"To be aware of what you are wearing, to try to be different in terms of clothing, that's going to translate over into the way you think about everything else: what you eat for dinner, where you go on vacation, the sort of music you buy, the way your apartment looks, the way you raise your kids," he says. "Some of this may seem farfetched, and it has as much to do with any of the design disciplines as 'fashion,' but my belief is that people who are aesthetically minded tend to reap the greater rewards when it comes to appreciation of life in general."
Norwood was this year's director of the "Collection III: Art To Wear" show ("we couldn't call the show a 'fashion' show, formally, because there is no 'fashion design' program at the College of Design"), a completely student-run exhibit, which precedes graduation. The Pit--Kamphoefner Courtyard--was packed to capacity, with students peering out of the windows of Kamphoefner Hall and adorning the railings, ledges and chairs throughout. University administrators, proud parents, and the occasional curious reporter or photographer complemented the eclectic group.
The 2004 event included fashions from 14 student designers, ranging from the intriguing to the bizarre.
Jaeson Pitts' unpronounceable KFXTEX featured rather uncomplicated designs, reminiscent of the drip-and-splash technique of Jackson Pollock. Painted-on clothing, string overlays and graffiti art accented cotton and denim fabrics that, though attention-grabbing, looked quite comfortable.
"Mexico, Mayan Artisanship, Delicacy, femininity, and bold, contrasting color" inspired Ashley Newsome's spring 2004 collection and featured beautifully draped fabrics, bold crocheted flowers and punchy florals (an accordion-like tunic dress was one of my favorites). In Carmen Lilly's Citrus, five striking black women strutted to Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady," modeling chic purses and accessories, while Kilara's Gathering Places seemed a 2050 update of Star Trek: The Next Generation wardrobe (Data would definitely have to get the xylophone tank top).
Norwood says art and their studio experiences in the College of Design are big influences on the styles in Art to Wear. "We figure out how we work, how our design process can be related to the construction of clothing--then we rock out."
Impressive is the fact that this "rockin' out" takes place with very little direction (students are not taught the basics such as sewing, draping or tailoring) and one sewing machine total in the College of Design. "All of us are still in the pre-natal stages of clothing design," says Norwood. "They don't teach us how to do these things, so everything about fashion design we pretty much teach ourselves. We're not Parsons or RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) quality design here, but we have a passion for it, so we do it."
However little influence the COD can claim on the contemporary look of the Triangle ("in general [fashion in the Triangle] is pretty awful," Norwood says. "This is urban sprawl madness--go to the downtowns and it's a little better"), there are many graduates who have gone on to work with internationally known designers such as Marc Jacobs, Kenneth Cole and Kate Spade. "Then we have our own Holly Aiken, a wonderful designer, also a very kind person," he says.
Susan Brandeis, professor of art and design says the COD/COT program is unique in that "it bridges two colleges, one with a more technical and industrial perspective and the other with a more aesthetic and art perspective. There isn't another program quite like it in the country. It's because this type of program exists in the state that it's unique."
Norwood agrees. Well, sort of. "The COT is a very strange place, but it's definitely the school for textiles in the world; very cutting edge stuff, weird stuff. They do lots of research and testing for the industry--stuff for the government--but that stuff doesn't really make it into our curriculum. Most of us in the program--I should mention I'm one of two guys out of about 30 people total--think of the COT as really bland."
But Norwood doesn't dispute the program's usefulness. He says he was attracted to the program because, "I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to study art and design things ... but I wanted to have something else with it, something that would make my role as a designer something more than just 'artsy'-ness. For me there are environmental, social and labor concerns. I think the textiles stuff keeps me a little more focused on a bigger picture."
And though he says it can sometimes take "a long, long, long time to make one pair of pants," and "it's chaos, it's stress," ultimately the students really look forward to preparing for and organizing the show. "It's so much fun to have all those people in the lower courtyard with the azaleas blooming. Love is in the air in the spring ..."
For more information about the College of Design, College of Textiles, or Anni Albers Scholars program visit: ncsudesign.org .