Mood boards are fairly standard in the fashion industry and other aspects of design, but they can easily be made use of in the industry of writing. In fact, many writers keep scrap books or collect and arrange material in various ways that are comparable to fashion mood boards.
In the world of fashion, a mood board is a set of starting points for a collection. It is a physical thing on which the designer may pin objects that attract or inspire her. These may include: drawings and designs, photographs, paintings, colour samples, fabric swatches, sketches of silhouettes and other shapes, prints, sculptures, landscapes, cinematic trends, architectural wonders — anything that might inform the designing of the clothes themselves.
The practice of making clothes as art — haute couture — has parallels with the practice of writing poems. (The parallels extend also to the practice of experiences these artworks.)
You may have to put aside the things that are unpleasant or incomprehensible to you about fashion design. You don’t even need to understood the clothes (artworks) produced, just as many don’t understand poems. But the mood board and the eventual collection produced for the runway are fascinating clusters of art to consider. Let’s say a collection of runway clothes consists of fifty ensembles. These ensembles may be all dresses or swimsuits, but in most cases they consist of a variety of garments that are connected by certain motifs, colours, shapes, references, attitudes and styles, arguments (visual, political, textural, and so on), and these refer back to the material collaged on the mood board.
The aesthetic logic that explains the mood board’s collection is in no way equational. This silhouette plus this colour in this fabric plus this reference to 1950s noir does not a garment make. So much more goes in, but the few things that are tangible, describable, are worth considering.
Although this dress is not part of a collection, I love that its prompt was ‘air’ and that the designer had chosen to wrap his model in ‘a swirl of laughter.’ The truth is the designer is working with so much more than bricks of possibilities cemented into a realised whole. There are feelings and memories and desires to create certain effects over others (the desire to make a woman feel ‘classically beautiful,’ the desire to be avant garde, the desire to employ future-friendly materials and processes, the desire to re-imagine genders.).
The relationship between the mood board and the collection is circular and infinite. In the process of designing, the designer may be moved to add something more to the board: a certain dress created may become pivotal and placing its sketch among the other collage items may aid in the creation of other dresses; some music may be found; a story about a jungle; feathers; the texture of gateau de crêpes in one’s mouth. So the mood board is created and re-created along with the collection. And the mood board and its corresponding collection may inspire future mood boards and collections just as a poet never loses the history of her own writing.
The more I write about this the more I convince myself that there are strong comparisons to be made between haute couture garments and poems, especially when they are sequenced, or produced for a sequence.
For example, there is the idea of progress in a runway collection, a progress of ideas, an ever-accumulating visual impact. There is the idea of hooking the viewer with the first dress, playing with her expectations and senses, allowing for climaxes and complications. There is the idea of a colour story; colours are developed, not just used. A purple scarf will reappear as a pair of violet boots. The fur on one model’s purse will come back as a hat.
The collection as story resonates so well with me. This is not a novelistic convention. It’s not a sequence of events. There is no plot to be unravelled. There is no linear time.
One of the problems with the mood board — for writers, especially — is its physicality. The only senses it can meaningfully address are sight and touch — since the visual and the tactile are primary in the designing of clothes.
What would it mean to place the objects that preoccupy a writer — or whatever objects that can be physically realised — in one place as a sort of multi-media collage and to actively draw and give back to it? Along with snippets of memory, experiences of nature, swatches of text, can there be food, colour, smell?
It also occurs to me that most haute couture collections are produced in a design house or maison — a capitalist venture that also some artisanal qualities. There are junior designers and apprentices, seamstresses and embroiderers, weavers and cutters, and others with specialised training. The mood board is then also a practical device and a necessity: certain aesthetic parameters that cannot be conveyed by verbal instruction are communicated via the collage. So many people are involved, and their visions have to be subsumed under that of the head designer(s). I can imagine one such person walking by the mood board and modifying her sketches so that what she produces, no matter how small, will not clash with everything else.
Naturally a poet usually does not have to worry about an entire team of people submitting themselves to her vision, and the mood board is essentially a private affair.
At any given phase of writing, my mood board is an ever fluctuating cluster of images, phrases, sounds, structures, videos, dreams/memories, whole books, feelings, explanations, whole movies, arguments, movements, colours, animals, specific writers and musicians and other artists, and I’ve never attempted to transpose them into a form that is — not manageable — but more available to me somehow. Instead, old items are discarded and new ones are added to a morgue in my head.
Of course, I can look up the various books I was reading or movies I was watching when I wrote something (going back to 2007), but that’s not enough. Neither are the few scraps of paper I’ve filed away. I’m beginning to regret this.
It’s not been important before. Maybe it’s because I’m writing very specifically in response to things that can be put in museums (of whatever kind) that I have a need to create a mood board. It seems an excellent non-verbal means of conveying the points of departure of a set of poems — not the poems themselves, because the mood board is essentially jagged and chaotic and unedited — and being a reminder. Also: a focus.
Imagine having an entire wall to yourself. What would you put on it? The only rule is: the things on the wall must mean something to the things you are writing.