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.