Model, Illustrator and Fashion Designer
Sydney Duncan is a Model, Illustrator and Fashion Designer; in middle school, she ran a small black-market candy selling business. She would fill her ridiculously large purse to the brim with goods from Sam’s Club, and then throughout the day make secretive transactions in the darkest hollows of Lone Oak Middle like some sort of PBS looking, drug dealer. Others soon followed in her footsteps, and before she knew it there was a multitude of tiny illegal businesses hungering for a taste of her success. They couldn’t keep up. It was a lucrative gig until the vice-principal shut it down. Shut down her livelihood, he did.
She opens with this story only to give substance to her next statement:
“I have always been an innovator and a rule-breaker”
That, and because it is loads more interesting than the fact that I am a 19-year-old fashion designer and model living in Franklin TN (Just outside of Nashville). I began in the modeling industry at age 15, and along with doing that am currently studying fashion design at O’More College of Design. This model/designer thing is a pretty groovy combination, seeing as I get to model my own designs. I am in the beginning stages of my climb up the fashion ladder, so I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go. That being said, though my knowledge of the industry may not be deep, it is wide, and I would love to share with you everything that I can! I have dabbled in a wide variety fashion-wise, in that I have modeled print and runway, designed and constructed clothing, worked as a stylist and HMUA for shoots, etc. I would never be satisfied doing just one thing in the industry, so I am choosing to immerse myself in as much of it as I can. It’s a lot more exciting that way.
In my college years, the drive to build my empire is nearly overflowing, except nowadays I don’t sell candy, I sell my brand.
When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I have always had a pretty distinct style, fluffy tutus, and vintage hats both a common component to my daily “casual” look, but it was not until I neared the end of high school that I seriously considered a career in fashion design. I had been set on the course to major in visual arts for almost as far back as I can remember, but although I love to draw and paint, the idea of solely doing either day in and day out seemed a little mundane. Fashion, on the other hand, excites me. The idea that my art can transcend gallery walls and come to life on the bodies of strangers is almost dreamlike. To think that my work’s story is only beginning when it leaves my hands, that its meaning evolves as its wearer’s experiences within it expand. It is like a chronic art installation. That being said, I can’t tell you that every day I am totally head over go boots for the industry, I have had more than a few stress-induced, “what am I doing with my life?!” moments, but every time that I think the flame is about to die, gasoline spills all over it.
What is it like being in the Fashion industry?
It gets pretty stressful, especially on the clothing construction front. Creating a seemingly simple shirt can be a grueling process, but the satisfaction of looking over a freshly finished garment never gets old. On top of the tediousness, fashion in itself is almost impossibly fast-paced.
As technology improves, styles begin evolving faster and faster, and it seems like the industry can just barely keep up. The fortunate side to this would be that there is no longer one style that everybody must adhere to. Fashion today is a collage of history, and it is beautiful to see the sheer delicacy of Egyptian times mingle so effortlessly with the edgy geometry of the 60s. Modeling, on the other hand, is not quite so labor-intensive and (in my opinion) much more fun, but let’s be honest, getting half-naked for grown men with cameras is not the safest line of work. It is the sect of the fashion industry riddled with scams, some promising fame in exchange for your life savings, and others trying to lure you in so that they may do God knows what to you. I have to be cautious. Furthermore, there are very specific qualifications to be met in the modeling world, and oftentimes something as trivial as an inch thicker (or thinner, believe it or not) around the hips can disqualify you from a job. This only serves as a reminder that there is no point in trying to conform to a certain “look” because tomorrow it may be old news. I have learned to work what I have because confidence is much more attractive than conformity.
What was your first job in the fashion industry?
At age 15 I began working as a fashion model, a term I use loosely, as jobs were few and far between for the first few years. This fact was frustrating and utterly confusing. I had a lot of improvement to make, of course, but as far as raw potential was concerned, I had “it”. However, the “it” factor has never been enough in my case. I have grown to both accept and embrace this. I am a very spiritual person, and in my eyes, the roadblocks seem almost too convenient, like God is piling bricks in front of me and saying, “Show me what you got.” So I am. I’m always up for a good challenge.
Describe what do you do in your work?
Currently, I am a fashion design major at O’More College of Design in Franklin, TN, where I am learning and practicing design, clothing construction, fashion forecasting, and so on. My strengths and weaknesses have never been more apparent, and my patience is tested on daily. I’m learning how to break certain rules, how to follow others, and how to distinguish which instances call for which.
As a model, I am dabbling in a multitude of different areas of the fashion world beyond what design school is teaching me. I will often times double as a stylist or makeup artist in my own shoots and am continuously networking with photographers, stylists, makeup artists, designers, agencies, merchandisers, models, etc. That seems to be most of what I do these days, networking, and it is a very time-consuming job with little monetary payoff, but it is crucial. The industry is full of moving parts, and it is vital to understand how necessary each of these, as well as your connection to them, are.
As far as my artistic process is concerned, I typically like to let the materials inspire me. I feel them and stretch them every which way across my dress form until inspiration strikes. I follow a similar lack of guidelines when modeling, and I am sort of like the fabric in that sense, how my body is pushed and pulled naturally by the energy of a shoot into sometimes-unnatural shapes. Sometimes-painful shapes. Heck, sometimes my thighs end up sorer from holding a pose than from doing lunges.
What do you like about your work?
I love all of the people that I meet. That probably goes against everything anybody has ever heard about people in the fashion industry, I myself have only ever heard them described as words like ruthless and demanding, but in my experience that has yet to be the case. The majority of those I have met have been the best kind of people: artistic, eccentric, driven, determined, and with any luck a little crazy. They do more than just take what they want out of life, they make it. They are inspiring. I just love people who let you into their heads like that… it is such a raw and honest thing to do. Unless you yourself are an artist, it is challenging to understand how vulnerable it feels to show the world what you create. It’s like a public diary, and it makes you subject to a lot of criticism. To pour your deepest and most personal inner workings into a piece of art (a photograph, or garment, or what-have-you) knowing that there will always be somebody there to figuratively rip it to shreds, somebody who wants to tell you everything wrong with how you think, feel, and express yourself… to know that and do it anyway, that’s pretty badass if you ask me.
What advice would you pass along to those starting out in the Fashion Business?
Don’t always follow the rules. No great designer in history (that I am aware of) did, and that’s what made them great. It’s risky, yeah, but win or lose, a little risk always makes for a better story later. You have to stick to your aesthetic, even when your peers and leaders turn their noses up at it. I’m not saying to ignore some good old constructive criticism, there is always room for improvement, but never let your spice be dulled by the milk of boring people. Also, don’t be afraid to try new things for fear that they may not work out. Everything is an opportunity, failure included. If you really want to get somewhere, you need to internalize that. Every single “no” that you get is a step in the right direction, but only if you allow that to be the case. You have to let the rejection strengthen you and teach you because honestly, you’re going to learn a heck of a lot more from one “no” than you are from 100 “yes”’s.
What inspires you?
It’s much harder for me not to be inspired than it is to be inspired. I’d have to be putting in a lot of effort in order to look at something and not see artistic potential of some sort. Perhaps that’s just how I’m wired, or maybe conditioned, at this point, it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I think it would be nice to just turn it off for a few hours and simply admire the beauty of what is in front of me for what it is, rather than what I could make it. All and all though, I really do like how my mind works, it’s a fun little mess.