Behind the Magic: Student Designers Speak Out

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Last May, UC Irvine’s Fashion Interest Group held its inaugural fashion show featuring four student designers: Teresa Williams, Melanie Lee, Colleen Mohnkern and myself. This spring, we plan to debut our new collections at the Fashion Interest Group’s next show.
Being a student designer isn’t easy. We juggle jobs, internships, schoolwork and other extracurricular activities with our designing. For example, take my situation before last year’s Fashion Interest Group show: Without a sewing machine, I had to hand-sew my work, which was made of three kinds of fabric from Joann’s Fabrics and a few reconstructed T-shirts.
This year, however, I’ve come to school armed with my trusty sewing machine (Betsey) so that I can put together a more professional looking collection. Unfortunately, I still have the same funding issues – I’m still a broke college kid, of course – but I learned to work around them by reconstructing vintage clothes. This year, my collection will consist of recycled vintage garments and clothing inspired by my favorite models, musicians and artists.
What will the other designers’ collections be like this year? Teresa Williams, a fourth-year art history major, took inspiration from Barcelona, where she studied last quarter.
“I’m an art history major, and I’m really into art, so I get a lot of inspiration from artists,” Williams said. “[The city’s architecture was] really cool, really innovative.”
According to Williams the collection will have a slightly gaudy and artistic theme, which she will communicate through color and silhouette.
Lee’s collection will be completely different from last year.
“I didn’t even realize that my style has changed so drastically. This year, I think I’ve been more influenced by the fashion industry. I’ve been paying more attention to it and I’ve been keeping up with all the trends on the runway and everything,” Lee said.
Influenced by fashion blogs like Fashion Toast and collections by Alexander Wang and Lanvin, Lee’s collection will have more punk influence and use a lot more black.
Mohnkern plans to stay true to her personal style for this year’s collection.
“I’m really into really bright colors, mixing up classic style with bright colors and different patterns,” Mohnkern said.
Expect sundresses and ensembles inspired by summer and Southern California. Mohnkern also finds inspiration in vintage clothing.
“I use a lot of vintage patterns for my inspiration and I work with those for many of my dresses. I also get inspired by fabrics themselves. A lot of times I go to the fabric stores without an idea of what I want to do and get inspired by fabric that I find there. I love fashion magazines, particularly Vogue, and I get inspired by … the designs that come out by a lot of high-end designers.”
When it comes to balancing school with design, times can get a bit stressful for the designers.
“The first few weeks right before the fashion show were really scary,” said Williams.
Regardless, Williams can take the pressure.
“For me, [making clothes] is something that I like to do in my free time,” Williams said.
Like Williams, Mohnkern is used to making clothes in her spare time.
“I like to make things that I like to wear,” Mohnkern said. “If I have an idea of something that I would like to wear, a lot of times I’ll just go out and make it.”
Because fashion isn’t an area of study at most UC schools, we make time to fit it into our schedules.
“I know that I would have majored in [fashion] if that was an option,” Lee said. “This is something I’m really passionate about, but I have to do it myself on the side on top of the fields that I’m studying.”
While it may not be getting the attention it deserves while we’re studying other subjects at UCI, fashion is in all of our futures. Lee recently got an internship with BCBG and will commute to the company’s Los Angeles headquarters in the summer.
After she graduates, Lee hopes to study fashion design in New York City. Like Lee, Williams plans to go to fashion school and will build her portfolio after she graduates in June.
Alternatively, Mohnkern hopes to work in the business side of fashion after graduation.
“I’d just enjoy being in the fashion industry. I don’t think I’ll actually go on to make my own clothes or come out with my own line or anything like that professionally, but just to be a part of the industry itself, on the business side, would be really fun,” Mohnkern said.
As for me, I’m not completely settled on my plans for the future. I always had some desire to be a designer, but in my last year of high school, I decided to forgo art school for UCI and explore my other options. Actually, it wasn’t that easy; I had to endure a lot of criticism from high school classmates when I decided to stay in California instead of flying off to New York.
Today, I don’t regret my decision. Being in the Fashion Interest Group and having the opportunity to showcase my designs while studying literary journalism and art history means that there are more career options in the future. If I don’t pursue fashion journalism after graduation, I might earn a Master’s in fashion design from a school like the Academy of Art University in San Francisco or even Central Saint Martins in London. For now, I’m happy dabbling in both journalism and design.
If you’re also an aspiring designer and want to show your own line at this year’s show, don’t hesitate to contact the Fashion Interest Group.

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