Seniors stitch up fashion sculptures

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series that highlights trends for the upcoming UT fashion show, which will be held April 29 at 8 p.m. in the Frank Erwin Center.

While the current issue of Newsweek magazine screams “America is back!,” the truth is that the fashion industry isn’t — something that is on every graduating senior designer’s mind.

Yet, that hasn’t stopped design seniors from making highly structured collections and wanting to continue making incredibly unique garments with architectural and sculptural qualities.

It’s not just students who have a hard time affording these designs. At the height of the recession, high-end designers sharply cut back on haute couture in favor of minimalistic looks with lower price points.

“The thing about this major that’s indicative of the fashion major as a whole is it’s very rough to get in,” said Ashley Westerman, a marketing and textiles and apparel senior. “Some people wind up doing something else entirely. They could end up working for an ad firm or as a flight attendant. It’s kind of scary, but I also know a girl who graduated who works at Marc Jacobs.”

Westerman’s collection was inspired by well-fitted men’s suits, reflecting her own mix of business and fashion to help make herself more marketable in an already tough business.

Combining a short skirt with a peplum curving out at the hips and a light-blue flowing tank, she says she wanted to capture the hard structure of masculine designs while imbuing it with the femininity of softer fabrics to further “one-up it.”

One key in getting a garment to remain fitted is boning, also used to give corsets their shape. By inserting boning, or sticks usually made of plastic or steel, the fabric can be made to maintain a tighter, more structured shape.

Another way designers create sculptural designs is through sewing. By treating the fabric like a piece of Japanese origami, senior designer Michelle French sewed the fabric into a structured pattern with hard folds and creases.

“The sewing is very elaborate,” French said. “You have to take into consideration all the different dimensions and seam allowances. Each line that you sew has to be a sharp angle, and all those angles have to be consistent. It’s all about having control.”

The fabric in her collection doubles over like paper, creating accents like two sharp, diagonal folds running along the back of her otherwise soft brown skirt, which she paired with a flowing ivory silk blouse with dark-blue and bright-red splotches reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy.

“Even though origami is not delicate and soft like flowing silk, I wanted something that had a rough edge yet [would] still be effeminate, something that balanced it out to give the presence of a sophisticated woman,” French said.

She said she could see her cocktail dress going for about $400, but it’s her distinct detail and two and a half weeks of labor that make it worth it.

“I value individual style, and sometimes I feel like mass-produced clothes don’t appreciate the amount of work that goes into designing clothes,” French said. “Making a structured pattern takes a lot more time than anything that’s mass-produced, and there’s so much room for mathematical error if you try to change the sizes. That’s why I want to make made-to-order clothes for individuals. You’re buying for quality. They’re lifetime pieces that no one else has.”