Where there's fashion, you can reliably find people who adore the industry, and worship it with every fiber of their being. But you can also meet people whose interest might be surprising, until it starts to make sense
For example, Sean Avery, a hockey player for the New York Rangers, interned at Vogue in the summer of 2008 and now aspires for the plush life of the fashion editorial after he hangs up his skates.
OK, Avery is an extreme example, but N.C. State's Art to Wear show has to grapple with aspirants who come from outside the departments normally associated with fashion.
Traditionally, participating in a school fashion show has proved to be a great way to launch one's career. In 1995, Stella McCartney inaugurated her first line while attending England's celebrated Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. And when another of that school's students unveiled his work, the eccentric socialite Isabella Blow bought each piece of the graduation collection. The student's name? The great-and now late-visionary Alexander McQueen.
Among these parts, Art to Wear is no exception in that regard. Previous designers have gone on to such varied fields as graduate school, arts management and design for companies large and small.
Orvokki Halme was part of the event's inaugural class in 2002, and is now in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University pursuing a master's degree in arts management.
"It gave a venue, for those of us who were creating apparel at the time, to show our work that seemed more fitting than a pin-up or a gallery setting," Halme said. She notes that fashion design seemed to be a new trend in student interest in the art and design degree. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she worked in fashion briefly and was involved with runway shows and New York Fashion Week.
Another designer who got started at Art to Wear is Ryan Wayne, who designed for the show for three years and served as co-director in 2006.
"Directing was great and is an experience even most of the graduates from the major fashion schools from all over the world get to do," Wayne said. She said she still gets looks of amazement when she talks about ATW and the caliber of its importance. After stints designing in London and forecasting fashion trends in New York, Wayne now attends in graduate school in England, studying textile design at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Other Art to Wear alums have made a splash here at home.
Liz Morrison designed for four years starting in 2005, and directed in 2008. She now works as a costume designer in Chapel Hill for Deep Dish Theater, citing Art to Wear for teaching her the ins and outs of nonprofit event management for the performing arts along with designing. Morrison has also been instrumental in compiling the annual event's extensive archive, housed in the Harrye B. Lyons Design Library in Brooks Hall.
"First and foremost, I learned the importance of time management. It is imperative to keep a well-organized schedule when planning an event, particularly at this scale," Morrison said, citing both her experiences as designer and director as learning experiences.
Designer Marie Cordella, who showed at Art to Wear in 2006, has been a fixture at SPARKcon since the festival's inception in 2006. She and about seven others ignited the first fashionSPARK, and she's been a featured designer each year since then. The show has become a celebrated mix of a few better-known local designers and a collection of newer, fresh designers with new work and ideas to strut down the runway.
"Art to Wear is a relevant experience in relation to fashionSPARK because of its similarity in nature," Cordella said, mentioning the parallel processes from applying to participate to eventually showing off that time-intensive hard work in a public space.
Morrison really enjoyed her Art to Wear experience, especially in directing.
"[Through Art to Wear] I found out about the incredible power of artistic collaboration. It is really amazing what a group of motivated, creative individuals can accomplish," Morrison said.
Morrison will be present for next month's show, and she surely won't be the only member of a growing list of alumni in attendance.
As veteran broadcaster Ron Burgundy of Anchorman might say, North Carolina State University's Art to Wear fashion show is kind of a big deal.
People know it and mark their calendars for what's become known as a reliable showcase of talent. The annual fashion show, put on by the College of Design (COD) and College of Textiles (COT), has made quite a mark in the burgeoning Raleigh fashion scene.
"People [tend to] stake out their seats hours beforehand," says Vita Plume, COD art and design teacher and Art to Wear faculty advisor. Plume was the sole advisor until COT joined the event in 2006, and Dr. Cynthia Istook, associate professor of textile and apparel management, has served in the same capacity for COT since that time.
In 2002, Plume taught a fibers studio in which many students were working with garments. One student, Kate Crawford, presented a new collection for every critical evaluation, which gave Plume the idea to put on a fashion show. Crawford eventually became the event's first director.
"If they hadn't been making clothing, I wouldn't have thought of it," Plume says.
Two hundred and fifty people came out to witness the inaugural event, which was held in Kamphoefner lower courtyard (known as "The Pit") near the Design School, with six designers showing their semester's work.
"People heard the music, and they were hanging off [the railings]," Plume says. The second and third years saw audience members crammed in to the venue, and organizers introduced video projection screens to showcase the designs to more people.
As word of mouth spread about N.C. State's unique fashion event, the show's audience grew. By 2005, the show was big enough to warrant a permanent name. Art to Wear had arrived.
After five years, organizers realized they needed a bigger venue. Designers showed collections in the Court of North Carolina on the university's East Campus in 2007 and 2008 (audience members either paid for seats or lounged in the grass for free), before moving indoors to Reynolds Coliseum last year. The number of attendees peaked in 2008, with an estimated 2,700 on hand. (Last year's count dipped slightly, with the show attracting 2,500 attendees.)
Naturally, with that growth, the show's budget has ballooned. In a meeting with committee heads and designers on Feb. 22, this year's event director Eleanor Hoffman put that number as pushing $30,000. That's a far cry from the event's inaugural year, where each student ponied up $25 and relied on friends and family for assistance with set-up-for example, founding co-director Brannan Hackney's dad DJ'ed and the participating designers used their own money for votive candles to decorate the runway. This year, each designer is responsible for raising at least $100 to help with costs, which include components such as still photographs, videography, and hair and make-up sponsored by local salons.
The event has also attracted established figures in the Raleigh arts community to be judges. One name especially jumps out: William Ivey Long, famed Broadway costume designer and North Carolina native who's won five Tony Awards. In 2008, Long was a member of the three-juror panel (not unlike the judging triumvirate on Project Runway), that decides which designers get to show their collections. (That year, 17 out of 31 hopefuls made it in.) This year, Long is donating a cash prize to be awarded in a fashion that has yet to be determined.
This year's show takes place on April 14 in N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum. Until then, I'll be covering various aspects of putting on the show and creating collections with weekly installments on the process. Visit the Web site here.
The Indy's Neil Morris reviewed RJ Cutler's The September Issue here, and recently, Karlie Justus, the Indy's fashion contributor, saw the film and offered her thoughts:
Fashion, as both an industry and obsession, has emerged as a popular focus of the reality television genre, with shows such as Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, The Hills and The Rachel Zoe Project. They take us middle-Americans down the runway, behind the camera and into the sewing room, without us ever having to leave the couch.
Accordingly, The September Issue's look into the nine-month process that went into creating Vogue's largest issue to date doesn't necessarily cover any new thematic territory. Television shows such as Marie Claire's Running in Heels, Elle's Stylista and even Seventeen's Miss Seventeen MTV competition first presented fashion lovers with a look into the elite women's club that makes up Condé Nast and Hearst's top fashion publications.
However, the draw of this particular presentation lies not in its behind-the-scenes look into the day-to-day operations of a fashion magazine, as thrillingly and beautifully shot as it is; instead, The September Issue's ultimate coup is gaining the participation of Anna Wintour, longtime editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine.
Regarded as perhaps the most important tastemaker in the $300 billion American fashion industry, Wintour is feared, revered and, up until now, largely silent behind her bluntly cut, pin-straight bob and impossibly chic ensemble. Many a blabbering sentence uttered in her presence begins with a noncommittal "I was thinking, kind of ..." disclaimer, a testament to the importance of her approval to everyone-from her staff to designers as high up the couture food chain as Prada.
Director R.J. Cutler, who also filmed the Bill Clinton campaign documentary The War Room, not only opens the door to Wintour's pristine white office, but he also shines a light on the editor's family history, maternal instincts and thoughts on the oft-accused frivolity of the fashion industry as a whole.
Cutler's team follows Vogue's editorial staff on a European fashion shoot and into an exclusive annual breakfast the publication holds for influential retailers such as Nieman Marcus, and even ventures into the homes of Wintour and her creative director Grace Coddington. Beyond those (admittedly fabulous) spaces, however, the film taps into an undercurrent of the struggle of art vs. commerce, the vilification of powerful females like Wintour and Coddington and the often volatile working dynamic they share.
Despite its undeniably exhilarating look into the luxury, beauty and excess Vogue openly upholds, certain parts in the The September Issue feel manipulative and stiff, which are a result of Wintour's obvious discomfort and occasional disdain during the one-on-one Q&As that pepper the film and the awkwardly tight, lingering shots that frame these interviews. The most telling moments come when Cutler allows Wintour's silence to do most of the storytelling, as her steely gaze reveals much more than any of her words.
As stylish and glossy as the magazine itself, The September Issue premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it received an award for excellence in documentary cinematography, and for good reason: Any film that combines cameos by Vera Wang, supermodels Chanel lman and Daria Werbowy, Karl Lagerfeld, Sienna Miller, Stefano Pilati, Oscar de la Renta and Isabel Toledo under the watchful eye of arguably the world's powerful magazine editors is guaranteed to be nothing less than glamorously fabulous.