Posted on Thursday, May 19, 2011 by Jim Norrena
Amy Williams, chair of CCA's undergraduate Fashion Design Program [photo: Jim Norrena]
As part of my recent review of the 2011 Annual Fashion Show, I sat down with Fashion Design chair Amy Williams to chat about her most important event of the year. She's passionate about her work, and I had no difficulty getting her to discuss what truly matters most at the end of the, er, runway: the students and their careers.
Q: So what does it take to plan the Annual Fashion Show? And what’s next?
A: We begin thinking plotting immediately after the show closes—on the production side. The students begin their journey in September. It’s a full-hanging year! As for what’s next, who knows! Each student will present their work the first Friday we return after the summer break. At that time, I will begin to see how the next show will evolve.
Q: What does the Annual Fashion Show mean to the senior designers?
A: I think that for the students it is a right of passage, almost a surreal party that is strangely connected to their work during the year. There is such a sigh as the show begins—the smiles are of fear and of thrill, like a carnival ride—the finale walk is their proud moment.
(I guess the carnival ride explains the tent!)
Q: What message do you try to instill in your students in regard to likely career options?
A: That this industry requires lots of hard work, creative thinking—sometimes in a very narrow manner, but still creative problem solving, design thinking at each level. That the deadlines are real and that if they can address all of these in their daily practice, they will soar.
Our students for the most part, become assistants and then build their way into the head design jobs or launch their own labels. They love fashion and they want to make garments.
Q: How does CCA support your program’s innovative themes?
A: The college is committed to sustainability and to interdisciplinarity. It has a rich understanding of art and design making a difference while innovating, but that should be expected of an art college.
We expect mastery and excellence, but much of that is self-determined by the artist/designer, rather than by an industry expectation. Projects allow for research, testing, and experimentation, and students are encouraged to push against the normal boundaries by testing and building thoughts into prototypes.
Q: Talk a bit about the interdisciplinarity of this year’s show. You partnered with the Industrial Design Program, the results of which were featured in the show. I wasn't aware these two programs made such logical bedfellows.
A: I have long believed that we needed to bring the surrounding industry product thinking into our courses; our local industry is largely dominated by outerwear gear companies such as Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Sierra Designs, Jansport, Lucy, Marmot, Athleta, Title Nine, Groundwear—to name just a few!).
The product that is built in these companies has a different type of performance component built into the design work. I wanted our students to have internships in these companies and to then go on to influence the products being built by these companies.
I have been working on creating the “Fashioning Functional Gear” course for four years. Industrial design and fashion design sit on the polar edges of the soft wearable product created for the industry surrounding us in the San Francisco Bay Area, so this course was a perfect challenge for students to break the barriers and create for this tangential market.
Q: What worked best about the course?
A: It was so much fun to see it evolve. Of courser there’s more to say, but I hired Fashion Design faculty member Lyndsie Nash in large part because of her passion for the outerwear industry and her involvement in sustainability within that industry. She gets the product and the need. She was a perfect partner with whom to build the course.
Q: Why should someone who’s never seen the Annual Fashion Show attend one?
A: It celebrates learning and growth of ideas. There is a fresh and sometimes almost raw view of the process of design development shown on the runway. There are always beautiful clothes and thoughtful clothes.
Many of the collections challenge the viewer to think about them after the show is over. We are creating garments and yet we are creating statements—and many times, there is art on the runway. It is a celebration for everyone.
Q: What’s your favorite part?
A: The final walk with all the beaming students. Their smiles!
Editor's note: Be sure to read the 2011 Annual Fashion Show summary feature for all the event details: awarded students, photos (runway and behind the scenes), celebrity sitings, sponsor acknowledgments . . . the whole big whoop!
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