Student designers at Phila U. ‘Unleash’ their creative sides

In most cases, when someone says they are wearing their lunch, it’s a figure of speech. But that wasn’t the case for one model at Philadelphia University on Tuesday afternoon, who sported an entire picnic table, complete with custom juice boxes, a paper hoagie and napkins, for a fashion show in East Falls. 

This model was part of a 20-year-long tradition at Philadelphia University, in which fashion students design garments using unconventional—and sustainable—materials for the Design X fashion show.

The designs were the product of an entire semester of a class based on problem solving, which encourages students to think sustainably when choosing their materials. After the fall semester, some students handed over the hangers to showcase their designs.

A student group called the Fashion Industries Association (FIA) took it from there, and put together all facets of the show—lighting, music and t-shirt design—through volunteers.

Clara Henry, Director of Philadelphia University’s Fashion Design program and advisor to FIA, said this year’s “Unleashed” theme encouraged students to break away from the conventional.

Pushing creative boundaries 

Heaps of cardboard, sheets of floral paper and pieces of coffee filters were transformed into extravagant dresses that turned models into walking pieces of art, much like Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. But instead of being donned by “Mama Monster,” volunteer students modeled the garments in front of 200 people—mostly students.

“When we started doing this [show], it was at the forefront, I think,” Henry said. “It’s an opportunity for designers to push creative boundaries.”

Fashion design senior Rachael Crawford said that fashion students aren’t generally encouraged to create clothing that’s too out of the box.

“A lot of people dismiss [thoughts of taking] this class, but you really get to do what you want,” she said. “[The clothing students create] has to be marketable in other classes.”

Breaking the rules 

In designing sustainable clothing, fashion design senior Brittany West said she got to feel a bit like a rebel after three-and-a-half years of discipline.

“We’re taught three years of rules, rules, rules,” she said, “and this class makes you break those rules.”

West said she was particularly proud of breaking the rules by using a glue gun to attach a zipper to the back of her zebra-inspired trash bag dress.

“When I photographed it for my portfolio, people stopped and said it was a beautiful dress,” said West, who aspires to have a career designing couture women’s formalwear.

West added that she couldn’t bear to tell most of her dress admirers that it was made out of trash bags.

Although West said she doesn’t plan on making any more trash bag dresses, she plans on thinking green in the future.

“It’s something I’ve considered since this class,” she said.

A source of inspiration 

Chelsea Riedell, a fashion design junior who didn’t take the class, said she attended the event with the purpose of exploring designs made by other students and possibly learning a thing or two.

“A lot of times, people get caught up in their own [designs],” she said. “It’s good to see what’s out there.”

Tyler Harden, a graphic design junior, said that although he doesn’t have a particular interest in fashion, he attended the event to support friends and possibly get inspired.

“I like seeing different aspects of design,” he said. “And sometimes I get inspired from that.”

The money raised from fashion show tickets will go toward the FIA’s trips to network in New York City and for fashion awards at the school’s April 2011 show.

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