After 28 years of impressing Cougar moms in April, the WSU Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show adopted a theme this year befitting the changes it’s undergone in several decades: Evolution. Even the winning theme design, submitted by Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles senior Casey Burnette, had the feel of a timeline, depicting a model in a beautiful ball gown with a long, flowing train, images of running spotted leopards hidden in its folds.
But no matter how much the show has evolved, the core reasons for offering it to students haven’t.
“Students have a driving need to be creative,” said Dr. Carol Salusso, who managed the show during its early years. “If students are interested in apparel design, they want to go for it, pursue a degree, go into the industry, and go through whatever gates they have to to be designers. You have a set of people who design because they must.”
“It’s about working on a portfolio, coming up with great designs so the students can get great jobs,” said Dr. Catherine Black, who manages the show’s collections through AMT 412, Fashion Line Development. “It’s also about introducing students to opportunities to launch their careers.”
“When you have students who are really enthusiastic about a project, it’s a real pleasure to work with them,” said Bailey Stokes, who took over the show’s direction last year.
WSU students didn’t always have the opportunity to engage their creative abilities. In 1994, apparel design was eliminated as an option; only a merchandising option remained. Merchandising students formed a club that put on an annual Mom’s Weekend ready-to-wear fashion show in the CUB Auditorium.
By 1997, the student club renamed itself the International Textile and Apparel Association Student Chapter and has served as the show’s sponsor, while the AMDT department provides other necessary resources, including invitations, faculty mentoring, and more. With the addition of fashion line development classes, students now feature all-original work. A production class also gives students firsthand experience of organizing and putting on the event while receiving credit.
And as more designers joined the department, audiences swelled to as high as 2,000, outgrowing the CUB Auditorium’s capacity. The show switched over to Beasley Coliseum to become the Mom’s Weekend Friday night performance.
Now the show is adapting to fit current industry practices. Stokes and Dr. Karen Leonas, chair of the AMDT department, said all participating students now design their work to a standard size 8, and models in the show must also be the same size. The move to standard size 8 follows concerns from the World Health Organization, doctors, women’s groups, and some fashion designers that using underweight models sends the wrong message to young girls about what their body weight and size should be. Size 0 models have been banned from runway shows in New York, Madrid, and Milan as a result of the criticism.
Stokes and Leonas described another change to the Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show: following the format of a real runway show—complete with rapid clothing changes and fast decision making. Stokes said it gives designers, models, production crew members, and volunteers a realistic experience of what happens in the fashion world and helps them become highly organized. Show organizers also use a professional hair and makeup artist to ensure a common, neutral look.
“The focus is on the garments, not on the models,” Stokes said.
Finally, AMDT students for the past two years have participated in a program associated with the show that focuses on sustainable fashion line development. Stokes assigned her students the job of working with Mary Jane’s Farm, owned by local longtime organic farmer Mary Jane Butters, who runs a dried organic food business, bed and breakfast, and magazine, but no apparel line. Students worked in teams of four to present ideas to Butters for the line.
As a second project, Stokes’s senior-level students also worked on making garments from discarded materials to turn them into functional high fashion. During the fall semester, they came up with very unusual and beautiful pieces from items that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. Carlie Bailes created an 80-pound dress from worn tires she sliced into strips and formed into curls to give the dress a feathery look. Marsha Baerlocher took old wine corks, dyed them with leftover wine, cut them into disks, and glued them to a dress base to create a mosaic-like garment. All the students’ creations are revealed during the Fashion Show.
“Students have to figure out how to change a recycled, discarded item and give it an aesthetic quality it didn’t have before,” Stokes said. “It’s impressive, it’s fun, and it’s creative.”
See the Fashion Show Website.
A Learning Experience that Became an ITAA Conference Exhibit
It started as an $800 mistake. But AMDT students Lauren Verrelli and Kierra Lagervall-Adams, with Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show director Bailey Stokes, turned that mistake into an exhibit shown at the International Textile and Apparel Association’s 2011 Annual Conference in Philadelphia last November.
Eight months earlier, Verrelli and Stokes had 1,800 2011 Fashion Show program covers printed only to learn that part of the text was incorrect. The whole lot would have to be scrapped. But Verrelli asked how they could use the mistake as a learning experience. The two decided to turn the programs into a dress, and Lagervall-Adams volunteered to help.
“First, we wanted to creatively recycle and put to use the defective program covers. Second, we wanted to stay true to the ‘Fusion’ theme of the 2011 Fashion Show by bringing together the design and merchandising aspects of our department,” Verrelli, Stokes, and Lagervall-Adams wrote in a project abstract. “This design was used as a promotional display for the show and has continued to be used to promote our design and merchandising department.”
The students and Stokes spent eight hours on a Friday putting the dress together, following the same design as the program cover art. Stokes created the base sheath from recycled materials, which included a muslin shift, an invisible zipper, and a scrap waistband from another student’s collection. Verrelli folded the programs to make fan-like pleats while Lagervall-Adams attached the programs to the sheath with a hot-glue gun. The finished product used 200 programs and was displayed first at the Bookie the week preceding the Fashion Show and then at Beasley as the show was underway.
“It was amazing how many comments we received,” Stokes said. “All by accident, but it was a great experience.”
Dr. Karen Leonas, AMDT chair, boosted the dress’s notice by suggesting the garment be entered in an ITAA spring competition in May. The timing was tricky—Verrelli and Lagervall-Adams learned about the opportunity during finals week. Furthermore, the competition called for a size 8 garment; the Fashion Show dress was a size 6. So Stokes, Verrelli, and Lagervall-Adams made a second correctly sized dress for the ITAA competition, called “Refusion” in honor of the Fashion Show’s theme.
“Luckily, that one went faster,” Lagervall-Adams said.
“Because we knew what we were doing this time,” Verrelli added.
Shipping the dress added another wrinkle. But Lagervall-Adams had an uncle who worked at FedEx in Seattle, so she found a box large enough to pack the dress in, drove it to Seattle, and had him finish packing it carefully for its three-day trip to Philadelphia by truck.
Verrelli and Lagervall-Adams received word in August that their entry was selected for exhibition at the ITAA competition and would be shown at the annual conference in November. Leonas traveled to Philadelphia to attend the conference and oversee the dress’s exhibition. Stokes said the student acceptance rate for this kind of competition is usually below 35 percent, but the judges were impressed by the work’s originality—and its history.
“Everyone loved the story behind it,” she said. “The story makes the dress.”
By Nella Letizia
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