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Runway Sewn Your Way Challenge: Gilbert Muniz’s Inspiration

For this challenge, I wanted to work with one of the most influential fashion houses of this and the 20th century—Versace. This house is usually not on my fashion radar anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the legacy of Versace, but I tend to look at the older Gianni-designed collections for inspiration rather than Donatella’s work. However, the current state of the house has been reflecting on past collections, as so many houses have. Donatella Versace’s pre-fall 2019 show caught my eye for this reason.

The attraction of Versace

Gianni Versace built his house on the unapologetic sex appeal of strong women. Even when he designed a “little black dress,” it was possibly the sexiest version of the season. After his unfortunate death in 1997, his sister, Donatella, took over the design reigns for the ready-to-wear and the couture lines. She has managed to push the house forward, yet never forgets the design vocabulary Gianni established.

The last passage of the pre-fall 2019 collection looked back to the late ’90s and one of Gianni Versace’s most popular prints, the Jim Dine hearts. Jim Dine is a contemporary artist with a pop culture edge who designed the main heart motif that was shuffled and silk-screened onto various fabrics, including sheers. The original collection, as shown here in The Art of Being You by Gianni Versace (Abbeville Press, 1998), showed a pale background behind the printed hearts.

GIlbert Muniz's inspiration: two-page spread showing heart motifs, from The Art of Being You by Gianni Versace

When the 2019 pre-fall collection revisited it, the motif was printed on a black background. This darker version spoke to me.

The book further illustrates the connection between the print and Versace himself.

Two-page spread from The Art of Being You by Gianni Versace showing a model wearing a heart-print shirt

The motif is done in Dine’s typical style of obvious brushstrokes, bold colors, and intense shapes. When Donatella chose it, she reworked it into more contemporary pieces, including the shape I chose to work with, a simple strapless dress. Overall, the look of the collection kept the styling and cuts clean, especially when dealing with the prints.

Fabric and style inspiration

This is in line with one of my main design philosophies: When working with a bold print, keep the cut simple. When working with a solid fabric, make the cut complicated. If you make a cut too busy with a bold print, it can come off as nauseating and jarring.

GIlbert Muniz's inspiration: his own fashion sketch of a model in a bold-print strapless minidress

Because this is the Runway Sewn Your Way challenge, I knew I wanted to take the idea of the Dine hearts and rework them in batik, a technique I love to play with. I also wanted to capture the essence of the painterly strokes, so I worked with dye painting and fabric paints. The overall result is a play on the original print, yet leans decidedly into my wheelhouse.

close-up of multi-colored fabric with a circle print: Gilbert Muniz's inspiration and creation

I draped a simple, strapless dress with an inner, cupped foundation for my finished garment. This was the blank canvas that would allow the fabric to show up the best. I always drape or draft my own patterns because that allows me the freedom to make whatever I want. However, any simple shape would reflect the bold print nicely.

Gilbert Muniz's inspiration: his self-draped muslin on a dress form with markings

Today’s creation, with a nod to the past

Working on this project was a blast. I always look to the runways for inspiration, but it’s usually a small detail or silhouette. This challenge allowed me to focus on a broader idea, but twisting it in a way that was characteristically me. I’m not kidding myself; my challenge entry is not going to grace a Versace runway anytime soon, but hopefully it will inspire someone to challenge themselves to start looking toward the future while reflecting on the past.

In my next article, I will explain the techniques used to create the fabric for my piece. We’ll explore designing the motif, dye painting the colors, wax resists, and overdyeing the fabric base. I’ll also discuss the changes I made to the original print and what pitfalls you should avoid when working with this printing method.


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