Fashion Forward

These students have sketched, swatched and sewn. Now their designs will walk the runway.

Katie Wilber

The Stoll Thrust stage in the Rarig Center is a long way from the runways of Paris, Milan and New York City. In fact, it isn’t even a runway.

But for 16 seniors in the clothing design department, that stage is one of the first places they have to create an identity for themselves through their designs.

The students didn’t just fashion and construct a dress or two ” they had to prepare an entire clothing line, choreograph the models’ movements, set up the show’s music and promote like crazy.

No wonder they started working last summer.

“This isn’t a final project,” said Elizabeth Bye, professor in the department of design, housing and apparel. “It’s part of their final year.”

Megan Dahle couldn’t guess how many hours she’d put into her clothing line.

“Uh, a million?” she said with a laugh. “I don’t even think I’m working on it, but I am. I’ll be sitting in class and start thinking, If I sew the hem like this… “

The students researched and developed a four- to five-piece clothing line for a specific market. They started with their inspiration ” pop culture, music, art or whatever they desired. After that, they selected University students as models, designed the clothes, drew patterns for the clothes and started sewing.

Dahle did an internship with a fashion company in Florida and used the hot weather as her muse.

“It was surprising to see how people could dress conservatively, but still show a lot of skin,” she said.

She combined that summery style with Las Vegas and old Hollywood influences to create a clothing line featuring bright pinks, purples and blues ” we’re talking Barbie pink, electric blue and neon purple ” with snippets of summer-worthy white. A gold sequined vest gets so bright in some lights it emulates a solar eclipse.

“This is an expensive major as far as materials, fabrics and accessories are concerned,” Dahle said. “It’s a lot more than people think. We have people who spend $40 to $50 a yard on material.”

“They support it themselves,” Bye said. “Some get donations and discounts at retailers, but most of the financing is at their own cost.”

A few seniors added final touches to their garments in a studio in McNeal Hall on Friday afternoon. Sewing machines lined the brick-walled room, while mannequins on wheels wore the students’ creations.

Dahle was a tour guide of sorts, pointing to one student’s line and describing another’s inspiration. She showed her bright-pink dress with white ruffles peeping out at the top and the bottom, and then pulled out her deconstructed suit with hot-pink shorts and a shiny blue jacket.

“Everyone’s style is very different, but that’s what makes it more fun,” Dahle said, “and that means there can’t be any competition, either.”

An outfit designed by fellow senior Annie Larson reiterates the designers’ incredibly diverse styles.

Larson’s outfit is a testament to the ’80s with a black-and-white, diagonally striped skirt covered with a layer of yellow netting for a punked-out ballerina look. She made legwarmers out of the striped material, with tiny orange bows down the legwarmers’ backs, matching the orange, pink and blue fitted shirt.

Senior Alicia Struble started designing at an early age when she sewed clothes for her Barbie dolls. This time, though, she designed a line of clothes based on the story of Cinderella. Coincidence? Maybe.

“I wanted to put a story on the stage, and I picked “Cinderella’ because everyone knows it, and they can focus on the clothes and not the story.”

Struble’s use of red and black with a little white and blue are a striking comparison to Dahle’s pinks and purples and Larson’s stripes.

Among these designs, there’s a bridal trousseau, a menswear line and leather-and-spikes line.

Now that the clothes have been designed, sewed and fitted, the designers have to decide what to do with them after the show.

“I’m going to wear mine!” Struble yelled as she headed to a sewing machine.

Some are giving the designs to their models. Others have had people ask for them. But Dahle has other ideas.

“I might keep them. Then if I die they’ll be worth something,” she said with a sly grin.

The fashion show is Saturday, but it doesn’t mean the students can relax for the rest of the semester.

“Now they move on to photography and putting together a portfolio,” Bye said.

A designer’s work is never done. It’s time to look ahead to finding a job. But, even if the students grab a great job right after graduation, fashion is fickle. This month’s hot designs might be tossed in the clearance bin next month.

“But there’s never been anything else I wanted to do,” Dahle said. “It’s a risky major, but I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do fashion.”