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Hywel Davies: The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook

The fashion writer's new book explores the design process of fashion masters like Dries Van Noten, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood

The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook is the fourth book by fashion writer Hywel Davies with contributions from the likes of Yohji Yamamoto, Lagerfeld for Chanel, Dries Van Noten, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood and many others. Contrary to what the name suggests, the book is not just a snapshot of the sketchbooks of some of the world’s most acclaimed fashion designers, although many do offer their sketches as a contribution, but explores the individual design process from inspiration to construction and offers and insight into their working practices. Ahead of the release of The Fashion Designers Sketchbook, we speak to Davies about what he has gleaned from some of the most well loved names in fashion and, as an experienced fashion writer, where he sees the future of fashion publishing heading.

Dazed Digital: You have some really big names giving you quite unprecedented access to their work, was this difficult?
Hywel Davies: Yes, some people said no because the book is all about process and showing how it goes from an idea to a collection. A lot of the big designers didn’t want to reveal that. Some people said it was because it’s private and that’s why they didn’t want people to see how it works but a lot of it was to do with the fact they don’t actually do it because some people, the really big brands have such huge teams it’s really hard to map out a simple design process because different people all do different parts but I was quite open to people with the brief in terms of what they wanted to submit, it could be images, sketches, photographs of the studio, I wasn’t really specific at all. 

DD: Who was the most open?
Hywel Davies: The person who I really loved meeting and seeing their submissions was Margaret Howell because she was so particular about the way she wanted her work to be shown because it’s such a personal thing. She was talking about her drawing style and how things develop. She was interested in my interest in it. Yohji Yamamoto was really great about it; it’s his sketch on the cover. When you have huge names like that you think maybe they can’t be bothered with this but he was really great about it. Westwood was too. Galliano let me photograph his sketchbooks, which is really amazing really.

DD: Which submissions surprised you the most?
Hywel Davies: Well I didn’t know what I was going to get. Even though it’s called Sketchbook that doesn’t literally mean it’s the designer’s actual sketchbook, it’s more a look into their design process whatever that may be and however they wanted to interpret that. I wanted to be really open and Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook sounds a bit literal but I didn’t want to call it Fashion Design Process either because that sounds a bit wanky. I just wanted to show how they work because not all of them work with sketchbooks anyway, it’s much more unorganised, much more random, people draw on a serviette, or photograph people.

DD: Is it their most recent collections or have any designers submitted perhaps more famous design sketches?
Hywel Davies: It was up to them. Most have sent the most recent, so the past couple of seasons. The thing about designers is they like to talk about what they are doing now and their progression. Although some of Margaret Howell’s sketches are from '89 and '91 which, for her, represents what is important about her brand.

DD: As well as the imagery, what is the text in the book about?
Hywel Davies: We asked everyone the same questions so that’s what the text is. Because everyone is so different we needed something consistent which made the whole book hang together and also acted as a point of level comparison. We asked things like how they design, what materials they used and what environment they work in. What was interesting is that so many of the designers, 99 per cent, said the time they are most creative is at night. I get this image of the designers living in the day but working and being creative at night. I asked what they do for inspiration and how they describe what they do. It’s interesting to see whether they actually understand their process or whether it’s just instinctive.

DD: What kind of reference points are the designers using, are some very concept lead and some more driven by other aspects?
Hywel Davies: Yamamoto is very much lead by concept and silhouette. People like Dries are kind of concept driven but actually quite lead by the fabric choices. He might have gone to a factory somewhere in the world and realised he could do something new technically so his process becomes very much driven by the fabric and the print. For someone like Margaret Howell it’s all about atmosphere, how she wants the clothes to feel. Frank Leder is very concept driven about German ways of thinking and quite controlled German engineering. PPQ is much more about the look and a trend in some ways.

DD: Your background is in fashion magazines but you’re producing more and more books, is this where you see the future of fashion publishing headed?
Hywel Davies: This is my fourth book, which is kind of scary. I’ve been doing them about three to four years but before that it was always magazines. I think magazines are such a young person’s game. I still love magazines. I love buying magazines. Magazines themselves are becoming more like books, make them biannual, make them more like books but not as expensive as a book. I think we will have fewer monthlies but weeklies will still have a role, quick, short and cheap, and web stuff of course. The nice thing about doing books is the magazine process is so quick and then it’s forgotten after a few months but these take a few years to make and people will be reading this several years down the line.