Geetanjali Mukherjee

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Lessons Learned From Marc Jacobs' Masterclass

I recently gifted myself the all-access pass to Masterclass, which lets me watch all the classes for the period of a year. I initially bought it because I wanted to take the classes taught by writers such as James Patterson and Shonda Rhimes, but I was immensely surprised how much I am learning from creatives in completely different fields. 

Although I have heard of prominent fashion designers of course, my knowledge of fashion is limited to gawking at the gorgeous dresses on the Oscar red carpet and watching The Devil Wears Prada. Just out of curiosity I decided to start watching Marc Jacobs’ Masterclass, and I was so hooked, I raced through the course in about a week. 

While I have no interest in becoming a fashion designer, I was surprised at how much of the advice is actually applicable to writers and those in creative fields other than fashion. I thought I would share a few of these lessons.

1. Be obsessive about details. Marc Jacobs is obsessive with the details that go into his clothes, whether the type and position of button or the type of stitching. He not only ensures that the more obvious elements such as the cut and style and fabric type come together to create a beautiful garment, he focuses on the smallest details, so that each garment sends exactly the right message or is pulled together in exactly the right look.

As an author, this level of attention to detail means going beyond ensuring that your research is accurate or that your story has a satisfying ending. It means creating a bibliography that is different from the usual list of references that every author includes, perhaps telling a story about the references you included and the interviews you conducted. Jeff Goins did an unusual take on the standard bibliography in Real Artists Don’t Starve. It means ensuring that even your secondary characters are interesting and full, not mere cardboard cut-outs included to prop up the main characters. Jane Austen’s most memorable characters were actually secondary characters, such as Mr. Collins or Mrs. Bennett. 

2. Iterate. One surprising thing I learned from Marc Jacob was that he doesn’t simply get a flash of inspiration, draw a sketch and get a garment stitched from that sketch. In fact, his clothes are the by-product of months of iteration. He might start with a wisp of inspiration, but that gets added to and transformed with each step in the process, honed over several months of back and forth, until finally he is happy with the result.

This is actually really good news for a writer. Often, we get stuck and aren’t able to write because we believe that we need to write something that closely resembles the finished article or chapter. Most professional authors don’t work that way. They start with a draft that stems from the original idea, but isn’t anywhere close to what they wanted to say. By working with a piece of writing, shaping and editing and honing the words, they are able to get the piece to a place where is publishable. It may not be perfect, but it is often a completely different piece of writing than the initial rough draft. 

3. Get inspiration from different sources. Marc Jacobs shared his sources of inspiration, which were really varied even within a single collection. He took ideas from earlier eras of fashion, Hollywood, certain types of music, stylish women he admired and from many other sources. 

As an author, I find inspiration often from the most varied sources. And sometimes when I am stuck, I find doing something completely different like reading a book I normally don’t read or watching a different type of television show can spark something. 

4. Collaborate. Marc Jacobs mentioned his collaborators throughout the class. He talked about how his collections are invariably a group effort, with input coming from the pattern makers, other members of his team, even the models who help them to fit the clothes. 

Similarly, as a creative professional, we can benefit from working with others. Writers often get a new perspective on their piece from an editor. A musician can get useful feedback from a producer that gives their album an added edge. Some directors help actors bring out their best work on screen. Working with others can help us take our work further.

5. Be passionate. The most important lesson I learned from Marc Jacobs was how passionate he is about fashion. Even after working in the industry for years, he is excited to create clothes and put out collections. He loves the work, the day-to-day, through the inevitable ups and downs that come with doing anything creative. Not everyone will love everything he does, but through it all he loves the work and that shone through every lesson.

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