The 54th annual University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) Fashion Show returns June 10, which is more than evident in this small space. The 13 design-track students working today (the other track of the program is product development) -- all but one female, the oldest 24 -- are crammed in around clothes racks, mannequins, sewing equipment, ironing boards, spools of thread and bins of swatches.
Walls are covered with glossy pin-up girls from lingerie and alcohol ads, schedules (May 27 is bolded on the handmade calendar as their final critique) and goofy notes by students' work stations ("I missed you 'sew' much"). Sketches adorn the lockers, and low, thumping French Techno Pop fills the room.
No one seems to mind the close quarters, perhaps because they're almost finished at DAAP but probably because they're graduating from one of the top fashion design programs in the nation. (Meanwhile, DAAP's interior design program is rated No. 1 nationally and architecture is No. 2.)
True, Cincinnati isn't exactly known for its fashion forwardness, but each year in June it's right on if not ahead of the game.
The runway show -- the culminating event of the weeklong college-wide design showcase DAAPWorks -- features garments by 33 design seniors, the largest class since 1998. Annually it draws lots of attention in the industry and is modeled after New York Fashion Week shows, held in a huge tent with a red carpet entrance in the parking lot of the Aronoff Center for Design and Art.
John Bartlett, New York fashion designer and Cincinnati native, served as a guest critic at the May 27 final crits. JC Penney and Nike are attending the June 10 runway show, and Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters have already been to campus to interview students.
Some of the companies the DAAP fashionistas have had offers from prior to graduation are Donna Karan, Anthropologie and OshKosh. Most of them, through the school's co-op programs, have already worked for companies and designers all over the country -- probably why most envision career plans in New York or Los Angeles.
It's no surprise the show is a success year after year, as the seniors work under very structured guidelines on their culminating projects.
Margie Voelker-Ferrier, fashion design program coordinator, explains that the actual construction doesn't start until the students develop their own philosophy of design, cite three sources of inspiration (based on co-op experiences and training in the field), devise a concept board, draw 100 sketches and then choose six of those to illustrate. Then the "evolution of design" begins, she explains, which includes three elements: sketching, pattern making and draping (on mannequins) and finally construction.
Because of this system, by the time graduation arrives the seniors are well versed in discussing their individual concepts. Interviewing is as old hat as last fall's poncho.
Halle Grano, 22, of Cleveland, calls her project "Pink Light District," inspired by the city of Amsterdam, she says. She describes her pieces, entirely hot pink (as are the clothes she's wearing), as attire for "classy, fashionable hookers."
A true devotee, Grano arrived that day about half an hour later than the rest of the class, proudly holding up a fuchsia sleeveless shirt bedecked with what looked like hundreds of teeny rhinestones. She hand-sewed each one individually, she brags.
"That's why you haven't seen me in a week," she says.
Lisa Bruemmer, 23, of Western Hills, wears a white stretch cotton shirt patterned with playful '70s-looking flowers, so it's fitting that her project, "Daydreams, Sunbeams and Watercolor Castles," is inspired by children's books.
"It's not a line for children," she says. "Just fun and youthful."
Akarasun Seanglai, 23, of Bangkok, Thailand, calls his project "When the Show's Over," featuring dark jackets and dresses inspired by clowns and the idea of contrast -- how putting on a show stacks up against being human, he explains -- resulting in a black-and-white palette. Should he add tiny ruffles to his tailored jacket's high collar? Yes, Voelker-Ferrier advises.
Katie Dailey, 22, of Chicago, interrupts to consult the professor on whether her tweed-like shell, which gaps slightly at the seams along the chest, will lay properly on a normal woman.
"Probably," Voelker-Ferrier reassures, "because real boobs are lower than that."
These seniors look at Voelker-Ferrier more as a co-worker or den mother than professor or coordinator of the program. She reciprocates by worrying about the tightly-knit group -- who bicker and mock each other like family -- especially before the big show.
Most importantly, she and the DAAP faculty have taught their students not to be slaves to trends.
Seanglai says it best when discussing ideal career plans.
"Ideally, I'd like to work for a company that does a lot of quality clothes that's driven by design more than the market," he says.
There's a pattern worth setting.
The DAAP FASHION SHOW is 7:30 p.m. June 10 in the parking lot of the Aronoff Center for Design and Art on the UC campus. Tickets are $35. 513-556-6828.