March 2015 – Sewing machines click and hum, scissors whip through fabric and somber gray mannequins are brought to life as they’re draped in outfits of red, blue, purple and white. It’s the Cruess Hall sewing lab at UC Davis — “Project Runway,” but without all the drama.
The 20 students in the studio are all design majors, most near graduation, and, combined, the four-to-six-piece fashion collection each creates during the class will be the centerpiece of the UC Davis Picnic Day Fashion Show April 18.
Since the Fashion Show started 28 years ago as an independent study group, it has become one of Picnic Day’s most popular events. Then, in 2005, design professor Susan Avila created the class, DES 179 “Signature Collection,” to put the show together. This is the first year Avila, now Department of Design chair, hasn’t taught the class.
“The fashion show is probably the most visible outreach by the department, and it appeals to many types of individuals because it is entertaining in addition to showcasing talented student work,” she says.
Fashion and Design Society stages show
Susan Huey is a student in the class, but, as co-president of the UC Davis Fashion and Design Society, she’s much more. The organization she leads stages the Picnic Day Fashion Show, and she creates stunning looks herself. Her collection, called Biomorphic Bloom, celebrates spring with outfits blooming like red snapdragons, fuchsia roses and blue-purple hydrangeas.
“I’ve just always been fascinated by nature,” says Huey, 21, of Fresno.
‘We are the only campus that offers fashion, and considering that fashion is one of the major industries in California this is significant.’
— Susan Avila
Drawing on Gothic architecture
Rumiko Adame went the other direction, drawing on Gothic architecture with its vaulted arches, decorative stone tracery and muted colors. One of her dresses has vertical fabric tubes stuffed with batting to imitate columns.
“I love the architecture from that period, especially the churches,” says Adame, 21, of Los Angeles. “Last summer I was able to go to Great Britain and see them in person so the impact was ever greater.”
Mixing up menswear
The only male in the class, Dennis Liu, 21, is also the only one making all menswear. He’s also the noisiest, hammering snaps into a white pleather and black lace jacket.
“I’m playing with mixing textiles, bringing things together that normally don’t go together,” says the Fremont native.
Delores Christiansen is piecing together outfits from the other students’ scraps to emphasize sustainability. The lining of her reversible jacket juxtaposes tweed, red lace, and a bold and modern green print.
“My aim is to use all recycled material and explore non-traditional ideas of what is beautiful,” says Christiansen, 22, of Santa Cruz.
Others have been inspired by the “Great Gatsby” era, masquerade ball costumes and Victorian period underwear.
Design class offers supportive environment
Although students often trip over one another in the crowded room, it’s a jovial and supportive environment.
“We’ve all bonded by taking studio classes together,” Huey says. “We bounce ideas off of each other and help one another. We’ve also done some all-nighters in the studio together.”
Helen Koo, an assistant professor teaching the class for the first time, was impressed by the spirit of cooperation and the students’ ambitions.
“They critique one another’s outfits and work really well together,” Koo says. “Some actually help one another making, preparing or transporting garments, supplies and materials. They’ve been very self-motivated, very passionate and creative.
“They used interesting materials and techniques — recycled plastics, images of friends and families, metals, needle felting, laser cutting, digital textile printing and even 3D body scanning.”
Also part of the show will be 11 student-created red dresses made in a partnership between the design department and the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program for women’s heart health awareness.
In addition, students from across campus can enter outfits that focus on sustainability and use recycled materials.
UC’s only comprehensive design department
UC Davis has the only comprehensive design department in the UC system. Along with fashion, the department has programs in graphic design, museum exhibition design, architecture and lighting and operates the Design Museum. The department offers a bachelor’s degree and Master’s of Fine Arts degree.
“We are the only campus that offers fashion, and considering that fashion is one of the major industries in California this is significant,” Avila says, “especially in light of new areas such as wearable technology.”