Book Review | Anna Kiper, Fashion Portfolio

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Batsford, 2014 | ISBN 978-1-84994-085-6. Available from the publisher here.

This is a kind of epilogue to Anna Kiper’s previous book on fashion illustration.  Here, she presents plenty of ideas for visual storytelling, by way of the portfolio.  There is a stronger emphasis on art direction compared to Sharon Rothman’s Fashion Design Sketchbook, which dedicates a chapter to the portfolio.  This is not a criticism: Rothman’s prerogative is the design development process, and being a companion to designers as they work through their ideas to realise them.  In Fashion Portfolio, Kiper focuses on mood, atmosphere, and how to engage readers or viewers.  You will need to have a solid grasp of your intentions and aesthetics of get the most from this book, or have finished the design development process.

At the beginning there is an overview of fashion history from the 1900s to the 2010s. Each decade has helpful references to popular culture, fashion influences, models, photographers, and illustrators.  I love the fact that illustrators are credited; they are not always the easiest to research.  This small section is invaluable if you need a digestible starting point for a particular decade, or want to find out more about a particular person’s work.  More scene-setting like this in future fashion books, please!

There are several helpful cues for context as a means of connecting with prospective buyers (fashion buyers, but also people who walk into the shop), but this is useful if you’re not working in the fashion industry.  These are subtle clues for styling and photography – or even last-minute tweaks or updates to design ideas.  Contextualisation, along with mixing and remixing, helps to keep your catalogue refreshed and accessible.  A little imagination and enterprise keeps so-called ‘old’ designs from being buried.  This can be one of the challenges for designers, and one I personally relate to: keeping an evergreen, long-lasting product top of mind so that it’s not at the bottom of a closet – or in the back of your mind if you feel you ‘should’ design something new.  The section on trend forecasting and markets is also a fascinating six pages.

If you need support with drawing and illustration, there are a few notes, but nowhere near the depth of Fashion IllustrationFashion Portfolio is a book to help you realise and understand the impact your designs have, or can have.  Expect emphasis on mood boards, research, muses and cultural phenomena to help you orientate yourself and your designs.  Although it focuses on the portfolio as a presentation document, taking an etymological step towards “portal” makes this book quietly useful and supportive for making old designs as exciting and accessible as new ones.  Or – putting a new twist on old favourites.

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