Fashion School celebrates 25th anniversary with show

Lauren Carll

In 1983, Ronald Reagan was president, people laughed at Chevy Chase while watching “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” the “Challenger” shuttle made its way into space and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Music Charts.

It was also the year the Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising opened at Kent State.

It has been 25 years of fortitude, focus and fabric for this family of fashion. Now, faculty members take a walk down memory lane and share their thoughts and experiences about one of the biggest annual events to occur at the school: the senior portfolio fashion show.

Back in the day

Associate professor Elizabeth Davic, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said she started her career at Kent State in 1980, before the fashion school had even opened.

“I was here, not only for the first fashion show, but before there even was a school of fashion,” she said with a laugh. “So I have seen the fashion program grow since day one.”

Davic said the first fashion show was much different than what it is today.

“The first fashion show grew out of a desire that the students had to show their work,” she said. “So it came as a result of the students asking to have a show. The faculty liked the idea, but they felt that if the school was going to put on a show, then the students’ work had to be of a caliber that left a strong impression on everyone.”

Davic said since the enrollment was much lower than it is today, the first show was held in a smaller venue – the Higbee Gallery in the museum.

Senior portfolio fashion show

Where: Rockwell Auditorium

When: 6 p.m. today

Cost: $15 for student ticket

“It was very small and intimate because at that time, there were only about eight to 10 seniors who had collections to present,” she said. “Then the enrollment grew, and we had the show in the Ballroom for a few years until the school was finished being built.”

Elizabeth Rhodes, director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, said she has been working at Kent State as the director since 1994, and she too has seen the school go through quite a few changes.

“This year’s theme of the fashion show is ‘Metamorphosis,’ and I think it’s very appropriate considering it’s our 25th year anniversary,” she said. “Since I have even been here, the school has gone through some tremendous changes that have really helped Kent make a name for itself as a strong fashion school.”

Rhodes said besides the increase in enrollment, one of the biggest changes is using the Friday night show as an opportunity to raise money for the School of Fashion.

“We use this as an opportunity to invite industry guests in, and sell tables for $5,000 a piece for a table of eight,” she said. “$4,000 of that is a contribution to the charity of your cause within fashion. A lot of people put it toward scholarship money for study abroad programs within the school.”

Rhodes said the show has gone from a small production meant for friends and family to an attractive event for people in the fashion industry to come to get to know the school.

“This year, Michael Weiss, the CEO of Express, is coming to the show, and he is also being inducted into the school’s Fashion Hall of Fame,” she said. “I rarely see, in recent years, a portfolio that some student isn’t offered an internship or connection to a job opportunity, or somebody doesn’t donate money for a scholarship. It’s more than just ‘come see what we’ve done all year, and clap your hands and celebrate.’ It is that in a sense, but it goes beyond the show. It helps strengthen the school.”

Rhodes said the faculty members never used to invite people from outside of the area to come critique the senior collections. She said after a few years, a generous donor, Ron Teare, was able to put an endowment in place so the school could afford to bring in fashion designers from across the country to critique the seniors’ lines.

“A lot of our students wouldn’t be where they are today without this endowment,” she said. “This money allows us to bring in actively engaged designers in major firms four times a year for critiques. It does the students no good if the critics say ‘Oh, that button doesn’t look good there’ or ‘You should take that hem down an inch’ a few days before the fashion show. We bring them here throughout the year so they can help the students make garments that are runway-ready.”

Preparation for this year’s show

Sherry Schofield-Tomschin, an associate professor who works closely with the seniors, said the students have been working hard on their collections since the beginning of the school year, and the critics who have come in have been a very big help.

“We send the students’ initial designs to the critics, and they look through them, pick out the strongest pieces and then make suggestions for changes,” she said. “Then they make the patterns for those, and the critics come and look at the garments in muslin form and they’ll say either ‘Yes, that works’ or ‘No, you still need to make some changes.’ Then they come back again to see the garments in the final fabric.”

Schofield-Tomschin said although students must follow the “Metamorphosis” theme, they can interpret the theme however they want.

“The students have adapted the theme in a number of different ways,” she said. “We have two people doing sports wear, two people doing men’s wear, we have two doing children’s wear, and the rest is women’s wear, which is a range from sporty to bridal, so we’ve got it all.”

Schofield-Tomschin said she has enjoyed working with the seniors this year, and she is looking forward to seeing the final garments in the show.

“The shows are so exciting because the students finally get to see their stuff at a point where they’ve never really seen it before,” she said. “When it’s coming down the runway and you hear people ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ about your stuff, it’s an exhilaration. It’s definitely a rush they don’t get on a daily basis. The show is a combination of what they’ve learned during their four years here, and when I see them smiling, I love knowing that I was a part of that.”

Fashion School instructor Shammi Chowdhury, who is in charge of the show production, said she has been planning the show all year, and the students in her fashion show productions class have worked hard all semester.

“The work for the show really begins earlier than the class begins because I have to contact all the people for teleproductions and stage design early on,” she said. “I stick with the same people that I use to help put on the show every year because I’ve developed strong relationships with them.”

Chowdhury said the Fashion Show Productions class consists of senior fashion merchandising students who help make the show possible.

“There are six different committees that are all extremely important for the show’s success,” she said. “We have music, choreography, publicity, dinner/reception, model and dresser committees that work very hard at each different aspect of the show. The students are really doing a remarkable job this year.”

Rhodes said she is very proud of all of the students’ hard work, and she cannot wait to see the show.

“This whole experience is one of those adrenaline highs that sort of builds up,” she said.

“The people who come to the show are basically going to see it as something beautiful and entertaining, but those of us who have been working on it all year know that it’s 99 percent hard work and about 1 percent fun and entertainment. When the show is finally over, you get to sleep in the next morning, kind of reflect on the show and then dive right into planning the next show the following day. It’s always crazy and busy here, but I absolutely love being a part of it all.”

Contact fashion reporter Lauren Carll at [email protected].