CCA Senior Fashion Show: Sustainable-Minded Approach Is Future of Fashion

The end-of-year, sold-out Senior Fashion Show at California College of the Arts, a high-caliber runway presentation and capstone experience of the Fashion Design Program, took place May 7, 2010, in an over-sized, fully portable tent erected smack in front of the Nave on the San Francisco campus. (Watch the official 2010 CCA Fashion Show slideshow.)

If you find the idea of holding a runway show in a tent unfashionable, think again. CCA’s use of the tent for this conspicuous fashiony event is as much about protecting the attendees from blustering weather as it is about promoting an unstoppable curricular trend here at the college: designing with sustainability in mind.

What better way to promote the college's applauded commitment to sustainable design practices than to employ a reusable, temporary, and transportable fashion show auditorium? Exactly.

Although it may seem somewhat ironic to bolster sustainable fashion practices among an industry of fashion aficionados who come undone at the seams at the mere thought of being seen in the same ensemble twice, CCA designers are increasingly recognized—and awarded—for implementing sustainable materials and processes in their creations.

So while CCA's Senior Fashion Show marks the conclusion of the undergraduate degree program and serves as a catalyst to formally celebrate the year-in-the-making senior-thesis collections of the graduating class, it also marks the onset of progressive and successful careers for many of these fashiontabulous, socially reactive designers.

Fashion Show Highlights
This year 18 designers put their unique collections to the test on the runway. The resulting fashion gamut was as long as the runway itself, ranging from a Cubist-patterned denim jacket with plastic zippers (designed by JiHae Kim as part of her "Uncanny Sleep" collection) to a four-ply silk laced bustier dress with laced wool bolero (featured in Jeannette Peters' "Shadow" collection).

Fashion designer Laura Schmits, who earlier this year was awarded an honorable mention in The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Liz Claiborne Fashion Scholarship Award competition, took to the runway herself after Surface magazine fashion editor Gregory Wein announced the young, ebullient designer as the winner of the magazine's coveted Emerging Talent Award—in acknowledgment for pushing the boundaries of fashion design (and exercising consistently fashletic prowess!) [Previous Surface Emerging Talent Award recipients: Chris Weiss (2007), JiHye Kang (2008), and James Edwards (2009)]

Schmits's "Mortifera" collection (Latin for "deadly things") is scheduled to be published in a two-page photo spread in the industry-respected magazine’s fall edition. The collection reflects her aesthetic to create sculptural designs that use volume and construction to visually change and distort the proportions of the body, supplemented with textile manipulation and tailoring.

She also will travel to New York in the fall for an exclusive internship with prominent designer Tim Hamilton. (Hamilton sells his line of fashion in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He was nominated for the Swarovski Menswear Designer of the Year award three times before receiving it at the 2009 CFDA Fashion Awards ceremony.)

Osterweis Capital Management returned for a second consecutive year as the Senior Fashion Show’s main sponsor and Surface magazine reprised its role as media sponsor for a fourth consecutive year. Added to the lineup of support this year was SF Hotel Carlton as hotel sponsor.

A cornerstone of the college’s end-of-year exhibitions, the Senior Fashion Show unites the entire CCA community: undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, staff and faculty, parents, donors, sponsors, media, local and national celebrities, photographers and videographers, and of course a list of companies and individuals whose support and kindness make the fashion extravaganza not only possible but also remarkably successful.

Project Runway's Amy Sarabi Comes Home
In attendance at the VIP preshow champagne and chocolate mixer as well as the main event was special guest, alumna, and fashionsista Amy Sarabi (Fashion Design 2007), who made national headlines this year as a competitor on the seventh season of Project Runway. Her signature dress for the Campbell’s adDRESS Your Heart campaign placed first, and she went on to attend the seventh annual Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards in New York.

And if you think you heard a familiar voice in the stands, say that of "Fernando" of San Francisco-based morning radio program Fernando & Greg in the Morning on KMVQ-FM / Movin' 99.7, featuring the first openly gay duo to host a morning broadcast on American commercial radio, you probably did, as he, too, was under the tent with his husband, so to speak.

In keeping with tradition, attendees braved the unseasonably cold winds and jaunted over a few streets to Project One Gallery, official location of the Fashion Show after-hours party.

What most excites Fashion Design Program chair Amy Williams during the event? "The second the Surface Emerging Talent Award is announced. . . . The look on each year's winner's face is just so rewarding," she reveals. "I do not want to know in advance who the winner is; I wait like all the students for the announcement!"

Naturally, being devoted to implementing sustainable practices in the curriculum, Williams is a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the show: “It represents the first real step into the world of fashion. It’s our way of solidifying our program for our current and future students, and of acknowledging the hard work of our alumni. . . . The senior year thesis work spans two semesters and is a slice of real-world design practice.”

Sustainable Fashion or Fashioning Sustainability . . . or Both?
Already known for its stalwart commitment to making art that matters, CCA’s Fashion Design Program provides the framework to inspire fashionscious students to embrace sustainable design practices—ones that are increasingly relevant to their future careers. And judging from past alumni, who have gone on to work and thrive at such notable companies as Ralph Lauren, Narciso Rodriguez, Thom Browne, Isabel Toledo, DKNY, Jones of NY, J.Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, Levis, Gap, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Athleta, Tea Collection, and Gymboree, the career paths are most impressive.

More than mere words or lofty dreams, CCA Fashion Design alumni are taking the sustainable fashion trend by the threads and running the whole nine yards with it, founding their own companies, setting up programs to aid artisans, and applying design innovation to transform industrial waste, such as rubber and recycled leather, into a valuable resource.

Currently, CCA’s Fashion Design Program places at the top of the list of schools the nonprofit organization Global Action Through Fashion recognizes for teaching with social responsibility and sustainability in mind. Global Action's vision is to create a platform for designers to implement best practices that create a more equitable and sustainable world through the promotion of socially and environmentally responsible fashion. CCA’s program is noted for “really trying to let the idea of sustainability influence design.”

Such an idea is evident in Senior Fashion Show designer Sam Formo’s (“53 Miles West of Venus”) approach—already highlighted earlier this year by Metropolis magazine as a Next-Gen Notable in the publication's 2009 Next Generation Design Competition for his Low to No Waste Jacket design, which reduces waste by 75 percent and uses one-fifth the usual amount of yardage for a jacket!

Formo’s jacket is also highlighted at the Global Action Through Fashion website as indicative of an industry trend whereby the designer’s role is changing to embrace ecological ways of thinking and acting. Luckily, CCA is preparing its students to embrace this trend, and designers such as Formo are more apt to accept their new role as a facilitator of the eco-sensible design: “The jacket designed itself,” he admits. “I don’t always have to be the one in command.”

The young designer also was a finalist in the Fashioning the Future, the leading international student competition for design and innovation in sustainable fashion, which is put on by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion / London College of Fashion.

The Future of Fashion
“I think CCA has better prepared me for my career because I was able to learn so many aspects of being a fashion designer," reveals Schmits, the evening's top-honored designer. "We are taught to design, illustrate, pattern draft, and sew. Unlike other schools, we also taking classes in sustainability, alternative design, textiles, knitting, conceptual design, and more. We are encouraged to push the limits of fashion design and creativity. I think at CCA I have been able to explore parts of design and art that I wouldn't have been able to at another school.”

"They will be well educated for the realities of the fashion industry—creatively and strategically," Williams asserts. She is currently investigating deeper sustainability directives for the fashion industry during the next six months. "Our program truly teaches students how to be fashion designers—how to think deeply, how to design completely, and how to make fashion they can believe in and stand up for. . . . Our students are well prepared for the future of fashion."

About The Council of Fashion Designers of America
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is a not-for-profit trade association whose membership consists of more than 360 of American’s foremost fashion and accessory designers. The CFDA Foundation, Inc. is a separate, not-for-profit company organized to raise funds for charity and industry activities.

[2010 Senior Fashion Show video](
2010 Senior Fashion Show slideshow
2010 Senior Fashion Show press release
San Francisco Chronicle's Student Show Sets Sights on Sustainability
Fashion Alumna Amy Sarabi Wins Project Runway Challenge in Week Four
Liz Claiborne Fashion Scholarship Award
"Fashion Bible" Women's Wear Daily Calls Out CCA Fashion Design Scholarship Winner
Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition
CCA Fashion Design Student Awarded Prestigious Industry Prize