Fashion is many things — an art, a calling, a passion, a business.
But fashion also can be a force for good, said Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, associate professor and head of fashion design at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Fashion can make positive changes in the world,” said Ruppert-Stroescu, an authority on sustainable design and the ways that technology shapes fashion innovation. “Our students excel in design but also in pushing the boundaries of how fashion can support society and help to preserve our planet for future generations.”
At 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30, the Sam Fox School will present WashU’s 93rd Annual Fashion Design Show. One of the oldest such shows in the nation, the event will feature dozens of models wearing scores of outfits that together explore themes of sustainability, accessibility, structure and more.
“A lot of work in this show is inspired by materials,” Ruppert-Stroescu said. She pointed out that for consumers, fashion is often filtered through photography and popular media, while contemporary designers often use digital tools to help develop patterns. “But a pattern done in silk or muslin will look and feel entirely different than the same pattern in brocade or recycled cotton.”
The attention to tactile experience manifests in the opening collection of special-occasion outfits — 17 in all — created as part of “Made to Model,” an all-volunteer program that pairs WashU designers with youth from the Special School District of St. Louis County, Variety STL and KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) St. Louis. Founded last summer by Shelei Pan, a sophomore in Arts & Sciences, the group creates clothes for students with disabilities, who may have difficulty wearing standard sizes and cuts, or sensitivities to particular colors, patterns or textures.
“Our goal is to spread awareness about the importance of fashion for people of all abilities,” Pan told the WashU Source last fall. “And in turn, promote inclusivity and awareness.”
From ‘Daybreak’ to ‘Nocturnal’
The next collection, titled “Daybreak,” features bold, hand-woven knitwear. “Venus” highlights loose, spring-inspired garments in soft pastels. “Elemental” shifts the palette to earth tones, while “Reflection” showcases cool, shimmering fabrics that shine like water. “Wild” pays homage to festival culture (including WashU’s own outdoor concert series) through vintage “upcycled” fabrics and crochet.
“Knitting and crochet are extremely sustainable methods,” Ruppert-Stroescu pointed out. “They use exactly the amount of material that the final piece contains. There’s no waste.”
Next up is “Future,” showcasing sharp, angular lines and sleek, saturated colors, followed by “Disruption” (experimental looks), “Polish” (tailored overcoats) and “Unwind” (kimono jackets made from recycled muslin). Concluding the program will be “Geode,” which draws inspiration from geological formations, and “Nocturnal,” collecting a variety of formal looks.
An important skill
The 93rd Annual Fashion Design Show is organized by students in Ruppert-Stroescu’s fashion promotion and exhibition course, which explores topics relating to fashion marketing and public relations.
Ruppert-Stroescu launched the class — which is open to students from across the university — in the spring of 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of large gatherings, the class quickly pivoted and organized the 2020 and 2021 fashion design shows as online events, as well as attendant social media campaigns.
“This is the first year that the class will be organizing the fashion design show as an in-person event,” Ruppert-Stroescu explained. “It’s an amazing opportunity, as well as a critical learning experience for all of our students.
“For designers, presenting your work in a professional manner is an important skill.”
Sponsors and awards
The Fashion Design Show is coordinated by Ruppert-Stroescu and sponsored by Mother Model Management, Caleres, Evolution St. Louis, Stars Design Group and Tacony Corporation, with support from Dominic Bertani, Randi Nicole and Susan Sanders Block.
The evening also will feature several departmental awards, including:
- The Saks Fifth Avenue Awards, which will recognize six students who show exceptional creativity and marketability in their work. Looks from the selected students will be displayed in May in the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Plaza Frontenac.
- The Dominic Michael Cutting Edge Award, which highlights the unique links between designing hair and designing garments. The award will identify the student whose work engages color, texture and volume in the most compelling manner.
- The Susan Sanders Block Silver Ripper Award, presented to the junior fashion design student who has shown the most determination and growth.
- The Riverbend Textiles Sustainable Design Leadership award, presented to the student who has promoted sustainable clothing design through active leadership and original fashion design work.
- The Fashion Citizenship Award, presented to an outstanding second-year fashion design major who has demonstrated good citizenship and community engagement.
- The Stars Design Group Lead Design Talent Award, presented to a student with high business potential; the award includes mentorship and studio space.
The 93rd Annual Washington University Fashion Design Show will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and a “meet and greet” with the designers will immediately follow the show.
The event is free and open to the public, but ticket reservations are required. To reserve tickets or to register for the Youtube livestream, visit here.
View information about campus COVID-19 policies here.