The Oregon State University School of Design and Human Environment presents their annual student-run fashion show. This year our theme is Floralia, translated as the Goddess of Flowers, a light yet mysterious garden party.
Apparel design instructor Marianne Egan arrives at Milam Hall, and less than an hour later racks full of clothes are being wheeled through campus to the Alumni Center.
Almost 10 years ago, Egan came up with the idea to hold a spring fashion show. Her simple idea has turned into the biggest event of the year for Oregon State Apparel Design students in the School of Design and Human Environment.
Designers are selected in the fall for the opportunity to show an original collection in the show. They work hard for two terms to create designs highlighting their best work.
Egan says usually around 30 students apply to put their designs into the show. This year, the number jumped to 40.
In order to put collections in the show, students must complete required classes and submit 3-7 garments in one completed collection to be approved by Egan before they finalize them for the show.
Industry professionals are invited to view the student designs at the fashion show each year. Professional buyers and designers sit among family, friends and other students to view the results of the designers’ countless hours of work. This year, professionals from companies like Nike, Keen, Columbia, Nordstrom and the Eugene Opera were in attendance.
Katie Sherpe wipes her brow. She and other student volunteers have just finished arranging over 500 chairs in rows inside the event space. As part of the promotions team for the show, it was Sherpe’s job to fill those seats, but she’s not worried about that anymore.
"The promotional side of it is done by then," she explains.
For the past 10 weeks, Sherpe has been brainstorming in Egan’s class, DHE Fashion Show and Design Exhibition, and working around 20 hours a week to promote the event to the campus community.
"We get sponsors, put together the look book," Sherpe says. "We did all the posters on campus and coordinated photo shoots for that."
The list is endless, and the team is frantic. But on the day of the event, the students band together to pull off the show.
The stage is up. A curtain is in place for a temporary dressing area for models, who arrive for hair and makeup.
"I was pretty calm all day," Sherpe says. "But, I know some of the designers were in the sewing labs until 4 in the morning before the show."
No detail is overlooked, and by 3 p.m., everyone is focused on the runway for a pair of quick rehersals.
Deedra Stephens has participated in the fashion show for several years. The merchandising management major worked as a model coach this year.
Almost eighty models tried out for 30 slots. Once selected, models are paired up with designers to decide what they’ll be wearing on the runway. Stephens likens the paring-up process to a fantasy football draft.
"The designers decide what kind of models they want, and then they get to choose," she says. "They’ll at least get one or two of their top picks."
Models meet with their designers at least once a week to practice walking, and may meet more often for fittings.
Stephens says the interactions can be awkward at first.
"You just meet someone, and then they’re groping you because they have to get your inseam and bust and waist measurements."
But what develops is a special relationship between a designers and models. Neither can survive without the other, and Stephens says there is a large level of trust between the two.
"It’s not always buddy-buddy, but it’s a very interesting relationship, and interesting to see how a designer constructs a garment to fit a model’s body exactly."
Practice runs of the show are finished, and they have gone a little too well for everyone’s liking.
"Nothing went wrong," Sherpe says. "And we all knew that meant something was going to go wrong during the actual show."
Due to the increased height of the stage and the color of the lights, volunteers checked for length of garments and sheerness of fabrics.
"We had a girl sitting in the front row just making sure she couldn’t see up anyone’s dress," Sherpe laughs.
The show is scheduled to start, but due to lighting troubles, it takes an extra 20-30 minutes before models actually hit the runway.
Models’ nerves begin to kick in, but Stephens encourages them to stay confident.
"I told the girls when we started that you have to fake it to make it," Stephens says. "After awhile, you’re not really faking anymore. It becomes natural."
And by the end of the show, everyone remembers why they are there in the first place: the designers.
"They put so much work into their collections," Sherpe says. "And we put work into everything else to make them look good. It’s so humbling to see a designer go up on stage to accept an award."
Sherpe says the look on the faces of the designers is complete awe and wonder and pride to see their ideas come to life.
And that spirit of working together is an integral part of the DHE program at Oregon State.
"We’re lucky to have such a good community," Sherpe says. "The fashion industry has a reputation of being very catty and mean, so we try very hard to implement a humble dynamic."
After more than 15 hours, Sherpe is proud of her work, which is a culmination of two terms of preparation and coordination, scrutinous attention to detail and a passion for creation and good design.
"I really feel like I did my job right,” she says. "It really was a humbling experience."
"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."
- Coco Chanel