This past year many things have changed. We have gone from big gatherings to sitting behind computers watching the world through a screen. Events have been cancelled, adapted and rearranged to fit these unprecedented times — and the Stephens College fashion show was no exception.
Each year, the Stephens College fashion program features five collections from senior designers and individual garments from graduating seniors in a fashion show, a tradition started by the school in 1944. Due to the pandemic, the college has been unable to host an in-person fashion show for two years and has had to adapt to feature these prepared collections.
This year's show comes in the form of a fashion gallery, which opened April 24 and is open to the public through a virtual gallery on the Stephens Collection website as well as YouTube. Vox also held a Facebook Live event to interview the designers and talk more about the inspirations behind their designs.
From video's detailing the garments in each collection to a virtual reality gallery, here's how Stephens has launched into the future of virtual runway shows.
From the runway to the screen
While Stephens College had to adjust to this year's circumstances, they made do with what they could.
"We researched what other brands, designers are doing across the globe and then we all worked together to create the visions that were both realized in the senior films (and the gallery)," says Monica McMurry, prime faculty professor.
The team behind the fashion show had to come up with a concept to encompass all the collections — in the end they chose senior Leigh Anne Barnett's idea of "Beyond the Frame" as an overarching theme to pull all the collections under one umbrella.
Once they came up with the concept, they had decide how to best feature the collections to a jury, a group of industry professionals that judge the collections based on certain criteria. The main attraction would be videos of the collections and the second would be a gallery event where mannequins would showcase the garments to an audience.
Barnett was not only able to walk through her own idea come to life but also witnessed other models, wearing the seniors' collections, walk through a golden frame in the video collections. "It's amazing because there are so many amazing models to walk with and being able to encourage them that's the most wonderful part of it all ... art coming to life," Barnett says in a video posted to the show's website.
For Creative Director Madi Green, converting the Stephens College Fashion Gallery Event to online, while maintaining COVID-19 guidelines, was a discomforting experience. In order to replace their previous runway event, Green had the idea to film creative videos of each designer's collection. The day was long and strenuous, and the editing process took two to three hours for each video. However, she was proud of the results and enjoyed working with the women present. "I just really love the energy and affirmation that comes along working with women,” says Green.
Five senior collections were chosen as the final collections to be featured in the gallery event: "Ad Altiora Tendo" (latin for "I strive towards higher things") by Katie Kitchel, "The Modern 20s" by Morgan Westmoreland, "I Am" by Jessica Cathron, "Tied to Me" by Nikki Bidwell and a collaborative kids collection by Katie Kitchel and Cailia Parks. Designers used a variety of fabrics and personal inspirations to make their collections come to life.
Words of advice
In March, as the final project was getting closer, Stephens College hosted the "Fashion your Future" lecture Series. Successful women in the industry come talk about their career and inspire the fashion students. The four speakers — Mary Eifert, Jorge Marrero, Mary Gehlar, and Taylor Barber — spoke on change in the apparel industry and how they got to where they are now.
The Stephens Alumni touched on what the fashion program did to help them along the way and how they spent their time there as a student. Alumni and Associate Designer at Chicos FAS, Mary Eifert, said to the fashion students, "it is all about prioritizing and making sure you still save time for yourself.” With the change to moving online, they had to learn how to virtually express the creativity of their work.
This forced the students to think outside the box. Speaker Jorge Marrero, Designer and Instructor at Universidad Ana G. Mendez, presented ways to stay creative to the students, “Start building up your ideas, don’t go for the usual pretty thing. Always think about how this idea can overlap with the other concepts and if that would be beneficial to what you want to present,” says Marrero. He also elaborated on the importance of stimulating other senses in the creative process, and the benefits of having some knowledge on a lot of subjects.
The Educator, Advisor and Author of "The Fashion Designer Survival Guide," Mary Gehlar, explained to the students what is next for the fashion industry. She provided her three keys to success: "Be focused. Be special. Be customer obsessed." Alumni Taylor Barber, a graduate of four years ago, expanded on this with her presentation on fashion wholesale and getting goods to the masses.
An intimate change to the fashion industry
The main event of the fashion show was a gallery event, featuring all the garments that would have gone down the runway if it weren't for the pandemic displayed in Lela Raney Wood Hall building on Stephen's Campus. Those interested in viewing the gallery may do so through their virtual gallery walk through. "There was a different kind of intimacy, which seems so strange when you think of a fashion show versus things being all online," McMurry says.
The gallery allows for viewers to get up close and personal with the collections and garments like a viewer would with a Van Gough or Picasso painting, creating a way to view fashion as more than just clothing, but also a masterpiece sewn together by an artist. No one collection is the same; from children's clothing layered in metallic and bright colors to used denim, each designer's collection in the exhibit exudes a distinct personality.
Stephens College also worked through social media platforms to showcase their students. On April 24, they held an Instagram live event speaking to each designer about their pieces and how their visions transferred from paper and to needle.
The future of the fashion show
For the 78th fashion show, the team behind the show hopes to revert back to their traditional runway show. While the fashion students and professors expressed that they enjoyed the challenge of working with fashion through new mediums, they miss their main event of walking through the bright lights in carefully designed garments for an audience.
The senior short films, however, may be here to stay. "I have a feeling we will not be getting rid of senior short films," McMurry says. "It's too timely. Everyone (in the fashion industry) is doing something like that." The new medium to showcase the collections allowed the jury to really get to know the clothing and the designers, whom they were never able to meet before this year.
The fashion show team at Stephens is hopeful for the future and enjoyed the new experiences the pandemic brought them, allowing them to really work together and slow down in an industry that seems to never stop moving.