Categorized | Arts & Culture

Schooled in Fashion

Purple lockers line the hallways. They are no doubt filled with home-sewn dresses and tops, fabric swatches and endless sketches of things you’ll probably be wearing in five to 10 years. In this building, suede boots are far more common than everyday Pumas.

During the first two weeks of April, the classrooms and sewing labs in the Human Ecology building will be filled with over-stressed and over-caffeinated students working to construct, deconstruct, sew and ultimately complete their collection for the annual Student Apparel Design Association (SADA) fashion show.

But there is a lot more to the apparel and textile design department than fashion shows and trendy shoes.

Apparel and textile design is a fiercely competitive industry, and some of that competition has made its way to MSU – SADA has had to split its runway designers into two different shows. “The numbers increased probably 25 percent in members this year,” saod Carol Beard, SADA advisor and an apparel and textile design professor. While only 40 people participated last year, 66 designers signed up for this year’s fashion show. Although only 49 of those met the appropriate deadlines, there were still too many collections for just one show.

Rock ‘N Vogue
The fashion show called “Rock ‘N Vogue” will take place on Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. at the Wharton Center. Student designed and handmade garments will stomp down the runway, imitating the major fashion shows in New York, Paris or Milan. Each designer or design-team must have at least three ensembles in order to participate in the show.

Tony Gianacakos is an apparel and textile design junior who will take part in the fashion show for his second time. “I’m doing three women’s ensembles and two men’s ensembles,” he said. “I’ve never done menswear before. It’s actually a lot harder to do than women’s wear. That was a little ambitious.”

After a year of preparation, “pre-fashion show season” – as senior SADA president Jenny Lerczak calls it – is upon us. The season requires designers to have completely finished garments, including accessories. The garments will be judged before they go down the runway and awards will be given out at the end of Friday’s show.

Despite the growth, the venue changed this year from the Auditorium to the Pasant Theatre, a smaller location. “Basically, it’s going to be a more intimate show than it’s been in the past,” Lerczak said. “I’m really impressed with the caliber of the designs people submitted this year – I just really hope it’s translated well onto the runway.

Music will be emphasized during the show this year, which organizers hope will add to the mood of the show. “It’s going to be a lot of songs people recognize,” Lerczak said. “They mood is going to change a lot in the show just because we’ve got the [music] lineup set so that it mixes it up a bit.”

Once crunch time began in mid-March, the designers, who also must participate in the planning and production of the show, were left with little free time. The show takes a lot of hard work and dedication to run so smoothly. “I just go and go and go and go – I never stop,” Gianacakos said. “There’s always something you can improve. It’s not like we’re professionals.”

Any paid member of SADA can sign up to be in the fashion show. Potential designers create a design packet that gets reviewed by the department’s faculty members and a decision is made into which show the designer’s collection will go. “It’s a lot of work. It’s drawing your ensembles on bodies and they need to be fully rendered [colored],” Gianacakos said “It’s a lot of thinking because you want your collection to coordinate but you don’t want it to be too similar.”

Community Threads
While the fashion show is SADA’s largest and most time-consuming event, the organization does not exist for the sole purpose of displaying student work. “We’re still a young organization,” Gianacakos said. “We’re trying to implement more things for the community. We’re hosting a historical ball which is the day after the fashion show…It’s people who enjoy dressing up in historical costume and coming to venues. That is one of our things we do to give back to the community – we put on something not for us, but for others.”

Students in the association also take an annual trip to New York City where they meet different people in the industry, such as Vera Wang. Part of Gianancakos’ position in SADA requires him to help build relationships with people in the industry. “I think that’s the hardest part about our major is networking and trying to build relationships with people,” Gianancakos said. “If you know how to do that, you’re set.”

While the New York trip allows the student designers to gain networking skills and meet others in the industry, their classes at MSU offer real world business and creative experiences. “We’ve tried to set it up – at least in my classes – so it prepares you for what you’re really going to get, not just what the books say, but what really happens in the industry,” Faulkner said. “The designer isn’t always the be-all end-all saying ‘Here’s my vision and everyone goes, ‘OK’. A lot of times it’s, “Here’s our vision, make it happen.’ There’s give and take, so hopefully we’ve infused some industry experience and background into the program.”

Beard said there are certain advantages to gaining your four-year degree from a state school like MSU. “I think what we do is give them a broad base of education,” Beard said. “You’re getting your liberal arts degree when you come here. We want students that can really think broadly. I think that’s the advantage of getting a four-year degree because if you choose to change careers, you have that basis at Michigan State. If you chose to go to a design school, you are going to get more hands-on classes. You are going to get more art classes. You are going to get more construction classes. We teach the same things, just not as intensely as those schools do. But our students are still getting really good jobs.”

Beard has had recent graduates placed all over the country, from New York to Los Angeles. Some tackle private designing, a particularly competitive choice, while others go to work for big names, such as Target or Dillard’s. Some students begin to work in the magazine industry.

The department tries to apply those real world situations by giving students an outlet to help people within East Lansing and the surrounding areas. “We also do a lot of community things,” Beard said. “We find people with special clothing needs and the students interview them and take measurements, research whatever the disability was that the person had and then they created a garment for that person specifically. We worked with Sparrow hospital on that.”

Last year, Lerczak was one of the students who helped design for a female who used a wheelchair. This allowed Lerczak and her classmates to use their knowledge of construction and measurements to create something really meaningful. “That to me was probably my favorite project to work on just because it was so great to see that we were impacting someone’s life,” Lerczak said. “We had a positive impact on her – she got 20 new garments out of that deal and they were all things that fit her.”

Getting Technical
New technology makes it easier to design, whether it’s for the community, the SADA fashion show or class projects. The ability to design and create fabrics for any purpose is now as easy as the click of a mouse – the creations are only limited by the imagination. One program, called U4ia (pronounced “euphoria”) is an apparel design program used by large companies such as Gap and JCPenney. Though extremely expensive, the technology is available for the apparel and textile design department. “I helped create some of the design software so they donated the software,” professor Lori Faulkner said. “They donated over 10 million dollars worth of software now. It’s used more than any other apparel software in companies across the whole world.”
Advanced technology like U4ia is increasing the creative aspect of the design program. Now that the College of Human Ecology has disbanded, the apparel and textile design program is located within the College of Arts and Letters and possibly faces curriculum changes. “We’re hoping that by being affiliated with Arts and Letters, we will be able to expand some of our creative classes,” Beard said.

Part of the decision to make the program more inventive required hiring some new staff, such as Della Reams, a professor with more than 25 years of real world industry experience in designing and selling clothing. “I designed and manufactured and sold to other stores,” she said. “The industry is really competitive, but there’s also a lot of nice people who have small businesses. There are creepy people too but I suppose that’s true of an industry.”

Reams aspires to create new classes and programs within the department and hopes to teach a class where students weave their own fabric using a machine to the exact measurements they need to create a garment. “That’s what I’d like to teach here; more of the experimentation and creating something that’s never been created before, instead of learning just skills for the job,” Reams said.

The program has continued to grow and adding faculty like Reams was necessary to meet the demands of the students. “I think there’s a lot more interest in sewing and creating clothes. You wonder if it’s partially Project Runway [a popular Bravo channel reality show.] It’s really created a buzz with kids and they’re thinking, ‘If I see something, I can have it and if I dream it, I can create it.’ I think those two concepts create an interest in fashion,” Reams said.

New York, New York
Students who wish to receive a more hands-on experience can still do so while earning their degree from MSU. In a partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology, MSU apparel and textile design students can apply to participate in a one-year intensive program at the prominent fashion school to reap benefits of a big city design school and internship placement at the same time. “They would go to New York City for one year, their junior year, and that would go from August through May,” Faulkner said. “They end up having two degrees, an associate’s from FIT and a bachelor’s from Michigan State.”

Every year, MSU has an average of 10 students apply and about five typically get in. While there is no one at FIT from MSU this academic year, seven students applied to participate for the 2007-2008 year. Faulker said most likely three will be accepted. Faulkner is not only in charge of MSU’s side of the partnership, but was once a participant herself when she attended MSU as an undergrad. “I was so thrilled to be accepted and I went and I took children’s wear [at FIT] because we had two children’s wear manufacturers at the time in Michigan and I wanted to stay in Michigan and be employed,” Faulkner said. Her experience at FIT allowed her to achieve this goal.

As more and more schools make the cooperative effort with FIT, the program becomes increasingly competitive. “There used to be just a few they did it with,” Faulkner said. “We were one of the first ones they started the program with but now, there are other schools, so it’s even harder to get it. You have to be pretty qualified and have a good portfolio and sewing experience to get in. It’s beneficial because usually it doesn’t take you longer [to graduate] and you have those two degrees and you get to spend that time in New York City.”

Closely Knit
For the students in the program, creativity comes naturally. The apparel and textile design program is one of MSU’s smaller departments, but has an abundance of passion. “Because it’s so small, everybody knows each other and it’s a tight-knit group of people – we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and so when we do group work, it’s not like we’re working with completely random people,” Lerczak said. “Also, I really like that the majority of the people in this major are in SADA, so a lot of the stuff we do in class can relate to SADA and a lot of the stuff we do in SADA can relate to what we do in class.”

Beard has seen placement of many of her students in jobs all over the country and said 25 percent received jobs in New York City last year. “I see a lot of students that have come through my [in-home] sewing school,” Beard said. “And there are some students who were born to construct and create. They think very three-dimensionally and you can explain their two-dimensional design into a three-dimensional product and they do a really good job because they’re able to translate what’s on paper to a pattern to a three-dimensional object.”

The program’s best designers do exactly this when creating garments for Rock ‘N Vogue. This year’s show, where all the garments are inspired by the runway music, will be sure to leave some audience members replacing their everyday Pumas with some suede boots.

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