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April 22, 2012 | 6:50 p.m. CST
College is one of the last times in life – the only time, maybe – when it’s normal to live life in sweatpants, running shorts and T-shirts. For most students, priorities are in the classroom rather than the closet. But for students in the Stephens College Fashion Department, the classroom is the closet, and what they’ve made to put on the hangers was showcased Saturday at the Stephens College 68th Annual Student Designer Fashion Show.
Entirely produced, advertised and put on by students, the show this year was titled Evolve, relating the way trends and styles constantly build and shift to the progression of weather. It was a good concept, but the clothes didn’t need to call on a common theme in order to derive power – they were strong enough to stand alone. The nine senior design students spent all year creating and materializing their four-to-six piece collections, and the hours they clocked in front of sewing machines paid off in the form of pieces that could not only hang in closets but be sought after. The craftsmanship and marketability of the clothes, such as Mackie Schomburg’s hand-dyed silk dresses with lamb leather details, were shockingly good.
Junior students designed single garments in different categories such as careerwear and using fair trade-only fabrics. A fuchsia two-piece cutout swimsuit by Heather Johnston was flattering enough to turn any figure into a beach body rather than simply be worn by one, and the Edwardian dress she designed entirely out of Sweet N’ Low packets, complete with a high collar and flowing train, won the jury Pink Ribbon Award for promoting breast cancer awareness.
But it was clear that the senior students excelled by having the creative freedom to design as they pleased. Gretchen Roehr’s collection, Coquette, was mouthwateringly sweet with hand-beaded separates the color of mint macaroons and a charmeuse dress paired with thick-rimmed glasses and a puppy. Sartorial Skate, a menswear collection by Georgia Trimble that won the jury award for Best Collection, ended with a navy blazer with gingham elbow patches that was sharp enough to suit a young Italian gentlemen on the pages of the infamous fashion blog The Sartorialist. These were clothes that people would absolutely buy.
The jury, composed of fashion industry veterans such as Paris Academy President Peter Carman and season nine Project Runway finalist Laura Kathleen Plank, selected all of the shown pieces from an even bigger pool of submissions, which gave the show its curated cohesiveness. If and when these students enter the industry, as some of them surely and successfully will, resilience to critics’ rejection will be crucial, and Evolve’s tough selection process was meant to mimic the harsh climate of the fashion world. Naturally, there were tears involved, but luckily the good kind. Gigi Huang, senior designer of the ethereally gorgeous opening collection, walked off the runway crying after receiving the Fashion Innovator Award. And yet nothing seemed more in fashion.