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Oregon State University fashion talent shines in annual runway show

Senior Collection Award. Designer Molly Kooiman. Photo: Alexandra Taylor
Senior Collection Award. Designer Molly Kooiman. Photo: Alexandra Taylor

Designer: Maggie Saunders   Photo: Alexandra Taylor

14 May 2010, Corvallis, Oregon

On Friday, May 14, Oregon State University featured its Junior and Senior collections in the Design & Human Environment ("DHE") Department's annual fashion show. A runway show and grant-funded cotton fashion exhibition were the highlights. OSU's fashion design & merchandising programs are a stand-out, one of several factors that make Oregon a quiet, but disproportionately stacked region when it comes to generating fashion talent. Some may not know they are the only school west of the Rockies that offers not only undergraduate and masters degrees in apparel design & merchandising fields, but PhD's in both areas. The DHE's Chair, Dr. Leslie Burns, is someone OSU and the State of Oregon have good reason to boast about, authoring dozens of important fashion and consumer behavior research papers, and a textbook, The Business of Fashion: Designing, Manufacturing, and Marketing, which has been used in fashion curriculums all over the world, including F.I.T. New York. One of the program's faculty members, Marianne Egan, oversees production of the show, and judging by the effusive praise and gratitude by student leaders, has herself made a huge impact in the lives and education of OSU's fashion students.

Left: Kierra Smith models her own creation for the "Cotton Challenge"
Right: Cotton, Inc's Grant-funded exhibition  Photo:
Alexandra Taylor

Upon entry to the OSU Alumni Center, I was greeted by an unexpected surprise in the program, an exhibition of designs in cotton, funded by a Cotton, Incorporated Grant. The grant included provisions for the exhibition, wherein student designers were asked to stretch their imaginations and design garments that in some way bucked convention, and challenged their ability to communicate as designers to manufacturers, in this case separate student construction teams. Designer Kierra Smith designed a retro 50's style house dress, keeping the traditional silhouette but working in a bold yellow. Kierra says it was a learning process for her communicating her designs to a construction team, and a necessary one obviously, for any designer with future commercial ambitions.

Junior Collection Award Designer:  Samantha Hopewell
Photo (left): Alexandra Taylor. Photo (right): Brock Ameele

The runway show, Iconography, functions as more than just a vehicle for showing students' design skills. The show, all the way from funding, pre-production, PR & promotions, event-planning, logistics, and production, is student-led and gains participants valuable experience in every one of these fields. Students in fact must submit a formal grant proposal to the department just to release funding for the show, which, in the end, is mostly self-supporting through alumni donations and ticket sales. Fashion ran the gamut, as it should for any student program, but featured some surprising collections in the sense that, on looks, I'm fairly certain you could pluck them off the runway and onto the racks of any number of retailers. Overall, I got the sense that OSU's apparel design program must put students in fairly good touch with what's happening in real-time in the market. I saw frequent design elements, from prominent exposed zippers and asymmetric wraps & hems, to architectural flares, that were replete at the LA trend shows last March.

A panel of judges selected designers in various categories for awards. Senior winner Molly Kooiman featured a collection of black gowns and dresses that showed an impressive array of textures, layers, and design accents (see slide one). Junior award winner Samantha Hopewell's collection, "Belles Petites Filles," was inspired by her studies in Paris last summer through a program with American Intercontinental University. "I took a trend forecasting class," she remarks, "in which we were required to create a trend board for the Spring 2011 season inspired by elements of Paris fashion, architecture, art, and general environment." Hopewell's collection featured a red dress I was fond of, with a split, tiered skirt section. Her looks were touched by childrenswear elements she saw on the womenswear trend boards, including ruffles, detailed stitching, and curvilinear lines. 

Designer: Kristin Drzayich with her marketable look and scene-
stealing supermodel. Photo: Alexandra Taylor

Designer Kristen Drzayich took a chance on the runway with charming and marketable childrenswear that, along with its unbearably cute models, stole the moment. Judges awarded Drzayich the "Most Wearable" award, and I agree her looks would be right at home in any store. "I decided to design children's wear for the show," Drzayich says, "because I have always been interested in creating children's clothing but never had a chance to display it." Her personal reasons for wanting to have a focus on childrenswear in her career is one anyone can admire, "because it is what makes me the most happy." Smiles were definitely in order as her miniature models strutted down the runway with a mix of joy and bemused wonderment. One had a sense the kids were struck by the difference between walking the runway in rehearsal, and now again with hundreds of cheering, clapping onlookers. "[Childrenswear] lets me be the most creative I can be," she reports, "and my mind definitely thinks in kid mode while I'm in the process of designing."

Designer: Jessie Curry. Photo: Alexandra Taylor

Judges had their favorites, but I had mine as well, a deceptively simple but elegant and well-tailored, knee-length sleeveless dress with an a-line skirt, part of Jessie Curry's "Contemporary Versailles" collection. Made from up-cycled drape and jacquard upholstery fabric (that's correct), the marriage of the two, both in texture, color, pattern, and shape really worked for me. The skirt section, made from the jacquard, featured a wide, pleated flare detail down the back which, if it had not been perfectly balanced as it was, could otherwise have easily sent the piece into disarray. "The [jacquard upholstery fabric]" Curry says, "has a very detailed surface weave pattern and is thicker, so I think it produces a more dramatic drape." It also holds its shape well, and in case you're wondering about the wearability of it, her model reported it was supremely comfortable, and was fitted perfectly. It certainly seemed so. Curry's inspiration came from the French court of the 18th century, and while the silhouettes and overall design elements of her pieces varied, I agree with her self-assessment that it was "the fabric colors and textures that really pulled it all together."

Model shows off Student Show Director Janine Garb's
own designer skills with a bold blue lace-over-slip
mini dress with a uni-sleeve.  Photo: Dennis Kahut

Student show director Janine Garb felt both relief, joy and a bit of sadness when it was all said & done."Overall it is a bittersweet feeling;" she comments, "I am so proud of my team and our production but I am sad that it is all over.  For the last 5 months, I have thought about the show constantly, even dreamt about it most nights, and now I feel like I am going through withdrawals from all the fashion talk and planning."  Along with all her class & show-mates, and Co-Director Deedra Stephens, Garb is especially thankful to OSU instructor and mentor, Marianne Egan, "I hope she realizes how many lives she has touched and how much we admire and respect her. ... She has been helping me in my job search, looked over my portfolio, given me industry contacts, and shared her industry experience.  In a more personal way, I look at Marianne as a role model."

Egan says this was an especially self-motivated student group to work with; "Honestly this is the first year I've really been able to just breathe during the whole process. The students were amazing. Janine was amazing. They really took it over this year and made it their own." When asked about the admiration that was so free-flowing that evening, Egan was modest, "You know I really just get to know them. A lot of them, by the time of the show, have been students of mine for 3 or four years. I know them. I know their families, and I'm a mom, so I kind of see them all in that way." Self-actualized or not, producing a large-scale fashion event comes with a lot of unexpected challenges, and that kind of self-confidence usually comes from somewhere, a testament to faculty like Egan.

Left: OSU-DHE Chair Dr. Leslie Burns  Right: Marianne Egan

Department Chair Leslie Burns, looking back both on the show, and on OSU's program, summed things up nicely, "Many of our alums stay in the northwest and have design/merchandising positions at Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Pendleton, Adidas America, Lucy Activewear, and numerous other smaller companies. We also have a large number of alums in California (both LA and the Bay area) and NYC. In addition, we have alums working as designers doing private label apparel at the design headquarters for retailers such as Nordstrom and Target." Oregon has much to be proud of.

See the slideshow for much more of the student's design work, and stay tuned for more exciting news about OSU fashion.

For more info: Oregon State University, OSU Design & Human Environment  Department, Cotton, Incorporated, Alexandra Taylor Photography, Brock Ameele Photography, DOWNLOAD THE COMPLETE ICONOGRAPHY PROGRAM

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  • Kim Calcagno 4 years ago

    An outstanding program at OSU. I'm so happy to see they are getting recognition for both the program and the students. And the best part is many of the graduates are getting great jobs even in this tough economy. Congratulations to all staff and students for an excellent show!