Fashion’s big night   

By Jayla McNeill

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

This year’s event was held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on May 11. #PROCESS2022 featured a runway show, reception and fashion exposition, as well as a meet-and-greet with senior designers.

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

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

The runway show presented 75 garments from sophomore, junior and senior student designers and included design exhibits featuring illustration, draping and embroidery. Merchandising exhibits in line development, branding, forecasting and promotions demonstrated how the creative becomes fashion.  

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

Thematically, Wells’ collection drew from her conception of a “fairy goddess-gardenscape” and she focused on adaptability and sustainability.

“I tried to play with adjustability and being able to fit different sizes,” she said. For example, a garment she designed for her resource class was made of recycled and thrifted materials and featured a corset, loose jacket and dress slits. 

Senior designer, Stuti Epari used chainmail and reflective fabrics to mimic the appearance of armor worn by the Maratha Warriors of the Maratha Confederacy in 18th-century India. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

Fellow senior designer Stuti Epari created a zero-waste design that harkens back to the Maratha warriors of the Maratha Confederacy in 18th-century India. “I was inspired by the armor that they used,” Epari said. “I [wanted] to make the body a weapon.” Epari used chainmail and reflective fabrics in their design to mimic the appearance of armor.

This year’s event included a fashion exposition that featured live dressmaking, custom fashion illustrations by alumna Jen Paxton, and portraits created on a sewing machine by alumnus Michael-Birch Pierce, a VCUarts faculty member and renowned fiber artist and fashion designer. 

“The portrait embroidery is very much a performance,” Pierce said. “My subject sits across from me and I draw them with the sewing machine, in one continuous line, in less than five minutes. I have conversations the whole time. For me, it’s about having these intimate connections facilitated by a completely unexpected use of a machine. The art is in the experience, not really the finished product. This is 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 excited to enhance the fashion show experience for their senior students involved with the event and their families. 

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

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

After the runway show, 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 processes. 

VCUarts’ 2022 annual fashion runway show presented 75 garments from sophomore, junior and senior student designers. (Photo by Paris Boynes)

“Our nation’s most promising students, earnest and impassioned, are coming to Richmond, Virginia, from across the country. And they are coming to learn, to reflect, to create,” said Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., dean of VCUarts. “It’s these students that reflect in their work, wide-ranging and distinctive creativity. We see this in the materials that they use, in their constructions and in the underpinning aesthetics of their productions.

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

Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean of VCUarts
Deidra Arrington, chair of the VCU Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising, and Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., dean of VCUarts at the 2022 annual fashion show, #PROCESS2022. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

To view photos from the #PROCESS2022 step-and-repeat visit the VCUarts Facebook Page. Photos by Aislinn Brady, Paris Boynes and Anais Kaminski. All photos are copyrighted by VCU.

Lead Image: Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.