janie bryant for shoes of prey

DIY Design Tips from Mad Men Costume Designer Janie Bryant

The design-it-yourself process is a deceitful one. At first, being given the opportunity to create whatever you freaking want can feel like the most freeing thing in the world. Rules? What rules? WE get to call the shots. Right?

But once it’s go time, the same prospect can paralyze. With an endless array of options, how the hell are we supposed to settle on a final design? Suddenly, The Fear sets in: After belaboring this vs. that vs. the other thing, what happens if we don’t like the end result? Does that make us bad creators?

For a little guidance, we talked to a designer of very refined eye, Janie Bryant, who has created custom ’60s outfits for the cast of Mad Men as the show’s costume designer, among other projects.

See, Bryant recently teamed up with online DIY shoe design company Shoes of Prey to create a capsule collection. And just like the company’s customers (who can create their dream shoes from various shapes, colors and patterns), Janie had a lot of options to choose from. How did the design pro focus when creating her collection (and how can we do the same)? Below, she shares her tips for creating things that are uniquely you without getting daunted by the endless decision making.

CSIRO_ScienceImage_1853_Fabric_Swatches1. Pick a Silhouette. This is the first step in narrowing your focus, since starting with a specific shape will help refine the choices that follow. Since certain fabrics look best with certain shoe types (such as satin with a ballerina flat or woven and textured fabrics with wedges), committing to a well-loved shape first will help ensure you get what you want in the long run.

2. Pick One Crazy Bit of Flair. Just one. It’s easy to look at sequins, glitter, metallic leather, floral patterns and sailor stripes and go full on kid-in-a-candy-shop by compulsively trying them all together. And though each of these pattern and texture types are awesome on their own, things can start to look a little skitzo when all piled together. To make sure your designed piece doesn’t look like a kindergartner’s art project, Bryant suggests picking one element to deliver punch (whether it’s a jolt of bright color or a touch of unexpected pattern). This will give your finished piece the unique look you’re going for without the crazy.

3. Rely On Classics To Balance The Piece: After you’ve picked your item shape and showcase design element, ground the rest of the look with complimentary base color and fabrics. If you chose metallic pink as your eye-catching element, balance the rest of the piece with greys, deep navy blues or even gunmetal silver. Not sure which colors or textures will best compliment your feature design element? Google a color wheel and look for complimentary colors (those that are positioned opposite of your feature shade on the circle).

4. Make Sure YOU Love It: Even if you and your bestie share similar world views, it’s likely that you won’t always agree when it comes to other stufflike fashion (or boys). So while it’s great to get a second opinion from a friend, ultimately, you have to trust your gut. If you love something that makes your friend raise an eyebrow, tell your girl that you value her opinion, but you’re going to stick with your creation. (You, not your friend, is going to live with the designed piece, after all.)

If you finish a design but still feel that it’s slightly off, go back to the creation stage and mix it up a bit. You may find that the neutral you were looking for was an animal print (Bryant used zebra stripes as a balancing factor in one of her designs) or that changing a texture from leather to felt makes everything right in your eye.

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