Runway that launched juniors’ fashions still going strong

Washington University in St. Louis will present "The Know Show: The 75th Annual School of Art Fashion Design Show" May 2

In 1929, a college fashion show changed the apparel industry forever.

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Irving L. Sorger, then merchandise manager for Kline’s, a tony St. Louis department store, was struck by the lack of clothing designed specifically for high-school and college-age women. To get a sense of just what those customers might want, he paid a visit to nearby Washington University in St. Louis, where the School of Fine Arts (now School of Art) had recently established a Dress Design Program.

School of Art Fashion Design Show, c.1947
School of Art Fashion Design Show, c.1947

Impressed by the quality of students’ work, Sorger organized a fashion show at Kline’s for local garment manufacturers. Eight dresses were selected for production. Sales surpassed all expectations.

The juniors’ dress was born.

By the mid-1930s, Sorger’s continued advocacy and consumer research had made juniors’ fashions the engine driving a booming garment district. In 1934, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis manufacturers became the first to market juniors’ sizes, such as 5, 7 and 9. Between 1935 and 1940, the number of local garment workers shot from 1,200 to 6,000. By 1949, more than 250 manufacturers employed 20,000 workers and annually shipped products worth $170 million.

St. Louis was shaping the look of post-World War II America.

Sorger, meanwhile, became a kind of “godfather” to the Dress Design Program, endowing scholarships, scrounging donations of fabric and persuading local manufacturers — who frequently hired graduates — to underwrite new equipment. The Fashion Design Show became an annual extravaganza, staged at swanky downtown hotels and featuring hundreds of outfits.

In 1941, Washington University became home to what is believed to be the nation’s first four-year, degree-granting fashion program.

The 75th Annual School of Art Fashion Design Show

Today, both the Fashion Design Program (as its now called) and the Fashion Design Show are still going strong.

Though St. Louis is no longer a manufacturing center, New York-based alumni such as Paula Varsalona and Carolyn Roehm have become internationally renowned couture designers. Recent graduates work for major fashion houses and clothing retailers, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Nanette Lepore, Lilly Pulitzer, Nike, Lands’ End, Fitigues, Lane Bryant, The May Co. and Federated Department Stores.

And on Sunday, May 2, the School of Art will present The Know Show: The 75th Annual Fashion Design Show at Saint Louis Galleria. The fully choreographed, Paris-style extravaganza will feature dozens of professional and volunteer models wearing more than 100 outfits created by the program’s 14 junior and nine senior fashion majors.



WHO: Washington University School of Art’s Fashion Design Program

WHAT: The Know Show: The 75th Annual Fashion Design Show

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday, May 2. Reception 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Saint Louis Galleria

TICKETS: $50 general seating, $25 students. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543; at the Galleria Concierge Service Center; and at the door.

SPONSORS:Washington University School of Art and Saint Louis Galleria

INFORMATION: (314) 935-9090


All clothing is chosen by a jury of professional designers, university faculty and leaders in the clothing industry. Outstanding student designers receive a variety of scholarships, cash prizes and awards. Last year, approximately 500 people attended the event, raising about $50,000.

The Know Show is about knowledge,” said Jeigh Singleton, head of the Fashion Design Program. “It’s about showing off a body of work and a set of skills that students have accumulated. It’s a way to say, ‘We’re here, we know how to do this, look at us.'”

Designs will range from opera coats paired with colorful knitted evening dresses to sportswear, power suits, ballgowns inspired by flowers and the seniors’ signature collections, each a fully coordinated line.

“The Fashion Program is structured the way business is structured, and students are treated like professionals,” Singleton explains. “Fashion is the most immediate expression of culture. It’s out there much sooner than anything else. And when students leave here, they’re ready to be ‘out there,’ too.”

In a Fashion Design Show tradition, the show also highlights a single student-designed wedding dress, selected by competition. This year’s juror is alumnus Dominic Ngo Mueller, a designer for J.C. Penny.

Festivities begin with a reception at 7:30 p.m. in the Galleria’s Garden Court, near the entrance to Lord & Taylor. The hour-long show starts at 8 p.m., followed by a dessert reception for the designers and audience, during which many of the featured couture creations will be available for purchase.

Fashion Design class of 1960
School of Art’s Fashion Design class of 1960

General admission is $50, $25 for students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and at the Galleria Concierge Service Center. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. For more information, call the 24-hour fashion show hotline at (314) 935-9090.

The Know Show marks the 10th year of collaboration between Washington University and Saint Louis Galleria.The show is chaired by alumna Susan Block (BFA’76) and organized by a committee of volunteers, including show coordinator Jane Kairuz, Michael O’Keefe of Technical Productions and Gretchen Hafferkamp of Premiere Rentals.

For the 12th year, the models’ hair will by done by Dominic Bertani of the Dominic Michael Salon, which also sponsors the Dominic Michael Silver Scissors Designer of the Year Award. The award, designed by nationally known metalsmith Roger Rimel, is presented to one outstanding senior at the end of the evening.

The models’ makeup will be done by MAC.