Fashion at the Oscars

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Bear with me. I know we’ve turned the calendar to March, but I’ve got February on the brain. February, film, and fashion that is. Blame it on the Academy Awards.

Elegantly styled, cool blue and soft yellow dresses blanketed the red carpet at this year’s Oscars, but what caught my attention was contrary to the glamour and gold. It was Mad Max: Fury Road, winner of this year’s award for Best Costume Design. The distressed clothing in the film, intended for survival in a dystopian society, is proof positive that not everything about apparel design needs to focus on beauty.

Welcome to the world of Costume Design! Fashion Design’s first cousin doesn’t respond to the needs or whims of each passing season. Rather, it answers to a production house, director, or actor. Costume designers are imagination specialists. Instead of focusing on style and looking to set future trends, they typically reflect the past – or a fictitious future in the case of Mad Max – and gain inspiration from a specific time or place.

Both are storytellers, using fabrics and soft materials to express their point of view. Yet they each target a different audience. Fashion designers integrate their knowledge of textiles and clothing with what’s happening in the world around them, using current events and trends as their inspiration. Their intent is to generate sales and clothe the public.

University of Florida

University of Florida School of Theatre & Dance

Costume designers communicate the story of one individual at a time, informing us of a character’s lifestyle, wealth, and social status by the clothes on his back.

Most colleges and universities teach Costume Design as part of the Drama department, giving students full exposure to the world of theatre. If your teen has a passion for fashion, but also loves the stage – or history – make sure you include Costume Design as part of your college research. Each of the colleges listed below offers a BFA in Costume Design.

Break a leg!

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The Battle of Versailles: A Fashion Evolution

Let’s see if you know your history. Does the 1973 battle of Versailles sound familiar? It won’t appear in most history books, but it was the year of an epic confrontation or contest, between the French and the Americans. And it changed the face of fashion, forever.

The battle – or faceoff as it was called – was witnessed by an exclusive list of 700 guests at Versailles Palace outside of Paris. But it was felt across the globe. A fundraiser to help restore the palace, it took the form of a groundbreaking runway show pitting five up-and-coming American designers against five top Parisian couture houses. Imagine a throw-down with Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Givenchy competing against Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Stephen Burrows. High style met new style.

The result was a tectonic shift in the fashion world: as the leading influence of fashion design moved from that which was strictly dictated by top designers and design houses to one that also absorbed and incorporated how women actually lived their lives.

Before then, Paris was fashion. Period.

Battle of versailles - fashionsizzle_dot_comRobin Givhan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic explains in her book The Battle of Versailles that Americans upended the traditional rules of fashion with a style and esthetic of color, jersey fabric, and movement. And, they broke racial barriers with an unprecedented 11 African American models. Clearly, it was an “aha” moment for the time. Fashion and culture evolved in that one historic event.

What’s the relevance today? Besides the value of knowing history is the awareness of how much fashion is influenced by the world around us. It evolves with us. That’s evident with each year’s New York, Paris, and subsequent fashion shows. And it’s apparent in the changing of the guard leading today’s top fashion houses.

Fashionista.com likes to keep its pulse on the fashion world, including fashion programs around the globe. If you think you may have a teenage trendsetter of your own at home make time to peruse their list of top schools. You’ll find some unexpected programs. Need further help deciphering the differences between schools, or how to organize your college search? Let me know. I’m happy to help.

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Fashion Forward

photo pin - fashion show modelAs New York buildings and treetops were blanketed in a blizzard of white early this week, a rainbow of colors could be seen indoors during the semi-annual rite that is the beginning of New York Fashion Week.  During the nine day presentation, models show off the newest trends from fashion houses and designers across the globe.  Buyers gather to catch a glimpse of what will be “in” for the fall season.

Representatives from WWD, Vogue, and W Magazine are just a few of the fashion-focused publications on hand to preview the activities of this multi-billion dollar industry.  Putting each show together and bringing fashion to the attention of the public requires a wide array of creative talent.  Designers, stylists and patternmakers create the vision; buyers, merchandisers and publicists help sell it.

If you’re passionate about the world of fashion, there are numerous ways you can engage with it in your career.  Seamstresses, writers, print designers, footwear designers, trend analysts, and costume designers are just a few of the jobs integral to the success of this industry.

Colleges across the country offer a wealth of related programs.  The key is to find the right place for you.  Interested in Menswear, check out FIT; intrigued by Accessories Design, consider Parsons.  Do your research and learn the nuances of each program.  Read their websites and visit the schools that top your list. Talk to current fashion students.  And make sure to consider both public and private schools.  Both Oregon State University (OSU) and Kent State University in Ohio were listed among the top 20 fashion programs by Fashionista.  The editors highlighted OSU’s relationships with key sports apparel companies.  Think jobs at Nike, Pendleton, and Eddie Bauer, all based in the Pacific Northwest.

Fashion coursework will combine creativity with technical mastery, all while giving you an understanding of the influence apparel plays in our culture.   You’ll acquire illustration, draping and pattern-making skills, finesse construction details and finishes, and become knowledgeable about different materials and their specific characteristics.  Classes will be hands-on, immersing you in a studio-type environment.   Math skills, patience and a precise attention to detail are essential.  Senior year will further develop your problem-solving skills and teach you how to design, produce and present your aesthetic clearly in a portfolio and on the runway.  Internship opportunities will broaden your exposure even more, giving you a taste of the real-world.

A large majority of apparel industry jobs are in either New York or California.  Keep that in mind when choosing a school, or realize the implications when searching for a job.

The world of fashion is fast-paced, intense, highly competitive and demanding.  (My feet hurt just thinking about those stilettos.)  And, you will need to know how to work with diverse personalities – see The Devil Wears Prada.  However if you thrive in a creative environment, have solid drawing and color skills it could be the right place for you.  Keep in mind; this is a broad subject.  I’ve just touched the surface of related fields of study and careers.  I hope to dive in deeper in the future.  In the meantime, if you want to learn about a specific part of this career path let me know.

Related links:  Teen Vogue Editor Media Brecher’s industry-related responsibilities were recently highlighted online.  “My responsibilities include assisting Jane Keltner de Valle, the Fashion News Director, writing and researching features, setting up scouts with individuals for potential features for the magazine, doing photo research, and coordinating with other departments as we plan our pages.”

Where To Find The Next Generation Of Designers

Wallpaper Graduate Directory

If you haven’t caught it yet – it’s not too late.  Available December 13, 2012, Wallpaper* Magazine posted their most recent Graduate Directory online, highlighting top new design talent across the globe.  Besides ogling over the incredible creativity out there I was interested to see the schools these talented folks attended.  The results are impressive and a bit surprising.  The well-known standard-bearers are there along with those I didn’t expect to see with this crowd.  Clearly I need to broaden my horizon; I’m guessing others will too.

Initially launched in 1996, with the website added in 2004, Wallpaper* is based in the United Kingdom.  For many it’s a leading source of contemporary design, interiors, fashion, art and lifestyle activities around the world.  For those interested in a career in the world of design, it’s a knowledgeable and inspirational resource.

The Graduate Directory highlights “the next generation” of designers.  I suggest taking a close look.  The issue covers prospective up-and-comers in architecture, design, fashion, jewelry, packaging, photography, transport, travel and visual communication.  It showcases top talent about to enter the workforce in each field, and gives you a sneak peek into their talents.  The international list of schools provides a global view of program opportunities and includes a diverse group in the U.S.

A sampling of schools with noted students are listed below, with the area of design called out as well.

International schools

Royal College of Art, United Kingdom (design, transport)
ECAL, Switzerland (design, visual communication)
Guangzhou Academy Of Fine Arts, China (transport)
Moholy-Nagy University Of Art And Design, Hungary (packaging)
Beckmans College of Design, Sweden (design)
Royal Academy of Art, The Netherlands (photography)
Strelka Institute Of Media, Architecture And Design, Russia (architecture)
Institute for Fashion Design, Switzerland (fashion)
Shenkar College Of Engineering And Design, Israel (packaging)
Tama Art University, Japan (design)
ESAD Reims, France (design)
NBU, Bulgaria (packaging)

American schools

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (architecture)
Cooper Union, NYC (architecture)
RISD, Providence, RI (design)
School of Visual Arts, NYC (packaging, visual communication)
Yale, New Haven, CT (photography)
Art Center College Of Design, Pasadena, CA (visual communication)
Parsons School of Design, NYC (design, photography)
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT (packaging)
Washington University, St. Louis, MO (architecture)

So, what does this say about US design students?  Well for one thing, we’re playing in the same league as the best in the world.  Our educational institutions are providing students with the skills and tools to successfully compete with leading contemporary designers across the globe.  Also of importance are the variety of outstanding design programs in the U.S. from which students can achieve their goals.

What’s On Campus?

Resources matter, especially when considering which art school to attend.  So make sure you check out the gallery space available on campus.  Galleries give you the opportunity to view successful artists work up close and in person, as well as the chance to possible display your own creations.

Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair With Textiles

I was lucky to stumble upon Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles, showing at Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Bakalar & Paine Galleries during a recent visit.  As a textile artist, I loved it!  This British fashion designer has been crafting incredibly creative textiles and clothing since the 1960’s.  It’s well worth a visit.

Coincidentally, the Savannah College of Art & Design is currently showing Little Black Dress in the SCAD Museum of Art.  Curated by SCAD Trustee and Vogue Contributing Editor André Leon Talley, this fashion show focuses on you guessed it, that standard in every woman’s closet.  The show includes contributions from designers around the world as well as those of the Best-Dressed List.

Make sure to view the gallery space when you tour a school.  If you’re headed to Boston and Savannah check out Mass Art’s Love Affair with Textiles, open through December 1, 2012 and SCAD’s Little Black Dress, open through January 27, 2013 then traveling throughout the year.