Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
April 16th, 2015

Teaching Synesthesia as a Gateway to Creativity

It is with much delight and gratitude that I write today’s post.  Synesthesia has been a topic that has fascinated me for many years.  (New to my site?  You should view my previous posts: Synesthesia in Art & Fashion and Joan Mitchell)  It’s a topic I’ve researched extensively.  I was recently invited to share my research with Exchanges: The Warwick Research Journal, published by The University of Warwick.

My article, Teaching Synaesthesia as a Gateway to Creativity, is now live and available for free download.


Please click this link: The Warwick Research Journal Murgia Article


This article encapsulates my experience of teaching creativity within a higher education curriculum. Creativity often eludes common understanding because it involves using different conceptual streams of thought, often times developing unconsciously and manifesting in the prized “eureka” moment. In 2009, I began explaining the neurological condition of synaesthesia and later introduced this phenomenology in a course designed to cultivate creativity to first year fashion design students. There are many challenges in teaching creativity. Through teaching this course, I discovered that the first challenge is making the students conscious of their own qualitative beliefs on creativity and art. The second is creating exercises to challenge and alter these beliefs, thus forming a new way of thinking and experiencing the world. The most resistance from my students arose when experimenting with non-representational art. They did not have a conscious framework for making and evaluating abstract art. Introducing synaesthesia, a neurologically-based condition that “merges” two or more sensory pathways in the brain, gave my students a framework for discovery. Understanding sensory modalities and ways in which these modalities can blended together in synaesthesia proved to be a gateway to creativity in many of my students. The scope of this article chronicles how I developed my teaching methodology, the results it created in my classroom, as well as its effects on my own artistic practice. (To read the full article, please visit: Teaching Synaesthesia as a Gateway to Creativity)

Many thanks to Dr. Karen Simecek, Catherine Snyder, Neira Kapo, David Lautz, Terry Hall, Dawn Marie Forsyth, and to all of my former students.  This article would not have been possible without your assistance, encouragement, inspiration, and dedication to the pursuit of creativity.



January 26th, 2014

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.


Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.


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Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles.  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

September 24th, 2013

A Farewell to Teaching

New beginnings are exciting.  They are also turbulent.  Beginnings require other things to come to an end.  I’ve thought a lot about this the past few weeks, because I’ve started a new job.  This job is completely unrelated to fashion and teaching.  With it comes excitement, meeting new people, learning new things, and also a pesky feeling of loss and sadness.


It’s ironic to feel this way.  I never particularly aspired to be a teacher.  It was something that seemingly happened to me – nothing that I had planned on doing.  Yes, I am qualified to teach college.  But the identity of being a professor was something that was quite difficult for me to take on.

I’ve written about this struggle before for Worn Through:

I don’t have any formal training in pedagogy or social interaction.  I have a masters degree to curate costume and textile exhibitions, so I’m always observing how people learn and interact with exhibition and classroom spaces . . .These experiences affected me as an educator because I started teaching at 25.  I was, for all intents and purposes, fresh out of the classroom.  It was a VERY difficult transition to make, personally and professionally.  I didn’t identify with being a teacher/professor, and was often times younger than my students.


Aside from the sheer terror of speaking in front of groups in an intelligent manner, teaching was difficult because of my age.  It required me to be more of a mentor than a friend, which was something I didn’t consider myself to be!  “Mentor” seems like a title for someone much older and more seasoned than myself.  I hardly have my own life figured out, so it seemed ridiculous to see myself in this way.


For the first few years, every class meeting filled me with anxiety.  I never felt prepared enough.  I never felt knowledgeable enough.  I never felt like I embodied what a good professor was.  I would obsess about creating the perfect lectures and assignments, lose sleep over selecting readings, and miss meals to do grading.
I had a routine of getting through the tough times.  I’d pour myself a cup of coffee, repeating a mantra: “One day, I will not have to be a teacher“.  It helped to keep my sanity.  I had set up an impossible ideal of what I should be, and felt trapped in a role I could never fill.


At a certain point, I threw away all my notions of what I should be.  Instead, I tried to make my classes fun.  I wanted my students to have permission to be everything I wasn’t allowing myself to be: fun, spontaneous, creative, inspired, interesting.


The results were unanimous.  Having fun is the best way to learn.
I also learned a lot myself.  To be a good teacher, you must be a good listener and observer.  I always thought the perfect teacher had a secret file labeled: “the perfect thing to say at any given moment”.  That advice just magically rolled off their tongues and inspired students to work to their full potential.  Clearly, I had no file like this.  So I just watched.  When I saw something special, I learned to speak up.  I had no magic wand, no hidden power.  I’d just say: “That’s really good! Make MORE!!!!!!!!!!



And then I would encourage them to interact with other students.  I started to understand that I didn’t need to be everything to everyone.  If another faculty member or student was better at illustrating a croquis or draping a garment, I should let them take over.

Slowly, I started to re-define what a good teacher is.  Now, I see this as someone that listen and observes the talent in another person and encourages them to do more with it.  A good teacher exposes students to new ideas, new media, and new ways of creating.  A good teacher will give you work as a way to find new methods of self-expression.

A good teacher will give you a structure for success.  This is learning the discipline of the course.  But a good teacher will also show you how to be independent.  The aim of teaching is for students to no longer need a teacher.  The goal is for the students to realize they have all the skills and resources to be successful on their own.


In this way, my students were my teachers.  They challenged the way I thought about and perceived the world.  They showed me new ways to be creative.  They helped me to realized that I better at teaching that I let myself believe.


Just as soon as I learned this lesson, life has taken me on another journey.  So for now, this is my farewell to leading a classroom.  It was amazing, frustrating, enlightening, and exhausting.  I’m so grateful for every single person that I’ve met along the way.




May 23rd, 2013

Trend Forecasting

Today’s post is an interview.  My student, Jeremy, is writing his thesis on trend forecasting.  He asked me a few questions about trend forecasting companies.  I thought it would be fun to share our discussion.  If anyone wants to join our conversation, please leave a comment!  It would be very helpful to Jeremy.

  • In few words, can you tell me if trends are essential for companies? Or if they are not essential, and why.

Absolutely.  Trends impact every single industry, from fashion to transportation to food.  Since we live in an information-rich environment, it is essential that every business stays in tune with change.  The internet has really accelerated the rate in which information travels.  Consumers play a much more active role in product development with open source sites.  Sharing, commenting and liking on sites such as  Facebook or Twitter have allowed companies to interact with consumers on a more personal basis.  Observing consumers on these types of platforms are key to predicting future trends and consumer behavior.  What makes a trend essential for any company the way in which it relates to fundamental human nature.  People are constantly seeking a balance between stability and change.  Stability allows a person to feel comfortable, to relax, and perhaps the opportunity to “not think” when they are overstimulated.  Yet too much stability creates boredom.  This is why I think trends will always be essential.  Trends introduce novelty in ways that consumers are able to comfortable with and can quickly adopt.

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  • In your opinion, what are the qualities required to work as a trend forecaster?

First, I think that all forecasters have to have a keen eye, particularly for color.  Color is such an important part of product development, mostly because it illicit a psychological response in people.  Some people are obviously more sensitive to perceiving color.  For example, it is difficult for someone that is colorblind to forecast colors and trends because they do not have the ability to perceive the range of color that most people can.  Recently, scientists discovered a woman that can see 99 million more colors than the average person.  The research on this is still very new.  What the scientists discovered, is that a majority of women that gave birth to colorblind children had an additional “mutant” cone for perceiving color.  (Cones are what allow us to see color.  Normally, humans have 3 cones.  A colorblind person generally has 2, hence why that cannot see greens or reds.)  After running tests on these women with the additional cone, one was able to see a much broader spectrum of color than those of us with 3 cones.  While I’m not a scientist, I believe this could be a scientific breakthrough in understanding why certain people gravitate towards fashion and art.  They probably are able to see a larger spectrum of colors than others.



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Next, I would say that forecasters should have a real interest and desire to study the past.  Most new trends are really interpretations and modifications to fashions that have already existed.  It’s really important to know what was fashionable in history, and generally you can see changes in silhouette every 8 – 12 years.  You also need to know what impacted these eras socially, economically, and culturally.  People preferred certain styles because of what was happening at the time.  As you start to really look at history, you’ll see a pattern.  This makes trend forecasting more “predictable”.



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Third, trend forecasters have to be really curious and personable.  You need to observe what is happening everywhere.  You’ll need to talk to a wide variety of people.  Gathering data, especially about what consumers think they need and can’t find in the marketplace, is critical to being a successful forecaster.  You can’t be afraid to talk to strangers or experts.  You just need to march up to them, be friendly, ask your questions and listen.




Image courtesy of

Lastly, I think that a really good forecaster has to be able to interpret a large amount of information and make it easy to understand.  A majority of clients and consumers will fatigue after reviewing too much information.  A forecaster has to take all of the guesswork and jargon out of the equation.  You need to make sure that anyone could understand your predictions easily, because they don’t have the background or interest to gather the information themselves.  If they did, they wouldn’t have hired you. :)

  • Is there a way to formulate a true prediction or do you think this process is just a way to dictate fashion?

 I’m not sure that there is a way to dictate fashion anymore.  The fashion world has become so fragmented.  It had to, to survive the ways in which society has changed.  I think it’s difficult to dictate a single fashion.  People have all different interests, shapes, sizes, etc. However, I think it is easy to formulate several possible outcomes that would satisfy consumers.  Most of this involves understanding what they want, how the world is changing, and what they need to feel that balance of stability and excitement.  Always being attuned to society and consumers lifestyles/desires/dislikes is the closest you’ll get to a crystal ball.

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  • In your opinion, are physical trend books and offices trend competing with online trend sites, like Style Sight? Are they compatible or competitors?

In my opinion, you need a physical book or report.  While online sites are nice to get a feeling or idea of color, they do absolutely nothing for communicating the texture and feel of fabrics.  Touching and understanding how a fabric interacts with the human body is really important.  It’s also important to see how certain colors transfer to fabrics.  Computers give a very saturated view of color.  In reality, the ways that fabric interact with dyes and how they reflect light is completely different in physical space.  You’ve probably experienced this while shopping online: you love the photographs of a product, but it somehow looks like different when it arrives.  I believe that online sites should compliment a physical trend book, but should never substitute for one.  There is only so much that a computer screen can convey. 

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  • We do not interpret trends in the same way in different brand level (Luxury, Bridge, Designer, fast-fashion.)   What are the differences and similarities?

 Obviously, a lot is different in regards to the price point.   These types of lines may be looking at the same trend ideas, but their execution will be very different.  If you are working for a higher end brand, it is important to present excellent quality textiles.  It is also more important to present innovations in textiles, finishes, and other technology that improves the materials.  It is also important to consider what geographical locations the brands will be selling.  Different markets will want different things.  Most brands tune into this, because what might be very popular in France will not be in, say, Dubai.  I think larger chains, that offer mid – to low-rage items have the biggest challenged.  They have to interpret the trend in the cheapest and fastest possible way.  Luxury brands have the advantage of sourcing better and higher quality materials, and feel less of a “time crunch” to launch a specific trend or style.

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  • And finally, what future do you see for trends offices?

I think that trend offices will be more important because brands simply don’t have the time to sort through all of the visual information.  Many companies have downsized, and just don’t want to hire permanent staff.  Trend companies allow brands to have access to information and research a cost far below hiring permanent staff.  I also think that with the economic condition worldwide, it is the perfect service for young people to start contracting to bigger companies.  Everyone has to be creative with how to stay employed.  Why not do it offering your creativity as a service?
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March 4th, 2013

What I’ve been up to . . .

I’ve been a busy bee the past few weeks. Teaching definitely keeps me on the go!  I know that my blog focuses more on my personal observations of art, fashion, and creativity.  But I thought you might like to know what I’ve been doing for my profession.  Right now, I teach a textile class and a product development class.  Grading always keeps me busy, but I really enjoy designing projects for my students.  Product development has been so much fun.  My students are designing a private label line and going through the steps to put it into production. Here’s a look at some of their work:



This is a preview of a line called Femme Victorial by my student Marija.  Aside from designing the looks, sourcing the materials, and verifying costs or fabric and production, they also have to make social media channels to promote the line.  You can follow Femme Victorial on Twitter!


This is a preview of Wonderland NYC, by my students Chance and Nancy.  Their line is so adorable, and has a great Instagram account.  You can see more of there line there.




My textile class keeps me super busy!  Just in the last month, we have covered knitting, crocheting, weaving, dyeing and printing.  Whew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  I can only imagine how my students must feel.  Learning textiles for the first time can be so overwhelming.  I never thought I’d remember all of the complicated information about weave structures.  It takes time and practice.  I’m also a firm believer in student centered learning, so I try to make lots of activities.  So, we learn how to crochet . . .


And knit . . . (by the way, I finally finished this knitting this circular scarf I started over a YEAR ago.  It was part of my demo of how to cast off.  I’m loving  how the purl stitch came out!)


We also tie-dyed in a crock pot last week.  Sorry, no photos of that.  I somehow misplaced my sample.  We discussed printing, and tomorrow we are going to talk more about patterns and repeats.  Here is a sketch I made for my friend Ashley’s birthday.  I’m going to frame it for her, but wanted to turn it into a textile first.  So I’ll be sure to scan a high-res image and show my students how to use Spoonflower, a print-on-demand textile and wallpaper site.


We also discussed block printing on textiles.  William Morris used the block printing method for his wonderful fabrics.  So tomorrow, we will be making our own block prints from potatoes.  I just bought some this afternoon for the class.  Since time is so critical, I carved out a few designs myself.



Now, all the students have to do is apply some fabric paint.  Plus, they will know how to do it themselves in the future.  So fun!  But what I’m really excited for is this small silk screening kit I found.  It’s small enough to travel well, and perfect to demonstrate the difference between printing types.  I so excited for tomorrow!



Now, it’s back to work for me.  I have so much left to do!

February 1st, 2013

A Conversation on Social Interaction

Teaching is always on my mind.  I’m always looking for new and better ways to communicate with my students and those around me.  Worn Through allows me to share my observations and strategies I use for teaching.  One thing I always try to do when planning a lesson is create activities that encourage social interaction.

This term, I am completing a training to teach online.  I’ve been increasingly preoccupied with ways in which to engage and direct social interaction in a digital classroom.   This led me to contact Dirk vom Lehn.  Vom Lehn is a sociologist and lecturer at Kings College.  I was hoping he could share his experiences as an educator and expert on social interaction to shed some light on the matter.  He also invited his colleauge Will Gibson, lecturer at the Institute of Education at the University of London to join the disucssion.

A really dynamic conversation is unraveling as we discuss our interests and training in social interaction as a learning tool.  So for today’s post, please visit Worn Through and read On Teaching Fashion: A Conversation on Social Interaction, Part I.  Whether or not you are a teacher, vom Lehn and Gibson offer some wonderful insights on learning – something you should never stop doing!




January 27th, 2012

Teaching a New Course?

Create Moments in Teaching. Cartoon courtesy of


There comes a moment in your teaching career when you are assigned a new course.  It may be your very first time leading a classroom, or you may be a seasoned professional tackling a special topics class.

Please read my post, On Teaching Fashion: Do They Hear What I Hear? for Worn Through.  I share some of my hard-earned tips for gauging what your students are retaining from your lectures.  Teaching a course for the first time is challenging, but not impossible.  Learn how to balance everything and still get the students to remember the course content.

March 27th, 2010

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Here is a synopsis I wrote back in college for a philosophy of physics class.  Enjoy!

According to Kuhn, normal science is based on a collective assumption of the scientific community that the world functions in a specific way.  This assumption is a paradigm, or a model, for the rest of the community and their successive theories, experiments, and basic way of perceiving the physical world.  The scientific community relies on paradigms, and measures all successive theories and discoveries to these pre-existing beliefs.  This ridged concept of reality and science makes it difficult for new theories and discoveries to develop, as they endanger the tradition of science and prove the paradigm as erroneous.

Generally, a discovery of some type of anomaly causes a shift in the scientific community, which Kuhn labels a “scientific revolution“.  As the term revolution implies, the scientific community is thus held responsible for correcting and reconstructing the entire history of science prior to the new discovery.  This is a huge and arduous task, and is met with strong resistance.

Several paradigms exist, creating a school of thought or point of reference.  This helps to create questions, methods of evaluating and determining areas of relevance, and help to find meaning in data.  These paradigms are crucial in evaluating theoretical models, as well as scientific history, as they are the tools of interpretation and allow its followers to develop a professional discipline.

Galileo observes the skies

As I see it, Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions is a logical theory which proves science to be provisional, or in a constant state of flux.  Paradigms are crucial in refining and evaluating scientific discoveries, but they also tend to limit and constrict new theories and knowledge of the physical world.  Paradigms are historically based, and extremely hard to challenge as they are held to be self-evident and infallible to scientists.  However, it is important that people continue to challenge this history and to find and explain anomalies manifest in the physical world.  These radical and unusual theories based on anomalies further our understanding and advance our society.

The Galaxy

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