Student fashion design heads to Instagram

91st annual Sam Fox School Fashion Design Show goes virtual May 9

The Fashion Design Program 2020 senior class. From left: Meredith Liu, Chandler Marten, Raelyn Browning, Lina Willey, Matthew McLoughlin and Eric Li.

It’s fair to say that things have not proceeded according to plan.

Each year since 1929, students at Washington University in St. Louis have organized a fully choreographed fashion design show. It’s a rite of spring and a major event on the local fashion calendar. Rain or shine, war or peace, through boom economies and periods of recession — the fashion show goes on.

And so it will again, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit in unique form. At 4 p.m. Saturday, May 9, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts will present the 91st Annual Fashion Design Show on YouTube and IGTV (Instagram TV).

“It’s been quite a pivot,” said Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, associate professor and head of fashion design. “We went through a lot of options and have designed a pretty intensive Instagram campaign. Over the last several weeks, we’ve been showcasing sketches, details and, most recently, finished garments. The hope is to build a sense of anticipation.”

The May 9 show will feature video profiles of six graduating seniors: Raelyn Browning, Eric Li, Meredith Liu, Chandler Marten, Matthew McLoughlin and Lina Willey. Students largely shot their own footage, with advice and Zoom mentoring from St. Louis photographer Patrick Lanham and videographer Chris Rieger. Ruppert-Stroescu and Amy Hauft, director of the Sam Fox School’s College of Art, will provide introductions.

Anya Carter is a senior in Arts & Sciences majoring in political science with minors in philosophy and design. This spring, she took part in Ruppert-Stroescu’s “Fashion Promotion and Exhibition” seminar, which has proven instrumental in taking the show online.

“Each member of our class paired up with a student designer to showcase their collection inspiration, materials, design process and final editorial images,” Carter said. “We worked with them to understand who they are as people, designers and creators.

“This experience has taught us how important community is during trying times,” Carter added. Without that support, the task “might have seemed insurmountable. And while it has not come without its blips, hardships and mistakes, fashion has an incredible ability to bring people together and create cultural language.”

Design sketches by Raelyn Browning

Capstone projects

This year’s senior class was mentored by Philip Fimmano, director of Trend Union, a world-renowned fashion and lifestyle trend forecasting company. The Fashion Design Show will highlight the students’ capstone projects, each a fully coordinated collection targeting a particular market and customer demographic.

Collections include Browning’s retro-futurist “Space Renaissance,” which combines hyper-bright colors with heart-on-your-sleeve emotion; and Li’s fluidly minimalist “Beyond,” which blends Eastern and Western tailoring to explore themes of cultural identity and transcendence.

Liu’s “Restoration” was inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which artists use golden lacquer to rejoin pieces of broken pottery. Liu’s video also will feature original music by composer Cole Reyes, a senior in Arts & Sciences — a project supported by a Sam Fox School Creative Collaboration grant.

Marten’s “Untitled (Consciousness)” explores tensions between our physical and digital selves by using natural dyes and fibers to mold materials around the body. McLoughlin’s “Carnal Attraction” examines themes of taboo, agency, constriction and control. Willey’s strategically monochromatic “Suburban Subconscious” draws on sports culture, utility wear and business attire to investigate the psychology of the American Dream.

Design sketches by Eric Li

Developing portfolios

As in past years, the Fashion Design Show also will feature the live announcement of departmental awards. These include:

  • The Saks Fifth Avenue Honorary Designer Award. Now in its eighth year, the award is presented to the senior fashion design student whose collection is deemed most marketable.
  • The Dominic Michael Silver Scissors Designer of the Year Award. Sponsored by the Dominic Michael Salon for more than two decades, the award is presented to the senior fashion design student who has shown compelling creativity and exceptional skill in fashion design conception and execution.
  • The Silver Ripper Award. Sponsored by alumna Susan Sanders Block, this award is presented to the junior fashion design student who has shown the most growth.
  • The Riverbend Textiles Sustainable Design Leadership Award. This is presented to the student who has demonstrated exceptional thought and practice toward sustainable fashion design.

Judges for the senior awards included Fimmano as well as alumna Elizabeth Giardina (BFA ’02), vice president of design for Proenza Schouler; Anastasia White (BFA ’96), creative consultant and designer at Saks Fifth Avenue; and Rony Patzan, corporate senior buyer at Saks. In lieu of a printed program, students have worked with senior lecturer Claire Thomas-Morgan to develop a website showcasing the capstone collections.

Design sketches by Lina Willey

“The fashion show is an engaging event, but it’s also an important step for students developing their portfolios,” Ruppert-Stroescu said. And though assets like photography and video can be useful, the key is simply getting feedback from a real, live audience.

“It’s one thing to hear something in studio critique,” Ruppert-Stroescu continued. “‘Does this go too far, or not far enough?’ But when you put your work in front of an audience, you learn very quickly what’s working and what isn’t. After the fashion show, designers typically have a more real-world perspective on their work.”

Ruppert-Stroescu encourages viewers to help to simulate that sense of audience engagement by commenting during the show. “Even in our current socially distanced world,” she said, “fashion has a way of starting conversations.”

The 91st Annual Washington University Fashion Design Show will begin streaming at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 9. For more information, visit the Fashion Design Program’s Instagram page.

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