When I was 14, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I sketched some designs (which I thought were marvelous), and sent them off to a design contest that was advertised in the back of my Teen magazine. I never heard from them, and therefore I decided that I must not have any talent for design. In the meantime, my mother consistently claimed that she wasn’t creative, and I presumed that creativity must not run in my family. I gave up my dreams of design and graduated from college with a “sensible” degree in Computer Science.
Thirty years later, I’m finding myself fascinated by Project Runway—a reality tv show where fashion designers compete with one another, creating complete new outfits under challenging circumstances. I’ve seen every episode in every country (except the Philippines—I gave that up when it was too difficult to follow the language). It’s always inspiring to watch their creative process at work, but my favorite episodes are the ones when the designers have to make clothes out of unusual materials—trash, food, and recycled building materials.
In On Becoming a Person, the celebrated psychologist Carl Rogers wrote that one important condition for creativity was “the ability to toy with elements and concepts.” In other words, the ability to play spontaneously with ideas, colors, shapes, and relationships, juggling elements into “impossible juxtapositions,” shaping “wild hypotheses, expressing the ridiculous.” (Making a fun, wearable dress out of chard and cabbage leaves probably falls into that category.) Playing with impossible combinations is the root of creative thought and experience.
The other thing that inspires me are the designers on the show who aren’t afraid to take risks; who stay true to their inner visions and put them out there, regardless of what the judges might think. Sometimes their visions don’t work out and they are booted off the show, but thankfully, the designers who play it safe are more likely to be cut first. Watching the designers’ struggles and triumphs is heartening. When something is creative, it is by definition something that we haven’t seen before. How scary to put it out there! After all, it may get laughed at.
On “The Fashion Show,” another reality show about fashion design, James Paul Ancheta, a cutting-edge designer who made it to the finale said this: “You can spend the rest of your life making pretty clothes; you can spend the rest of your life making saleable clothes. But you have one chance to put your voice out there, and have it be heard.”