80th annual fashion show caps Saint Louis Fashion Week

Fashion is fun, challenging, inspiring and everywhere. It is also hard work. This weekend, 11 seniors and seven juniors from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts — home to the nation’s oldest four-year fashion design program — will present the fruits of their labors in the school’s 80th annual Fashion Design Show.

Photo by Mary Butkus

The fully choreographed, Paris-style annual fashion show is run by students of the oldest four-year fashion design program in the nation.

The hour-long, fully choreographed, Paris-style extravaganza — which serves as the concluding event for Saint Louis Fashion Week — begins at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 29, at the Lumiere Place Casino & Hotels.

“This is the second year that the University has been part of Saint Louis Fashion Week,” said Jeigh Singleton, associate professor and director of the fashion show since 1987. “This collaboration has proved advantageous educationally as well as socially.

“The opportunity to act locally in harmony with this burgeoning fashion renaissance is unique among schools with fashion design programs,” Singleton said. “Our students learn a particular skill set in academia, but the skill set necessary for promotion, production, exhibition with real deadlines, real bottom lines and real professionals is more real than any classroom, studio or ‘reality television’ can supply. This collaboration serves us well in providing more preparation for the next step.”

In addition to designing and sewing garments, students take responsibility for staging a model call and selecting models; arranging fittings; choreographing for the runway; and working with technical crew and stylists such as Dominic Bertani of the Dominic-Michael Salon. “Seniors are so busy backstage, they don’t even see the show,” Singleton said.

Chaired by alumna Susan Block (BFA ’76), the show will begin, in a twist on tradition, with a contemporary wedding dress created by senior Michelleanne Deutsch. Selected by competition, this sleek halter-style gown is designed to reflect modern values of equality and opportunity. Alumna Sarah Hughes served as juror.

The show will continue with fall dress groups by senior students. Inspirations range from Mayan culture to cutting-edge technology to the architecture of Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas and William Pereira.

Next up will be junior skirts and blouses based on the concept of patterns, followed by senior coats — running the gamut from boldly modern to 1980s retro to 19th-century vintage — and juniors’ crepe suit-sets.

Concluding the show will be senior ball gowns. Xavier Avila offers a razor-sharp gown in burgundy crepe defined by seductive cutouts, and Margaret Hemkins was inspired by 1950s pinup Bettie Page. Eula Hinds created a spiraling confection of chocolate and caramel satin, and Catherine Hite drew inspiration from architect Antoni Gaudí.

Audra Janak updates the traditional Indian sari; Windnie Pan channels modern strength and confidence, and Amanda Pargh recreates the vampy screen goddesses of classic cinema.

Tara Phelan offers a romantic, three-tiered gown of pink satin and black tulle. Elizabeth Romaner combines African beats with the fierce glamour of Roberto Cavalli. Melissa Wong recalls the magic and innocence of classic Disney princesses.

“Often the glamorous spectacle of a fashion show eclipses the rigor of a fashion design program,” Singleton said. “Our mantra is simply this: We are in the ‘know business,’ not ‘show business.’ The results of this baccalaureate experience show up in our most important product: our most recent graduates.”

The Fashion Design Show dates back to 1929, when Irving L. Sorger — the merchandise manager for Kline’s, a tony St. Louis department store — visited the University’s recently established Dress Design Program, as it was then known.

Sorger was hoping to get a better sense of what young women wanted to wear and, impressed by the students’ work, organized a showing for local garment manufacturers. Ultimately eight dresses were selected for production, and, with sales surpassing all expectations, juniors’ fashions soon became a staple of the city’s garment industry.

Though St. Louis is no longer a manufacturing center, alumni of the fashion program include celebrated designers such as Paula Varsalona, Carolyn Roehm, Vicki Van Osdol, Kristin Twenhafel Morse and Ellie Broady. Recent graduates work for many of the industry’s major fashion houses and clothing retailers, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, J. Crew, Target and Kohl’s.

Tickets are $65 for general seating and $35 for standing-room-only and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

In addition, front-row VIP seating is available for $100, which also includes a special reception immediately preceding the show at 6 p.m.

Proceeds will support scholarships in the fashion program. For more information, visit saintlouisfashionweek.com.