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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Art to Wear: A brief history

Posted by on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 8:47 AM

From the 2008 Art to Wear show: Jessica Monique George models a kente-inspired wrap made from her own woven and dyed fabric. (Photo by Jeremy M. Lange)
  • From the 2008 Art to Wear show: Jessica Monique George models a kente-inspired wrap made from her own woven and dyed fabric. (Photo by Jeremy M. Lange)

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.

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