Students sew up design careers in a program that stresses the practical, theoretical
It is part theory and part technical craft in CSULA’s fashion and textiles option, where inspired art students make it work.
Whether crafting a bubble wrap evening gown for the opening of a runway show, or a wool and vinyl outerwear collection—inspired by vintage car interiors—for a gallery exhibit, Cal State L.A.’s students are trained to tackle all fronts of the fashion, design and textile industry, faculty say.
“We really serve our community,” said Art Professor Rebecca Davis, who has taught fashion and textiles at Cal State L.A. the last 20 years. “We are not excluding anybody. If a student is interested in a career in fashion, we can prepare them to go out into the field.”
Fashion and textiles, offered as a study option in Cal State L.A.’s Department of Art, sets the stage for hundreds of students’ creative pursuits, leading to careers throughout the industry and art world. The program is unique in the state, heavily blending fashion design with the arts, and integrating technical skill and theory. Most fashion schools and programs—particularly those in Los Angeles—are trade schools and place an emphasis only on building technical fashion and design skills, faculty said.
“In this hybrid, our students acquire a unique set of skills and different viewpoints,” said Assistant Professor of Fashion Design Carole Frances Lung. Lung’s background blends two academic areas; before joining the faculty at Cal State L.A. she was an artist with several years of experience in the bridal couture industry.
“My goal is to provide a more philosophical slant to their studies,” Lung continued. “Our students build an intellectual and technical background. They receive a liberal arts degree.”
For many of the roughly 100 fashion and textile option students, it’s the unique fusion of art and technical skills that attracted them to Cal State L.A.
“It is how I think of fashion,” Shannon Lindsey-Frugis ’10 MA said. “It’s wearable art.”
For Lindsey-Frugis’ master’s thesis, for instance, she created a six-piece collection of Brazilian bikinis that explored the hybridization of Brazilian culture, from the Yanomami indigenous tribe and African heritage to European colonizers as seen through the iconic Brazilian bikini. She manipulated textiles, surface and bikini design to show varying cultural and period influences.
Students in the fashion and textiles option are required to complete a capstone project that incorporates all aspects of their discipline in their final year. For some, that translates to rebranding a professional fashion line or designing and producing marketing materials for a new collection. For others, it amounts to conceptualizing and carrying out the design of an original collection.
Students’ final projects are displayed on campus in fall and spring senior gallery exhibits. Fashion design students are also encouraged to participate in an annual spring runway show, organized by the FADS (Fashion Association of Design Students) club. As many as two dozen budding designers participate in the event, which can draw hundreds of professors, friends and family as well as industry professionals.
Both events were great experiences, said Fashion Design and Textile student Federico Rangel, a participant in both last year’s fashion show and December’s senior gallery exhibition. “Being able to take an idea and make it come to life is the best thing, not just in fashion, but in anything you do. It’s definitely the part I enjoy the most,” Rangel said, noting that he has pursued a career in fashion because he loves the field and hopes to one day be his own boss.
Both the gallery exhibits and fashion show present students with a professional platform in which to learn how to present their work, communicate creative ideas, interact with consumers, and respond to feedback, faculty say. It’s a learning experience, which faculty hope will provide students with the final bit of confidence and know-how that they need to launch their careers.
“It’s a tough field,” Lung said. “But it’s a creative field—and all creative fields are tough.”
A tale of two designers
With interests, inspirations and aspirations as varied as their dress, there are endless career possibilities for Cal State L.A. fashion and textile students.
From working in the fashion industry, to pursuing the arts and activism, students credit the University’s uniquely fashioned option with offering an array of choices. Bringing fashion design and textile study under the umbrella of the arts, many say, supports improved creative and professional growth.
“Being at Cal State L.A. was like an espresso shot to my brain—all of a sudden it was a requirement to be creative and to use critical thinking in a way that applied art,” said alumna Melanie De Jesus ’10. “I felt like most of my classmates were equally passionate about what they were doing, which only drove me to want to do a really good job on everything.”
Cal State L.A. TODAY magazine caught up with two program alumni to see where their degrees have taken them.
A vision for ‘the fearless youth’
Designer Melanie De Jesus (center) poses with models donning her clothing line at the Cal State L.A. 2010 spring fashion show.
Finding a job is one thing. Building a career in a field for which you are passionate is another. And for CSULA alumna Melanie De Jesus ’10 there has—and likely always will be—only one industry that moves her: fashion.
“Being a designer is something I have always wanted,” said the 26-year-old De Jesus, who debuted a “sneak peak” collection as a designer this fall and is now working on a fall 2011 line.
De Jesus’ first collection, featured on her web site at www.mdlabl.com, was her Cal State L.A. senior project. She has modeled her fashion line, the MD:LABL, in tribute to “the fearless youth” who live bold, courageously, and a little bit grunge—much like herself, she said.
“CSULA opened my mind to the idea of being an artist. I never considered myself one before and now I do,” De Jesus said, noting that many of the more traditional art forms she studied at Cal State L.A.—sculpture, art history and architecture—have influenced her designs and the industry in unconventional ways.
Before enrolling at Cal State L.A., De Jesus earned a Professional Designation Associates Degree from the Fashion Institute and Merchandising in Los Angeles, and was well-networked within the industry. Completing a four-year degree remained an untapped goal, however, until Cal State L.A. provided her with a perfect opportunity to accomplish this and develop her talent.
“Having a degree is like checking one more thing on the bucket list, and once you do that you can really dedicate your time to exploring your career option instead of going to class,” De Jesus said. “What I learned at Cal State L.A. will always stay with me.”
Shaping lives with ‘wearable art’
Alumna Shannon Lindsey-Frugis (right) makes a terrarium as part of her work with LoveArt&.
Cal State L.A. alumna Shannon Lindsey-Frugis ’10 MA describes fashion as being “our primary and most vocal form” of social communication.
“Through what we wear, we can connect with the world—with the thousands of people with whom we come into contact every day,” she said. “And it can be very personal.”
It was that idea of fashion as art—serving as both a form of communication and an avenue in which to relate to others—that first engaged Lindsey-Frugis and spurred her career interests.
Since graduating from Cal State L.A., Lindsey-Frugis has taught other budding designers and art students as an adjunct professor. She also co-founded a nonprofit, LoveArt&, which supports several causes and youth activities through sales of artists’ works. Through LoveArt&, for instance, Lindsey-Frugis volunteers to teach art and fashion at an all-girls home in Orange County. Proceeds from the online sales of several artists’ donated works cover materials and other overhead costs. (Visit LoveArt& online at www.loveartand.org.)
“My friends and I have been talking about this for a couple years and we finally decided to act on it,” Lindsey-Frugis said recently. “It stemmed from our desire to express our creativity and do something good with it.”
Drawing upon the inspiration and mentorship from art faculty (many of whom are involved in charitable activities), Lindsey-Frugis hopes to grow LoveArt& and continue to design clothes in support of others.
“If you are going to be a designer and create things, you have to decide why. Is it for personal reasons? Aesthetic reasons?” she asks. “For me, I like to connect the consumer or the designer with the hand that makes things.”
The Project Runway Effect
Since the 2004 launch of the popular reality television series, Project Runway, fashion and design programs around the country have seen a marked increase in applications —and Cal State L.A. is no exception, faculty say.
The series provides a glimpse into the life and work of fashion designers as contestants compete weekly to create the best garments with restricted time, materials and themes. “The show has made everyone want to be a fashion designer,” said Assistant Professor of Fashion Design Carole Frances Lung, crediting the show with CSULA’s recent burgeoning enrollment.
“I see it as a positive thing because I think (Project Runway) is validating,” Art Professor Rebecca Davis added. “To these people who thought that they had an interest in fashion design…they and others can now see that it’s a real career path. It’s a true thing; it’s not just playing with dolls.”