Wrapped up in their fabric

Student fashion designers make the cut - and the print - in their collections.

Posted: June 24, 2007

For her ready-to-wear collection at Moore College of Art and Design's annual student fashion show, Andrea Felker dyed white silk pink, digitally imprinting it with chocolate-brown circles, to use for her A-line dresses, bubble skirts, and empire-waist blouses.

In addition, she strung beads for jewelry and knitted merino wool in pink and brown swirls to trim both a handbag and a dress.

"I wanted to create everything in this collection to make it a little more special," Felker said. "These fabrics are my stamp. My signature."

She wasn't the only one following the lead of Philadelphia's own Ralph Rucci. Taking cues from runway stalwarts such as Carolina Herrera and Wenlan Chia's knitted Twinkle line, many of the student designers at Philadelphia University, Drexel University and Moore gave their collections extra punch this year by making their own fabrics.

Some graduating seniors, such as Philadelphia University design student Jen Barrack, knit jackets, crocheted dresses, and experimented with screen-printing.

Others, such as Moore student Sarah Barton, spent countless hours appliqueing sequins. Barton wowed the audience with a collection of sparkling eveningwear that had glittering images of Super Mario Brothers.

Kelly Brown, from Drexel University, spent days piecing together primary colors in fabric for a collection of mod sportswear.

"I've always loved pop art and 1960s and mod, so I decided I'd make my own art," said Brown, 23. Brown said she spent two full days and three nights making fabric for just one of her fitted A-line dresses.

"There were over 106 pattern pieces. I had to lay it all out and put it together like a puzzle."

The students' concentration on unique prints and textiles mimics one of the strong threads dominating fashion right now. Designers have been taking simple shapes and jazzing them up with printed silk and matte jersey.

It's the print, not the silhouette, that makes the apparel instantly recognizable.

Everyone knows a Hermés silk scarf by the print, and Stella McCartney's blue-and-green diamond print can easily be recognized in a crowd.

Wrap-dress queen Diane Von Furstenberg keeps her prints tightly guarded until the day of her shows; she has sued the chain Forever 21 for copying her Cerisier shift dress. Her argument? It's the print that makes the dress unique.

"Creating your own prints is like putting a trademark stamp on your collection," said Stacey Bendet, designer for Alice + Olivia, a New York-based fashion collection known for bold prints and primary colors. Bendet is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

"It makes it all the more unique, and the signature represents the mood of the moment."

An increased awareness of art fashion and eco-friendly fabrics - not to mention Bravo's hit show Project Runway, which regularly challenged contestants to use unconventional items as a base for clothing - has also fueled interest in textile design, according to professors at local universities.

Each of the schools reported that more students were minoring in textile design or double-majoring in it. Some are even traveling to one another's campuses to collaborate.

"When students create their own textiles, it gives them a sense of accomplishment from the beginning of the process to the end," said Clara Henry, director of fashion at Philadelphia University.

Of the 80 students who designed pieces and collections for the end-of-year fashion show this year, 28 of them designed their fabric, Henry said.

It's this kind of ownership that produced three crisp university shows ripe with experimentation, thanks to students' command of their fabrics.

More than in past years, many went beyond basic going-to-work womenswear lines and designed collections of lingerie, bathing suits and menswear.

A few hints of bridal came in shades of ecru and slate, such as the beaded, pleated and shirred work developed by Drexel student Natasha Martin in her collection My Winter Wedding.

Another Drexel student, Jillian Hult, presented a collection of sportswear in bright colors influenced by New York graffiti that was so well done, it rivaled the work Yohji Yamamoto is doing at Nike.

Students were inspired by more than orange sunsets and peonies in spring fields, although there were several collections inspired by earth shades. One of the best belonged to Moore student Eleni Kapsas, who showed hand-printed silk dresses covered with the ancient Greek symbol for the evil eye.

Philadelphia University student Lindsay Doert made a green-hued eveningwear collection that was inspired by mucus (yes, it sounds icky, but it turned out beautiful). Fellow Philly U. student Amanda Yates quilted an amazing evening gown that was influenced by a straitjacket.

Moore student Sherita Jennings used a computer to create fabric stamped with Adinkra symbols. Her collection included flowing dresses, halter tops, bathing suits and cover-ups. Jennings had learned about the history of the symbols after winning a fellowship to Ghana.

"I wanted a collection that used a lot of color, embroidery, prints and beading," Jennings said. "Not only did I silk-screen, but I hand-painted fabrics as well. I created this collection purely to showcase the work I did with fabric."

The students' textile work was most evident in children's-wear collections, many of which featured hours of painstaking patchwork art and appliques.

Moore student Asma Iqbal's little ones were adorable in hand-appliqued Little-Red-Riding-Hood-going-to-the-disco creations.

Philadelphia University student Dominique Asuncion screen-printed jersey fabrics and wools for a collection based on the 1940s children's book The Lgo.philly.com/studentfashionittle House, by Virginia Lee Burton. Asuncion trimmed her outfits with vintage sweaters and added pockets and appliques to jumpsuits.

"When you are screen-printing your fabrics, you don't really know what you are going to get," Asuncion said. "The whole process takes hours and you can really mess it up. But in the end, it's so worth it."

To see more fashion from the student design shows, visit go.philly.com/studentfashion

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at go.philly.com/elizabethwellington


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