Fashion’s Big Night – VCU News

During a night of celebration and camaraderie, the Fashion Design + Merchandising Department at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts last week held its first in-person fashion event since 2019. The fashion show, #PROCESS2022, showcased the hard work, talent and creativity of students in the department.

This year’s event was held at Virginia Art Museum May 11. #PROCESS2022 featured a fashion show, reception and exhibition, as well as a meet and greet with senior designers.

“Our goal was to pull back the curtain on fashion and demonstrate the design and merchandising process and how they work together to create ‘fashion,'” said Deidra Arrington, president of the Fashion Design + Merchandising Department.

Michael-Birch Pierce, VCUarts alumnus, VCU faculty member, and renowned textile artist and fashion designer, created five-minute portraits in one continuous line on a sewing machine. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

The parade featured 75 garments from sophomore, junior and senior designers and featured design exhibits including artwork, draping and embroidery. Merchandising exhibits on line development, branding, forecasting and promotions showed how design becomes fashion.

“I loved seeing all the outfits on the models because they bring them to life…especially with the sleeves open,” said Jaeden Wells, a senior designer featured in the show. “Being able to move and see how they move on the body is a whole different way to see clothes and experience them.”

Thematically, Wells’ collection was inspired by her conception of a “fairy-garden landscape goddess” and she focused on adaptability and durability.

“I tried to play with adaptability and being able to adapt to different sizes,” she said. For example, an item of clothing she designed for her resource class was made from recycled and second-hand materials and featured a corset, loose-fitting jacket, and dress slits.

Fellow senior designer Stuti Epari created a zero-waste design reminiscent of the Maratha warriors of the Maratha Confederacy in 18th century India. “I was inspired by the armor they used,” Epari said. “I [wanted] turn the body into a weapon. Epari used chain mail and reflective fabrics in their design to mimic the look of armor.

A model wearing a pink and purple dress with white sandals walking on a fashion show surrounded by people at vmfa
VCUarts’ 2022 Annual Fashion Show featured 75 sophomore, junior, and senior apparel. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

This year’s event featured a fashion exhibition featuring live couture, custom fashion illustrations by a former Jen Paxtonand portraits made on a sewing machine by elders Michael Birch PierceVCUarts faculty member and renowned fiber artist and fashion designer.

“Portrait embroidery is really a performance,” Pierce said. “My subject is seated in front of me and I draw it with a sewing machine, in one continuous line, in less than five minutes. I have conversations all the time. For me, it’s about having those intimate connections facilitated by a totally unexpected use of a machine. The art is in the experience, not really in the finished product. It’s my full-time job outside of teaching. I travel all over the world doing portraits at parties and events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl.

Pierce, who teaches embellishments and print design at VCU, was thrilled to enhance the fashion show experience for their senior students involved in the event and their families.

“I don’t do much to prepare or practice before each event, but my training in sewing at VCU plus 11 years of events since developing this technique in graduate school required a lot of preparation,” they said.

The event is a collaborative effort, beginning with the studio work of the design students and brought to fruition by the fashion event planning class. This year’s event was particularly poignant with the presence of Mary DePillars, wife of the late Murry N. DePillars, Ph.D.dean of VCUarts from 1976 to 1995, who inaugurated the annual fashion show.

Jen Paxton sitting at a table with a pink tablecloth sketching in front of a student wearing a gray hoodie.
VCUarts alumnus Jen Paxton created custom fashion illustrations for fashion show audience members. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

After the show, the senior designers gathered alongside their models – who wore pieces from each other’s collections – for a meet and greet. During this time, the designers spoke directly to guests about their designs, experiences and creative process.

“Our country’s most promising, serious and passionate students come to Richmond, Virginia from across the country. And they come to learn, to think, to create,” said Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., Dean of VCUarts. “It is these students who reflect in their work a diverse and distinctive creativity. You see it in the materials they use, in their constructions and in the underlying aesthetics of their productions.

“I believe this event, #PROCESS2022, is indisputable proof of the success, not only of the school, but more importantly of our faculty and staff and – as we see here tonight – of our students.”

Left to right: Deidra Arrington and Carmenita Higginbotham standing next to each other and holding papers while laughing
Deidra Arrington, Chair of VCU Fashion Design + Merchandising, and Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., Dean of VCUarts at the 2022 Annual Fashion Show, #PROCESS2022. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

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