In this exclusive article, fashion design veteran Andrew Dyer looks at the role of “avatars” in the design process and, in a broader sense, the importance of allowing creativity to take place within consistent, standardised parameters.
Type the word ‘avatar’ into a search engine and it should come as no surprise that the list of over three and a half billion results is headed by James Cameron’s movie of that name. A few pages further down you may come across a reference to avatars as being ‘deliberate manifestations of a deity on earth’ within the Hindu faith – where the word originated.
Both results share a common thread: the incarnation of a spirit into another bodily form. But it’s the body rather than the spirit we’re concerned with when we talk about another, less widely-used interpretation of the word “avatar” – the kind appearing in forward-thinking design rooms around the world.
At its most basic, an avatar is a representation of a human form (man, woman, child, or adolescent) that allows a designer to develop individual garments within his or her collections that adhere to a consistent set of measurements. The avatar matters little where I single garment is concerned, but without a common reference point, two dresses within the same line could conceivably be drawn in entirely different dimensions – both in absolute and relative terms. So, by starting with a predefined avatar for both, the designer can eliminate any uncertainty and build consistent interpretations of their style.
Unlike Pandora’s iridescent blue host bodies, a designer’s avatar needn’t be sophisticated, three-dimensional or lifelike. Nor does it have to be animated. A simple graphic representation of a shop mannequin – as seen in solutions like Verve Sketch – will suffice. Indeed, a series of lines indicating well known measuring points like shoulder, bust, chest, waist, hip, knee and ankle would still allow the designer to work on a consistent framework without the extraneous detail we might typically associate with a human model.
The importance of an avatar (something its ranking in our search results fails to reflect) is not judged, then, on the degree to which it resembles an actual human being. It lies instead in the way that – in whatever form it takes – an avatar can be used as a ‘building block’ on which to construct a series of scaled drawings. Even if we were developing clothing for animals, the same principle would apply: one dog coat could be wildly different in scale to another unless points of reference for the size of both were established beforehand.
[quote]Scaled drawings allow not only an interchangeability of styles but also an interchangeability of personnel.[/quote]
Imagine if you will a typical design room in a high-profile brand, where creativity is paramount but where each designer is working to a well-defined deadline. These designers are working without avatars, starting each individual design as a blank canvas and creating their sketched models freehand each and every time they begin a new garment.
It goes without saying that each individual designer is going to be drawing to their own scale – one that is not necessarily consistent from one design to the next. Some will create whimsical, over-exaggerated fashion illustrations, some will have their heads close to the screen, creating tight, intricately-detailed plans, while still others will be producing large freehand sketches next to colleagues who have been taught to create rigid, uniform line drawings. Their eventual creations will be in varying sizes, each one different in terms of absolute and relative scale, and none of them are therefore interchangeable.
[quote]The importance of an avatar is not judged on the degree to which it resembles an actual human being. It lies instead in the way that it can be used as a ‘building block’ on which to construct a series of scaled drawings.[/quote]
This scenario is true to what most people think of as design – creative, interpretational, spontaneous – but is, in fact, quite removed from what I think of as being the “spirit” of design – the essential goal of creating a clear, realistic style that is ready to undergo treatment by garment technicians and become a collection.
Compare this hypothetical scenario to one where the same design team, working to the same pressures (required to produce a consistent collection) instead uses the same set of avatars as a basis for their line drawings. Not only can we be sure that all will be drawn to the same scale and all interchangeable, but the impact on other, unexpected areas is also significant. File sizes will be reduced, access to PLM enhanced, and the ability to build a season-by-season library of styles and consistently-sized components that could be used months or years into the future made possible.
All designers are familiar with cataloguing and using block patterns to create further patterns, but consistent avatars present us with the opportunity to take things even further and to use block designs – created to consistent scales – to create further designs or design components.
This is an important benefit of consistent sizing, since it can mean a considerable reduction in costs when the introduction of new styles is required, and designers can quickly and easily revisit individual components of designs that may not have been suitable for past seasons and adapt them to fit in with a future collection.
And the benefits of avatars don’t end there. Scaled drawings allow not only an interchangeability of styles but also an interchangeability of personnel.
By this I mean that virtually any designer would be able to step in at a moment’s notice and take over from a colleague who is absent or unwell, and know exactly how their colleague’s design is built and be safe in the knowledge that, crucially, the scales to which the two designers have been working are the same.
So, whether your avatars are little more than a series of spaced and dashed lines or a true photorealistic three-dimensional likeness of Jake Sully or Neytiri, the chances are they will have a huge impact on your design capability.