When I worked as a designer at Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger we spent loads of time putting together “rigs,” or inspiration boards, every season. These were never simple tear sheets pinned to a wall; they were elaborate combinations of artwork, mannequins dressed in vintage and new garments, carefully selected props and furniture, and swatches of fabrics we had developed or selected specially for the group we were designing. The idea was, essentially, to express the mood or theme for the season in an unmistakable way. It wasn’t conceptual; it was nearly literal.
Now that I work for me, my inspiration boards tend to be located more in my mind than on a wall someplace. (That’s the great thing about being your own boss; I still work with a theme or inspiration every season, but I don’t really need to explain it to myself. The down side of the be-your-own-boss arrangement, however, is that the boss never leaves and lets you slack off a bit during the day.)
Lots of different things inspire me in my design: my daughter, things I see on the streets or in photos, various books and ideas, or a particular print or fabric. It’s always changing.
But one inspiration that’s stuck with me for years now is the old ads and mood of Esprit back in the 1980s. There was something so fresh and fun about that company and their clothing, and I still return to that mood when I’m designing. In a large part, the Esprit spirit (ok, that’s repetitive; Esprit is French for “spirit,” I know) has inspired the fall collection we’re preparing to show at Quilt Market in May.
I had the good fortune of doing some work for Esprit a few years ago, and part of my work involved travelling to the company headquarters in San Francisco. The building is still standing (actually it was re-built after a fire a number of years ago), but the company itself was merely a shadow of its former self when I visited; large portions of the building sat completely empty, and the beautiful Amish quilts that Suzy and Doug Tompkins collected were long gone, leaving bare walls behind.
In a way, I suppose it was better for me that the building sat nearly empty. I was able to project my own memories onto the empty structure and to imagine it in its glory days. And I suppose that keeping my inspiration boards in my head is especially appropriate when it comes to Esprit; although still a clothing company today, the old Esprit exists only in my mind now. If I tried to pin it to a wall it probably would not live up to my memories.
So I’ll just keep it conceptual. After all, the boss knows exactly what I’m talking about when I try to explain it to her.