Neil Gilks sat in front of a dozen or so sketches of swimsuit and resort garments designed by Stephens senior Logan Blagg.
“This is a feast for the eyes,” said Gilks, director of Educational Initiatives at the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
It was high praise from a highly respected designer and consultant.
Gilks went on to help Blagg narrow down the best of her designs to be presented to a Jury of Selection this spring.
The critique of student work was part of Gilks’ two-day visit to campus along with Sara Kozlowski, senior manager of professional development at CFDA. The council representatives also toured the School of Fashion and Design and met with Stephens administrators during the trip.
The visit marked a pivotal moment in the College’s and school’s history—it recognized Stephens’ progress toward becoming a partner school of the CFDA.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America is a not-for-profit trade association whose membership consists of more than 400 U.S. designers, including Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta — essentially the who’s who of fashion. Stephens is one of few Midwestern colleges and the only women’s college to be associated with CFDA, a partnership that began last year.
On campus, Gilks and Kozlowski critiqued senior designs and helped students select the garments they will ultimately create and take to the Jury of Selection in hopes of seeing them on the runway at The Collections, Stephens’ annual student designer fashion show. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors were also invited to listen in.
Blagg’s designs were inspired by nature and the idea of transitions. She envisions her customer being a 20-something who’s in the process of finding herself. Her designs were soft with muted colors and strategic cutouts and knots.
After discovering that she also creates custom jewelry, Gilks encouraged Blagg to incorporate pieces into her garments.
Audrah Davidson’s collection was based on modern art and architecture. She also customized her own fabric by pulling threads and replacing them with gold foil before lamenting the fabric.
“I love fabric manipulation and what you can do it with,” she said prior to the critique.
The technique was a hit, with Gilks encouraging her to use it in her senior collection.
Tonya Pesch’s designs were based on her love of both fashion and the equestrian world. Her line featured stylish denims, leathers and prints that could be worn at professional rodeos. Her color base, blue and teal, was chosen to complement any color of horse, she said, and fringe was added because it looks “beautiful when you’re riding.”
While Gilks acknowledged he didn’t know much about the rodeo circuit, he encouraged her to find a signature look for each design to make the collection her own.
Designing with one’s career in mind was common advice throughout Gilks’ critiques. He asked several students where they see themselves in the professional world and challenged them to create pieces they could later use to launch their own lines. He also gave some personal opinions—exposed zippers, for instance, are definitely no-nos.
“We are so grateful for the expertise and honest, professional feedback,” said Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Fashion and Design. “They provided tips, expert opinions and advice that all of our students and faculty will benefit from hearing.”
In addition to providing critique and other educational support, CFDA hosts four scholarship competitions a year in conjunction with Geoffrey Beene, Liz Claiborne and Teen Vogue/Target. The organization also hosts a Fashion Education Summit and has a program for recent graduates from participating schools. Avenues to Industry is an advisory-based program that highlights varied career tracks and supports graduates transitioning into the industry.
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