I trade words for money, which is pretty much the definition of one! I’ve been using the term ‘copywriting with bells on’ recently. I’m bothered about the definition of copywriting leaving out the element of design – of planning and thinking, crafting and elegantly solving a problem.

    So I’ll call myself a ‘designer’ too, we can’t share our definition of what this means but we can be connected through our understanding of what it feels like to seek self autonomy.

  17. Zern said:

    I would have thought copywriting is a form of design. The process of understanding the client’s needs, the audience, the medium, and then constructing a solution appropriate to all these constraints…

  18. Design can take a moral position said:

    [...] Which tied in nicely with the recent comments on one of my older blog posts Toilet designed by a fashion designer. [...]

  19. art'alert said:

    @zern; go bother some one else blog with your hypocritical bullshit on fashion! a fashion design drawing isn’t going to give a some girl bulimia. fashion design is a art and art is how we perceive reality so when drawing a model with long slender legs that’s how i perceive the reality of how the garment will look like. its OK to exaggerate. why pinpoint at the weight issue…..seeing a expensive drawing of a car doesn’t make you want to sell everything and buy it? come on this is a great blog quit trying to look for a fault!

  20. Zern said:

    Thanks for the comment art’alert.

    Designers must be accountable for the moral and ethical implications of their work. Businesses must be accountable for their actions. Likewise whole industries. Doing otherwise is simply being irresponsible. And look where that has taken the world today.

    But of course, you can choose to work outside of reality. Everyone has a right to denial. You can choose to ignore the ethical implications of your work. And yes, you can choose to support and industry that is doing bad things to other people.

    Just as I can choose to highlight practices that I see are wrong or insane.

    (At least that drawing of the car will look like most humans can fit into it!)

  21. Lana said:

    The figures in the picture show that the hips are where normally the waist is supposed to be, which would mean that all pants should be to long.
    Wll, then I wonder why I can hardly ever find pants that are long enough for me.
    The problem in my opinion is not that designers design clothing with such an ideal figure in their head, but that their is no such thing as an ideal person.
    If designers would design clothing for people with wide hips and short legs it would just be someone else who does the complaining.
    Cars do not always fit people either, there are cars that some people cannot or can hardly drive because of their size. There are houses that are to small for the people living in them, when I work in a normal sized kitchen my back starts hurting because the counters are not high enough, when i go into the basement I cannot stand upright because either the ceiling is to low or i am to tall.
    Concerning a toilet designed by a fashion designer, the one we have at home is higher than normal, because my granddad could not get up by himself sitting down on a normal sized one due to old age.
    … there are many more examples where the world people create for people does not always fit.

    That is just the way it is, hardly anything in this world is perfect for more than a select group.

    Please do not get me wrong I do wish that the world would fit my size all the time, but then it would not fit most of the rest anymore. Thankfully most clothes are differently shaped, so that sometimes i do find pants that are long enough and tops that my chest fits into. It is different in differet years, this year it seems as if small chested is in fashion and i can hardly find a top that does not squish mine but I am sure that lot of others are happy about it and maybe next year ore the one after that most tops won’t be made for a women with a tiny chest.

    In that sense have fun shopping

    (please forgive me if the language and the spelling is not perfect I am not a native speaker)

  22. fashionlover said:

    First of all, I want to admit to being a total clothes-nut. And I am one of those fortunate females to be born above average height and evenly proportioned so that I can walk into any store and wear a size 4 off the rack. The reason I am stating this is to show that I have no personal ‘axe to grind.’ That being said, I agree with you Zern and have two things to add to your argument. When you said the fashion industry’s approach to women’s bodies seem “peculiar” and “irrational” I think it is by design (pun intended). Studies on human motivation show that humans are driven to rationalize irrational behavior (hence, the passionate but fallacious arguments that drawing an unrealistic figure is to show details or that ‘fashion design’ is only ‘conceptual design’). Secondly, as much as I love clothes, I’ve always been bothered by what seems to me to be an embedded misogyny in that industry (e.g. fashions that are very unflattering on the average female body, extraordinary number of males in control of an essentially female industry, etc.). I think your argument assumes that people in the fashion industry are not aware of the negative/unethical results of their actions. While, some may indeed be unaware, I think the majority are simply indifferent. I do not mean that in a pejorative sense. I think most would agree fashion has an artistic component that goes far beyond mere functionality (i.e. we don’t just wear clothes to protect our bodies from the element). Art is subjective (not-rational) after all – some of the clothes on runways make me gasp with awe and delight. Thus, I understand the artist defending her/his art. I get that part. Nevertheless, I would remind aspiring fashion designers that without ethical principles even beautiful art could be become destructive. Ethical principles DO have a place in creating beautiful fashion. Anorexic models, impossible ‘Barbie’ ideals, air-brushed fake photos in magazines, etc. all lead to serious negative social consequences.

  23. Zern said:

    @Lana

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    “…I do wish that the world would fit my size all the time, but then it would not fit most of the rest anymore.” Yes!!!

    You are right that in a mass production situation, it is not possible to have one-size-fits all. But we can use statistics to try and fit as many of the population as we can. That would be logical and sensible right?

    The problem I see in the practice of fashion design is that the industry chooses to design for a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the market – ie women shaped like ten-year-old boys (I forget where this comparison came from). This makes no sense. And perpetuates an unrealistic body image for the majority of women.

    Most people will fit into most cars. But most women do not look like the drawings fashion designers use!

  24. Zern said:

    @fashionlover

    Thanks for the comment. Great points beautifully made!!!

    Yes the decision to use an uncommon body shape as the baseline design target is BY DESIGN! Hence it is also up to designers to change this trend. That would be the enlightened thing to do. It will also be a great design challenge – how can you use your talent to make most women look and feel fantastic? Now THAT is an amazing goal.

    Yes we do rationalise irrational behaviour. I do it too!

    Yes there have been creations on the runways that have made me go “oh wow”. Absolutely beautiful pieces. But my point still stands. I can create a stunning website that required 8 24″ screens to display. But I would not pretend that is deliverable to the general public as a piece of usable, practicable, functional design – I would not presume to tell everyone they must own 8 24″ monitors to be valid.

    Why are there more male fashion designers than female ones? That’s an interesting point. Anyone?

    Indifference. Hit it on the nail there. Worse than ignorance.

  25. Milca said:

    I am a Dressmaker and I do design some times. I think fashion design is a wonderfull art, beautifull and some times crazy. Fashion designers are artist expresing but some times they forget that people will dress with those designs. I work with each cliente and I get to know them and that give me diferent idea of “fashion design”. Is very personal and every one has to be responsible of what they want to dress on.
    To work with a cliente is magic because is a very especial dress, design for her body, her personality and as a dressmaker I play with the materials and enjoy every minute of it.
    Whatever you do dont lose the passion for you work.
    (sorry about the english. Is my second lenguage)

  26. Prateeq said:

    Dear zern,

    i am a fashion designer, and i read what u wrote about fashion illustrations. The illustrations are called so because they are indeed just to illustrate the look and feel of the garment. They do not represent in any which way proportions or the size of an ideal body. The fashion figure is a 9 head figure and a human real figure would be less than 7, so they definitely dont represent a human form. Designs for garments is a serious business which is an amalgamation of art and commerce. we need to illustrate garments in a way the deatils are clear, we can show the hem, flow, fall n fit of the garments, drawing it on a real size figure wont solve the purpose, it ESSENTIALLY DOESN’T MEAN THAT WE MAKE THE DESIGNS FOR UNREAL PEOPLE. The designs are essentially for real people, real figures just that the representation is longer because it is necesary.

    Also, an illustration is not for normal non fashion people to see and analyse, it if for the designer to understand what his imagination will look like. and for him to think how to construct the garment he has designed.

    i think its just juvinile to complain about something u arent meant to analyse ans even see.

  27. Zern said:

    Hi Prateeq, I really appreciate you taking the time to write a considered response. Thank you.

    I think you have helped underline my core point. :) No other design industry (all of which is an amalgamation of art and commerce) I know of use construction drawings based on consciously misrepresented and distorted reality. So why does the fashion industry do this?

    It is interesting to note that these drawings are not meant to be seen by the public. I would strongly suggest that these drawings are very much seen by the general public – both as drawings as well as in the selection of models and the shaping of mannequins.

    This is not a complaint for the sake of complaining. I have worked with the NSW Eating Disorders Foundation, and have had serious discussions with women and teenagers about issues around body image and the power the fashion industry and media have to create and reinforce unhealthy and fatal expectations women (and increasingly men) have over their bodies.

    I hope more designers wake up to this and start questioning some of the practices of the industry.

  28. Fashion design drawing IS reality! said:

    [...] I stand corrected! See my previous post Toilet designed by a fashion designer. [...]

  29. D.E said:

    I would just like to point out that only an idiot would create clothing to an 8 or 9 heads drawing. Everyone works to real measuremeants, class manniquins will be a uk 8/10/12 standard.
    I do think that there is an extreme problem with unhealthy body images but you can’t push that entirely onto the fashion industry, it is perpetuating the issue but it does so because that is the current mindset. It is slowly changing, so one step at a time! But I do think your post is incorrect and slightly offensive.
    I know you have said above that the illustrations are seen by the general public but thats quite an overstatement. The only time the true desin sketches are shown in entirety are in art books. Illustration is an art form. And the body shape of it will change as perceptions of beauty, and how clothes drape best change.
    What happens after you illustrate (although many designers dont) is that you draw a techinal flat drawing
    eg. http://pinkyshears.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/janelle-washingtonfashion_flats-22.jpg (this is a childs jacket but is the best example I found)
    Flats are drawn to a realistic template, much more like the real body shape you posted for comparison above. This is what clothes are made from. So anybody saying that is why you can’t ever find jeans to fit is wrong. Somewhere a company will have made something to your size, but each brand can only produce so many differnt fits and they will do the most common ones to sell.
    Please don’t take this as me ignoring health issues, I agree that some designers choose an anorexic appearence to sell their clothing but please don’t label it as the ‘fashion industry’

  30. rodiansinger said:

    I hope someday to be a fashion designer for plus sized clothing, because I’ve noticed that all fashion is designed to look good on twig thin models, and then just remade in larger sizes. It’s stupid

  31. Zern said:

    You mean – be a fashion design who acknowledges and works with _reality_?!!! Good for you rodiansinger.

  32. mike duderbody said:

    the writer of this story patently didn’t do any research and knows nothing of the fashion industry, because if he did, he would know we are not taught to draw figures like this because it is “ideal.” it is for the intent of getting the dramatic image across of the apparel item of subject. it displays much better when it is elongated, and the figure has nothing to do with the fashion industry’s expectations.

    it’s a good project for such a class, but you fools are supposed to be teachers and are pretty much making derogatory suggestions of this industry. students trust you. i don’t think anyone should.

    ..and it’s a good thing you used military croquis profiles because they are required to stay in shape, and are as close to a fashion croquis as you could find, because you could never use one from an average person off the streets, as everyone clearly knows, no one apires to look like that, because i have yet to see more than three people in a row ever who give half a care for their bodies.

    that figure may be your fantasy body, but it certainly is not a smart one to aspire to.

  33. mike duderbody said:

    ..btw, based on kinesics, and ergonomics, that toilet wouldn’t even be useable by the fashion croquis.

  34. elham abdolrazagian said:

    hi ,my name is elham and im from iran.i like your works.they are so good.im 18 and i design dresses in home for my own.i dont know how i can be developed my works.and my works are good and want you to see them if you want please.i need your or someones help.i really know that i can be designer.please help me.
    thanks

  35. Zern said:

    Hi Elham,

    My immediate thoughts for you would be to

    (a) set up a portfolio of your work on a free blogging site (like blogger.com) or a portfolio site (like behance.com) to show your work to the world; and

    (b)find forums and other places online where people talk about fashion design (sensibly) and get involved with the conversations.

    Follow your heart. Be aware of your impact on others. And have fun!

  36. fashion design review | kalaitema said:

    [...] Source Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Fashion design and tagged design, fashion, fashion design, review. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  37. Valerie said:

    It’s really interesting to me that all these fashion designers came on to defend the practice of drawing garments to fit a freakishly proportioned alien creature with phrases like “we have to show the drama of the garment” or “we have to show how it drapes”.

    How a garment drapes is going to depend on the proportions of the person wearing it because drape is going to be a combination of the cut, the fabric and the body filling it.

    As a designer, I’d expect you all to know something about how different shapes work on different bodies, and yet when confronted with the disparity between your dramatic designs and the real human body, you all start shrieking about not taking your creativity away.

    Or you say you have to design to fit the catwalk. Have you ever questioned why the catwalk is composed only of women above average height, with none of the curves of a post-pubescent female body?

    Or you say there is no drama in designing for an average body. Have you thought about maybe that problem is in your head, and has nothing to do with the real world? Which is full of bodies of all different shapes and sizes who can, indeed, wear clothes that look dramatic, or what you really mean, which is beautiful?

    I think the author of this blog is doing good work by pointing this out. Especially to younger people who are not aware that the images they have been seeing are re-touched, starved bodies dressed in clothes that were never designed to look good on your “average” body to begin with.

    And like the other girl commented up there, I am also above average height and under average weight and most of the clothes you design look great on me, so this is not a personal emotional issue. This is the perspective of a rational and compassionate human being who understands that their own perception of the world is not the only one that matters.

  38. Glam-Jam said:

    Typical retarded PC crap; hyperbolae; it has infiltrated literally every aspect of Modernity with its assault and high-brow self-righteous fascist anti-design tentacles foisting in-your-face nonsense of a new fashion police that smothers creativity into complete and total mediocrity because lame and visionless people are over-paranoid over body image of the weak minded. These are the self-appointed creeps without purpose or lives projecting their perverted dogma on others, like little Hitler Dictators, and are the same deranged terrorist-morons who support bizarre pursuits like the terrorism of Greepeace, PETA and Leftist-Marxist views promulgating their warped dystopia of distilled constraints, chains, and shackles, limiting freedom of creative expression and confining it into a rigid iron mold of boring and mundane reality devoid of personal intimation. Next they will be attacking dramatic and spectacular architectural renderings with all its photoshopped enhancements and won’t be happy until the whole world morphs into a dreary deprived GRAY utilitarian nightmare of rudimentary blocky cold shapes because blocky-shaped bodies must fit into them.

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