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April 18, 2011 | 11:54 a.m. CST
"Pulse is energy, pulse is a heartbeat, pulse is intense, pulse is now" was the brief declaration from a disembodied, mellow voice in Stephens College’s Windsor Auditorium that kicked off the annual student designer fashion show April 16. Three chandeliers lit up the white background and runway. Nearly every seat was filled.
Amid women’s swimwear, lingerie and a collection that mish-mashed Japanese anime with Hannah Montana, stood Jen Terry's lone menswear collection. As “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John played over the speakers and clips of what looked like a bike messenger’s daily commute looped on a pair of screens, designer Terry’s “Now or Never” line hit the runway.
Terry, a native of Columbia and senior fashion design and product development student, detailed her collection of men’s streetwear especially for cyclists. The target customer for her line participates in what she calls the “urban triathlon,” a trifecta of work, bike and drinking, Terry says.
Tattooed male models clad in plaid and striped shirts, peeking through unzipped track jackets, stepped down the runway. Nixing the abstractions and make-up that covered other models, Terry's collection was all practical and no frills.
Suddenly, model Charlie Hill emerged on a bike and rode swiftly down the ramp and catwalk as if it were an endless sidewalk. Right before getting his gears stuck in some poor spectator’s face, Hill quickly applied the brakes and pivoted on his rear tire in a way that would’ve impressed Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. Possibly because of the predominantly female student body, Terry says no one has designed an all-male senior collection since the 1970s. And though she has worked exclusively with womenswear until this line, she’s confident a focus in menswear is her future.
Terry lives with male roommates who are into cycling and it’s where she got her inspiration. They asked her to make more comfortable bike shorts than the skinny jeans they wore. She added ample groin space so they could ride their bikes in peace rather than pieces. That is when she discovered her passion for designing performance street wear. One of her roommates, who acted as her muse, was first-time model and self-professed hipster Aaron Hand. “I guess I’m worried the most about making Jen’s collection look amateur,” Hand says. “I’ve been practicing walking and taking off a jacket in the living room of our place.”
And Hand's practice paid off. At the show, he looked like a natural showing off a sleeveless shirt and cerulean jacket while slinging the frame of a bike over his shoulder. The difference, Terry explains, between designing women and men’s clothes is straight up and down. “They don’t need busts or hips,” Terry says. “It’s so much easier to pattern for someone who’s essentially a stick.”
Brianne Arvin, a friend and classmate who has worked closely with Terry, admires her gamble. “I love that she took the risk of doing menswear when it was a new area for her and also for our show,” Arvin says. “All of the steps from design, pattern-making and final fit can be very challenging if you’re used to making women’s clothing.”
People noticed Terry’s handiwork, whether it was crafting elastic pockets or stitching perfect hemlines. Kristen Garner, another senior designer at Stephens, has known Terry since freshman year and watched as she developed her interest in menswear.
“What’s neat about her collection is the attention to detail and how performance-oriented her garments are,” Garner says.
Terry's training extends past the Stephens campus. This past summer, she interned at UnderArmour, a performance clothing company in Baltimore. There she conducted consumer research and designed trims for a youth team as an apparel design intern. She says the experience helped her think of clothing more as a functional object.
Gretchen Röehrs, a junior designer at Stephens College, attended the show and was impressed by Jen’s cyclist-meets-hipster threads. “She did a lot of research to see what people need to ride bikes more easily,” Röehrs says. “She used a special moisture-wicking fabric that makes the clothes breathable.”
Other details built into Terry’s street wear include articulated elbows and knees and reflective and waterproof parts.
Like many fashion designers, Jen forecasts future trends. She says as the economy struggles shoppers need something multifunctional. This design philosophy is reflected in her utilitarian edge. “People don’t want to buy something that’s disposable,” Terry says. “That’s why Levi’s is doing amazing. It holds up and it looks stylish.”