- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Liz Ordonez started to design clothes during her teenage years. When she couldn't find any exciting outfits at the mall, she bought a sewing machine and began to make her own patterns. After enrolling in a sewing class, she realized that she had found her calling.

Originally from Managua, Nicaragua, Miss Ordonez, 23, is studying fashion design at Marymount University in Arlington. When she graduates this spring, she hopes to gain experience in the fashion industry and eventually become an independent designer.
"It gives you freedom to express yourself in any which way," she says of fashion design.
Behind the bright lights of the runway, fashion design requires many skills, including drawing and sewing. It also demands a knowledge of business and contemporary culture. Although the public perceives the profession as glamorous, success depends upon talent and hard work.
Learning to sketch is the basis for all designs, says Janice McCoart, chairwoman of Marymount's department of fine and applied arts. After students become proficient in drawing, they learn to make patterns on paper or by draping fabric over a mannequin. This gives their two-dimensional idea the beginnings of a shape in the three-dimensional world.
Because a garment, not a pattern, is worn, students also need to learn to sew, even if professionals hire employees to assemble their clothes. Unless students understand how the process works, they will lack the ability to make well-crafted items, Ms. McCoart says.
When creating garments, Ms. McCoart encourages students to develop pieces that capture the viewer's eye. The designer may want to draw attention to a certain part of the body through an aspect of the design and then move the eye elsewhere through pleats or folds.
"The garment is a design just like a painting, illustration or display window," she says. "The fabric is the medium."

Shaina Herrera, 20, a senior fashion design student at Marymount, says her parents advised her to consider studying fashion because she enjoyed drawing pictures.
"I have a constant creative flow," she says. "My mind is always turning. It's sort of like a fantasy when the designs come out on paper. It's all the stuff I would love to have or things I've dreamt about."
Although it's fun to dream, Mary Kawenski, department head of apparel design at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, stresses that students must be disciplined to accomplish their goals.
Fashion shows are based upon deadlines, and designers must be able to meet them without a problem. Designers also need to be prolific at their craft. Professionals commonly sketch hundreds of possible garments, which are edited until the line is completed.
At the end of each semester, students at the Rhode Island School of Design present their work to a panel of faculty members and visiting designers. Those professionals select the best student work from the year for inclusion in "Collection," the department's annual spring fashion show. Students also visit New York City's fashion district, and seniors are given the opportunity to intern for six weeks at a major fashion house.
"We try to help students realize their vision," Ms. Kawenski says. "We want them to develop their point of view and become professional designers."
Children who cut their mothers' bedspreads or curtains to make pants or dresses have a future in the fashion industry, says Mary Stephens, chairwoman of the department of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Successful fashion designers often make clothes for paper dolls or Barbie dolls during their childhood.

Along with being a creative person, students need to understand the business of the fashion industry. Designers should know where to acquire their raw materials and how those fabrics are made. They also need to understand the demographics and market for which they are preparing the items, which are factors that affect the purchase price.
"Everyone thinks this is very glamorous," Ms. Stephens says. "Then they get into it and realize this is really a lot of work. … The bottom line is, you have to make money. You have to understand how and why a collection will sell."
Claudia Lua, 21, a third-year student in the advanced fashion design program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, says she wants to found a company that serves many markets. She believes it's easier to run a successful business when it focuses on more than one demographic.
She is creating a collection based on an eclectic Western look with lots of leather and denim.
"When I was about 8, I used to make clothing out of newspaper with my friends and have fashion shows around the neighborhood," she says. "I would run around my friends with tape and glue. … The pants didn't work because they would rip."

Besides being savvy about business, fashion designers need to understand the changing culture, says Karen Bakke, chairwoman of the department of fashion and design technologies in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University in New York. She tells her students they need to watch television, attend movies, visit shopping malls, and read newspapers and magazines.
"Be observant of the way people present themselves," she says. "It is an immediate sign that says, 'I think like this. I do this. If you think likewise, come and be my friend.'"
A look at the current issues of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, for example, suggests that fashion is returning to the styles of the 1950s. The form-fitting dresses and retro shoes reflect a time of innocence. For the most part, the era was a time of prosperity. Ms. Bakke suggests that with the troubled climate of today's world, Americans long for a simpler lifestyle, which is reflected in their choice of clothing.
"Fashion is much more important than people realize," she says. "Ralph Lauren is one of the great anthropologists of the 20th century. He knows exactly how we want to be seen."
Carolyn Siegel, 20, a junior fashion design major at Syracuse University, interned at Ralph Lauren in New York City in the summer. She also studied at the London College of Fashion in England. She says her internship taught her to have passion for her work.
"When you draw something on paper, the biggest reward you can have is to see it come to life and see someone wearing it," she says. "The key to learning fashion design is believing in yourself and having support."
Many students start by developing their own tastes by imitating other famous designers, such as Donna Karan, says Francesca Sterlacci, an instructor of fashion design and apparel at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Eventually, beginning designers distinguish themselves by developing their own distinct styles. They might be known for specializing in a specific field, such as sportswear, children's wear or men's apparel. Other designers make a name for themselves by evoking a certain image through their clothes.
"It makes their portfolio special," she says. "Otherwise, everything looks the same."

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