How To Do A Portfolio

Part 1- What you need

One of the most difficult tasks a designer (or anyone else in the arts industry) has to confront is the dreaded preparation of a professional portfolio (at least I dreaded it!). I will try to give you a couple of pointers, but there is something you should know before you drive yourself insane: there are no definite rules concerning portfolios. Period.

So, what you’ll read ahead is a list of recommendations, aimed at helping you to build a portfolio that looks professional, stunning, and will land you a job!

Choose your best work: A portfolio should be a compilation of your best work, as simple as that. If you did stellar work, were creative, did your research and presented your work flawlessly, all you have to do is choose. But if you did not, this is your chance to fix any problems or enhance your work before you add it to your portfolio.

How to choose?

Ask someone else’s opinion: Feedback is one of the best ways of improving and circulating your work. Ask a tutor/professor or other fashion professional to give you advice on your work and on preparing a portfolio. Another thing that works is asking advice to art professionals who are NOT in fashion. Why? Because they bring new perspectives to your point of view and you can learn techniques applicable to all visual disciplines, which will give a wider appeal to your work.

Only choose your best work: Not every thing you do for a course (or outside of it) should go to your portfolio. You’re better off having three excellent projects than ten mediocre ones. No one employs mediocre people.

Sketchbooks: I always advise my students to produce a sketchbook for their projects. This helps them organize and develop ideas, synthesize them, choose what is best, come up with new ideas/projects, edit, and overall sketch and refine a  final collection. People who do not do sketchbooks always end up designing the same thing. Their work looks the same because they seldom research, so they use the same references they have already on their mind over and over again. They also get stuck in what they do best, instead of pushing themselves. If you take your time to develop your collections carefully in a sketchbook, you can choose the best and most representative pages of the sketchbook to include in your portfolio! Yes, your portfolio SHOULD have examples of your project’s progress. For a student portfolio, employers would love to see your ability to solve problems and do fashion research, as well as your talent and creativity and the quality of your final work.

Please note that things are done differently on different parts of the globe. If you study in the States (mainly NYC) they will NEVER let you put your sketchbook work in your portfolio. They only want to see the following: moodboard, color-board/ story board/ inspiration, illustrations, fabric swatches and flats (and specs, if possible). In Europe, however, they prefer to see your design development and they will like to see how the project evolved from idea to final work, not just see the final illustrations. It would be good, in that case, to include around 12-15 pages per project, of which the first ones should include your research and development, along with photos of any toiles (muslins), final illustrations, swatches and flats. Again, as I said above, there are no defined rules to constructing your portfolio but it is very wise to keep in mind point three:

Customise your portfolio to your target audience. Is it for a childrenswear position, menswear, or womenswear? Does the employer do sportswear or lingerie? In this case, you do need to add projects to your portfolio that represent whatever segment of the industry you wish to apply for. Consequently, if you apply for a job in, let’s say childrenswear, when you are a womenswear designer, you should add at least 2 projects for childrenswear.

Here is an excellent example of a student portfolio from RCA MA graduate Sayaka Kamakura:

Example of Sayaka’s research for the DRAW collective exhibition. Notice how she explores the concept of cubes and Tetris-like shapes before designing final garments. The research is clear and anybody can understand what the inspiration and concept is. Now, Sayaka presents her final collection based on the research above. Note how she did all of the designs on computer, how she neatly arranged the swatches, flats and illustrations to represent her inspiration. Form follows function always! Your presentation depends on what you portray for each collection, as opposed to fitting each collection to an specific format.

Maybe you have other projects that are related to fashion but are not necessarily a fashion collection in the sense of the word. Why not include them? You have to be careful though: if it looks too irrelevant to the rest of your collection and does not have anything to do with your portfolio, you should not add them. But you can always have them on a separate portfolio and offer and employer to see them, if they are interested.

Tetris Project by Sayaka Kamakura

For the time being, this is what you should keep in mind while preparing a portfolio. Here are several webpages where you can get additional information on preparing portfolios.

Also see the following link:

Part 2- Illustrating your collections

Now you have chosen your projects and selected the best of your sketchbook pages to explain to your viewers (mostly prospective employers) how you got from point A (idea) to point B (complete research and collection). Everything looks neat but… you don’t like your illustrations. You have no idea where to start, what to do or how to portray your collections.

Fashion illustration is that fine line between art and design.

A lot of students do not master drawing the way they should. This is because, in fashion schools, it is very common to just assign a book (for example, Nancy Riegelman’s ‘9 Heads’) and have students copy off the human figure  they see on their pages. This is a HUGE mistake (see my post about fashion illustration, as students should be able to practice drawing from a live model and explore themselves (and understand) how the human body works and how clothes interact with it. No book can substitute that.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with using books as a reference, but there is something wrong with copying off them.

I can recommend you some excellent fashion illustration books yet they will not tell you how to draw. They are a compendium of fashion illustrator/designer’s works; they appreaciate diversity and you can see how divergent each illustrator’s style is. Some are:

  1. Borelli, Laird. Fashion Illlustration by Fashion Designers.
  2. —, Fashion Illustration Now.
  3. —, Fashion Illustration Next.
  4. Dawber, Martin. Big Book of Fashion Illustration: A Sourcebook of Contemporary Illustration.
  5. Donovan, Bil. Advanced Fashion Drawing: Lifestyle Illustration. (Bil Donovan is also one of the top fashion illustrators today)
  6. Downton, David. Masters of Fashion Illustration. (David Downton is one of the most important British illustrators today. His work was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, a couple of years back; here’s an interview with Downton himself:
  7. Blackman, Cally. 100 Years of Fashion Illustration.
  8. Mulcahy, Susan. Drawing Fashion: The Art of Kenneth Paul Block. (Block was, for decades, Fairchild Publishing’s in-house illustrator)
  9. Brubach, Holly; Colin McDowell and Joelle Chariau. Drawing Fashion: A Century of Fashion Illustration. (McDowell is one of the most respected fashion journalists in the business).
  10. Davies, Hywel. Fashion Designers’ Sketchbooks. (Hywel Davies is a very respected fashion journalist).
Right, so there you go. Plenty of great books to get you started. The last one, Fashion Designers’ Sketchbook, is a fantastic text with great, real-life examples of sketchbooks from multiple designers (mostly emerging ones). If you still have trouble grasping the concept behind a sketchbook, this book is and excellent resource.
DEVELOP your own style(s). I cannot stress this enough. Your illustration should be versatile so it will accomodate to any concept, idea and/or mood. Know that every project will probably require different style of illustration as to portray the clothes and the mood in the collection accurately. So yes, against advice you might have heard before, DO change your illustration style per collection. If your collection is goth-inspired, for example, then the illustrations you use should not be the same illustrations you use for a flower-inspired collection. It makes no sense at all! You have to convince your audience of the mood, inspiration, research and vision behind your work. It’s a sort of  ‘fulfill your illustration needs’ thing.
Illustration is different from designing and it is imperative that the student knows the difference. For example, this interview with illustrator David Downton (I posted it above but I post it here again) explains his methods and experiences in fashion illustration: Not all designers are great illustrators and certainly a lot of illustrators cannot design.
Here are the illustrations of Leigh Viner. She’s fantastic and she was mostly self-taught. I think this should give you plenty of inspiration for your own work (

Viner has collaborated with various magazines and is currently collaborating with Lady Gaga and VH1 for VH1's Save the Music charity.

I made this illustration after Christopher Kane's 2012 resort collection. It's part of a three-illustration series.

Part 3- Construction

Even if you have now at least 4 projects with their proper research, illustrations and flats, you should start the process of toiling (draping) your designs. A toile (or muslin) is a mock-up of your garment’s pattern in cheap muslin cloth that allows you to correct your pattern. Simply put, before you sew in your final fabric and mess up the dress, better test the pattern first! You should document the process of toiling thoroughly in your sketchbook and include various photographs of the process in your portfolio. Use small photographs (you can fit 6-9 photographs into a page using Photoshop) and print them in good paper so you can put it in your portfolio sleeves. Photos of your toile will give the employer the opportunity to see your ability to transfer illustrated 2-D ideas into 3-D garments successfully.

Part 4- Show your talents

Is drawing realistically one of your best assets? Are you a prodigy at combining colors and prints? are your patterncutting and sewing skills perfect? Are you a fantastic graphic artist? Your portfolio should be a testament to your abilities while downplaying your weaknesses. Make each project stand out by using your best talents! If you are an accomplished illustrator, then your illustrations should show your range and skill. If you are more of a technical designer, then you should focus on your patterns and your sewing. If making presentations using CAD is your ‘thing’, then prepare each presentation to perfection using Photoshop and Illustrator.

Also remember to show your versatility as a designer. You should have at least a Spring/Summer project and an Autumn/Winter one, and other types of collections, such as accessories, footwear, childrenswear, textile design, pattern cutting, swimwear, resort, holiday or others.

Your collections should impress the employer so do take care to showcase yourself in the best light. Make sure everything is clean, professional, well-coordinated, perfectly drawn and easy to follow. Many students believe that by doing complex presentations, such as fold-out leaves, you can showcase your creativity better. This is a mistake. Creativity should be in the content, and not in wild, over-the-top, tacky presentations. Leave that for kindergarten, since it looks amateurish and unprofessional.

Part 5- Finish garments

Each collection should have at least one finish garment. This showcases your ability to follow through your ideas, as I said above. Some schools provide their students with a final photo shoot for their garments. If your school does not do that, you can arrange a photo shoot by yourself, or with a group of designers/classmates. Booking studio space together can help fashion students get quality pictures for affordable prices.

This is a fantastic opportunity to build a network of photography students, young models, styling students and graphic students. You can go into your school’s graphic art/photography department and speak with a photography student who is willing to provide you with cutting-edge photos for less money than a professional photographer. Sometimes it will even be free, provided the pictures can be used for the photographer’s portfolio! It’s a win-win!

Sets do not need to be elaborate but do keep in mind a couple of checkpoints:

1. Makeup and styling reflect the mood of your collection

2. If you choose an elaborate or public setting, you have to make the clothes stand out, not blend in.

3. Less is more. A simple white studio with a front and back picture of the model with the garment is enough. It looks polished and professional.

Part 6- Last guidelines

These are taken from 200 Projects To Get You Into Fashion Design, by Tracy Fitzgerald and Adrian Grandon:

1. If there are too many similar pieces in your portfolio, edit them out. That, or edit them so that they become something new.

2. Be inventive with your portfolio (but don’t be tacky or childish with your presentation!)

3. Show your thinking process.

4. Demonstrate your best skills and talents, and most importantly, your passion for the industry.

5. Your personality and self-expression should make your portfolio be distinctive.

I hope this is helpful. You can comment below on what other areas you want to be addressed or what questions do you have.



4 thoughts on “How To Do A Portfolio

  1. I truly enjoy looking at on this site, it holds great content. “And all the winds go sighing, For sweet things dying.” by Christina Georgina Rossetti.


  2. […] Skip to content HomeAboutHow To Do A Portfolio ← 2011 in review January 14, 2012 · 3:40 pm ↓ Jump to […]


  3. “There are no definite rules concerning portfolios”

    Best quote EVER! Thanks!!!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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