Dressed to impress

VCU fashion design students leave it all on the catwalk at the annual juried fashion show

As the house lights went down at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on the evening of May 6, Danielle Ashe prepared herself to watch nearly 11 months of hard work come to fruition.

The show director for the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising’s annual juried fashion show, Ashe spent 15 to 25 hours a week working with a committee of fashion merchandising students to hammer out the details for the sold-out event. Now, she joined more than 400 other spectators to view the show-stopping handiwork of 61 junior and senior design and merchandising students.

“To see the runway lights go up and the first garment come out was just amazing,” said Ashe, a senior fashion merchandising major.

Nearby, senior Jasmine Harrison was also having a moment. Five outfits designed by Harrison had been selected for the show by the jury, but she was particularly excited to see one of her menswear designs, which received a first-place award for menswear by Cotton Incorporated, come down the runway.

“Right before my outfit came out, my heart was beating really fast and I couldn’t breathe,” said Harrison, a Virginia Beach native. “I couldn’t even begin to play it cool.”

Fashion department faculty selected “Raw” as the theme for this year’s show, encouraging students to explore the “DNA of fashion.”

“‘Raw’ goes back to the basics of fashion, to the construction and selection of fabrics that go into the final product,” Ashe said. “It’s a great way to showcase the talents of design students and how they have really perfected the craft of fashion when they leave here.”

Garments fell into categories such as day dresses, yoga-inspired apparel, eveningwear, a hip-hop segment inspired by artists like Nikki Minaj and Kanye West, and a first-ever plus-size collection — all paraded down the VMFA catwalk by volunteer models. Classes held by the department throughout the year embrace the theme, providing classroom time for students to design garments that could be submitted for acceptance to the show. This year, students submitted 202 garments; the best 128 were selected for the show.

“To really have a good fashion show, it needs to be a competitive process,” said Kristin Caskey, interim assistant chair of the department. “That it’s a juried show celebrates that we take it very seriously.”

This year’s show was juried by 10 prestigious jurors, including local fashion icon Pam Reynolds and New York City-based designer Eric Gaskins. Receiving the jury’s approval can amount to validation for the fashion students.

“For me, as a senior, it was important to design with as much of my own personal aesthetic as possible,” said Harrison, whose edgy cocktail dress boasted a studded bolero that stood out against the other more elegant, feminine designs. “It was rewarding for me to do what was right for me and still have my designs get into the show, to see that it was still embraced by the teachers and the critics.”

Rejection is equally as important, according to Caskey.

“Disappointment is a huge and important part of the process,” she said. “For faculty, too. It’s disappointing when a student who is full of promise just doesn’t quite get it right. But we know that the process will prepare them for success in life and in the industry.”

The show also provides valuable hands-on event-planning experience for the fashion merchandising students who orchestrate the event.

“I learned so much more about myself and working with others than in class or any other experience I’ve had in college,” Ashe said. “In any career that I have, even if it isn’t directly related to event planning, I’ll use skills that I gained in this process, especially team management and working with others.”

On that Sunday night in early May, however, the focus remained entirely on the moment at hand.

“It was really nice to see something I’ve made manifest itself into a finished look,” Harrison said. “And to be a part of a show with other designers in my department who I think are a really talented group of people.”

Caskey agreed with Harrison’s assessment of her peers and their abilities.

“A lot of students have gone into the fashion profession and are very successful,” Caskey said. “We have a lot of students who use skills more creatively in film and as artists. But, regardless of where they end up, they do come out of here knowing how to have a creative idea and follow it all the way through.”

Close to 60 students in the VCU Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising watch their designs hit the runway at the 2012 annual juried fashion show, held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday, May 6.
Close to 60 students in the VCU Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising watch their designs hit the runway at the 2012 annual juried fashion show, held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday, May 6.