For any aspiring fashion professionals nervous about entering the world of digital design; don’t worry. Blanche Macdonald Art and Technology Instructor and Graphic Design Director Morgan Mallett feels your pain.
I want my students to think about what things mean, how those meanings are created, and how these meanings are constantly changing.
“I didn’t like computers when I started studying art at university,” she admits. “I hated them. Why are we doing this? Why aren’t we painting. Then I saw computers as tools to help you do what you want. Shifting from wanting to throw computers out the window to loving them really informs my teaching.”
Shifting from wanting to throw computers out the window to loving them really informs my teaching.
Making sense of the myriad of options available to the modern designer is at the core of Morgan’s educational mission. For her, great design is all about communication. Her classes are more than instruction on how to design digitally. They’re all about the why too.
“I want my students to think about what things mean, how those meanings are created, and how these meanings are constantly changing.” she continues. “It’s semiotics—the study of signs and how they create meaning. Why are things presented in certain ways? Why does clothing look dated? Why do colours look stale? Students know these things naturally, but it’s incredibly interesting to drill down and analyze why we have these opinions.”
Morgan’s newly launched collection—called Decrypt—uses recycled acoustic felt to create multi-purpose designs. Each design in the collection can be worn as clothing, displayed as a sound-absorbing wall hanging, or viewed as crypto art/an NFT. Inspired by the allied code-breakers of WWII, the collection draws from the history and the multifaceted people who worked at Bletchley Park (an estate north of London where many wartime codebreakers were centralized). Watch Morgan’s interview on CBC for more inspiring details.
Fluidity is at the heart of Morgan’s work. She earned a Fine Arts Degree from the University of Calgary while simultaneously playing elite level field hockey (“arts schools don’t have sports teams”) and went on to study Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
It wasn’t about making things look pretty.
“I’d done well at University. I’d worked really hard and learned a lot. But at NSCAD I found myself in a whole new world of communication and graphic design. I began working out how things communicate. It wasn’t about making things look pretty. I was looking at the messages they were delivering.”
Morgan entered the world of advertising as a graphic designer for an agency in Calgary, but keeping clients happy wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her creative cravings.
“I wanted to produce something of my own. That spurred me to start Design + Conquer, my clothing and accessories line. I knew graphic design would always get me a job—it’s a great skillset to have—but I wanted the chance to do something more tactile.”
Showing the kind of can-do spirit she now shares with her students, Morgan spent years applying to fashion weeks, contacting designers, conducting photo shoots, providing accessories for other designer’s fashion shows and eventually holding her own shows.
85% of my opportunities have come from putting myself out there.
“You miss 100% of the shots, you don’t take. I didn’t come from a fashion background. I didn’t know anyone in the industry. 85% of my opportunities have come from putting myself out there. You have to ask and see what happens.”
That self-starting attitude took Design + Conquer into Toronto Fashion Week, the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, and brought Morgan through the doors of Blanche Macdonald.
“I wanted to do something new, and what better than teach at a great school? Blanche Macdonald was the best school in Vancouver, so I knew I had to come home.
“I could see that Tyler Udall’s work was really strong, so I contacted him, said hi, and asked him what was happening at the school. He asked me to come in, I showed him my stuff and we made a connection. It all worked out from there.”
It wasn’t long before Morgan became a valued member of the Blanche Macdonald family, contributing her graphic design brilliance as part of the marketing department and sharing her passions with students via her Art and Technology courses as both a Graphic Design Director and Instructor.
Whatever the application, you should be able to use these technologies to communicate and execute your ideas.
“It’s enjoyable and challenging. There are so many projects happening all the time. Fashion and technology are constantly evolving. I’m always learning new things, which I love. My Art and Technology course is about using Photoshop and Illustrator, but it’s also about how to communicate ideas professionally.
“So many of the fashion students I’ve worked with have been awesome. They’ve produced industry-ready technical drawings. Once they have the skills they can use them for so many different applications. You might be working with laser cutting or 3D rendering. Whatever the application, you should be able to use these technologies to communicate and execute your ideas with confidence.”
Inspiring students comes naturally to Morgan. Most impressively, she’s drawing inspiration from them too.
“I’m always learning from the students, whether it’s me learning how to navigate different personalities to discovering new ways to do things. The guys at In House Creations were all my students. They’re a great bunch. I’ve worked with them since. They let me use their space to exhibit my work for the curators of the Carter Wosk Award for Applied Art and Design. I’m grateful to them, because I won!”