From the runway in Ames to the catwalks in New York, Paris, London and Milan, Fashion Week at Iowa State University provides not only a showcase, but a springboard for budding designers strutting their stuff.
Fashionistas, families and friends will flock to Stephens Auditorium on April 14 for the 30th annual Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Fashion Show. The event, one of the largest student-run shows in the country, typically draws 2,500 people who this year will see 65 students model the work of 60 students designers.
The week leading up to the runway show is chock full of festivities, too, from a fashion-movie night (think “The Devil Wears Prada”) to a “Girls Night In” mini fashion show and spa night.
It’s not just a girl thing.
Returning for his second stint the show’s guest designer is 1992 ISU alum Todd Snyder of New York, former Vice President of Menswear Design for J. Crew and co-founder of Tailgate Clothing Co. He also worked for Gap for 15 years, and for Ralph Lauren.
“My dad told me, ‘If you want to be the best, you have to work for the best,’” says Snyder, 44, who was born in Ames, spent his high school years in nearby Huxley, then came back to Ames to study finance at Iowa State, before switching to fashion design.
His self-titled collection, launched in 2011, is creating quite the stir. He’s been named one of GQ Magazine’s Best New Designers in America, and he’s been nominated for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Oscar equivalent, the coveted Swarovski Award for Menswear, to be announced in June.
His path to sartorial splendor was written in the stars.
“When I told my parents I wanted to be a designer, they looked at me like I had 10 heads,” he says by phone from New York on Monday. “When I told my grandmother, she said that made sense, since ‘snyder’ in Dutch means ‘tailor.’”
He gravitated toward menswear “for selfish reasons,” and was a snappy dresser even in high school.
“I learned at an early age that the quickest way to get girls’ attention was to play music, be in a band or dress well. I couldn’t play anything, so I chose the dressing part,” he says. “I understood apparel and used to go shopping with Mom. I was one of the few boys who actually enjoyed going to the mall, then I decided to get into the business piece of it.”
His father, an engineer, and his mother, an interior designer and artist, did support his switch to fashion.
“My dad told me to go after my dreams,” he says.
While always looking fashion-forward, his Iowa background has been with him every step of the way. He worked at a tailor’s shop, Younkers and Ralph Lauren in Des Moines before heading to New York, where he phoned his favorite menswear brands, offering his services for free.
“They were very shocked,” he says, but after just four weeks working for a Joseph Abboud designer, “they started paying me.”
It’s that homegrown work ethic that’s served him so well.
“Iowa helps ground me. It gives me this realistic point of view,” he says. “I also think that growing up in Iowa, I learned to appreciate anything new that came in my world, whether traveling in Europe, Capri or Tokyo. I had never traveled until I graduated from college.” When he did, he really paid attention. “That helped me design better,” he says. “I took in new things, but had a grounded sensibility.”
Audiences at the ISU fashion show will see his Fall 2012 line on the runway. His designs blend fine tailoring and vintage Americana, with military influences and “interesting textures that give dimension to an outfit,” he says.
For students, he’ll continue his commitment to mentoring, fostered by his own career mentor, the late ISU apparel professor Ruth Glock.
“She encouraged me to do internships to get out there, and pushed me to graduate and get a job,” Snyder says. “I’ve always felt a direct connection to Iowa State through her. Her passing (last year) was huge for me. She was a huge mentor in my life. Because of that relationship, I’ve always hired people from Iowa. Their work ethic and values are important in this industry. It’s hard to find new people who are very passionate about things and willing to work their butt off, with no attitude.”
He’ll be awarding scholarships in her name.
“It’s my way of giving back. … She was so influential with my career. I want to make sure kids have that same sort of path.”
What: 30th annual Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Fashion Show
When: 7 p.m. April 14, 2012; exhibition opens at 6 p.m.
Where: Stephens Auditorium, 1810 E. Lincoln Way, Ames
Tickets: $27.50 adults, $21.35 ISU students and ages 18 and under; Iowa State Center Ticket Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, 1-(800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
Monday: Lunch hour kickoff event with food and music, central campus
Tuesday: Fashion movie night, LeBaron Hall Auditorium
Wednesday: T-shirt redesign contest
Thursday: “Girl’s Night In,” spring mini-fashion show with a local clothing store, crafts, salon and spa services
Friday: Social Media Scavenger Hunt
Behind the scenes
By Diana Nollen
Finished fashions are only part of the design in the 30th annual Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Fashion Show.
The event is serious business for students. An entire spring term class is devoted to its planning and staging, involving about 80 committee members, 24 directors and three producers working from January through May.
It also draws skills across disciplines, from merchandising and graphic design to stage design and construction. Student illustrations and portfolios will join finished garments and wearable art in the spotlight.
It’s a model in the nation, financed this year through about $15,000 in fundraising efforts.
“Other universities in the United States look at Iowa State for how to do a student fashion show,” says Sarah Bennett, a lecturer in ISU’s Apparel, Merchandising and Design program and one of two faculty advisers for the show. “They look at us as trendsetters and say, ‘How can we use what they’re doing?’”
Bennett, 28, of Des Moines, was involved in the show during her ISU student days, so she knows how it feels from the other side.
“So many students work so hard all year,” she says. “There’s nothing like seeing your designs on a runway, in front of people. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. Most of them, when they get out into the industry, won’t have
the opportunity to see their garments on a catwalk in front of a big audience.
“For merchandising majors, the production itself is something they’re so proud of,” she says. “Everything is done up to industry standards, so they see what it takes to put together something like that.”
Student producers and apparel merchandising majors Lisa Bradshaw, Kate Howe and Michelle Klas echo that.
For the textile and design students, “it’s the ultimate showcase of their pieces,” says Howe, 23, of Johnston. “Their
senior collection is the epitome of everything they’ve been working toward.”
And those collections aren’t just for the size 0 and 2 crowd. They run the gamut, including plus sizes.
“We have a variety of sizes and dress forms in the sewing lab the designers can choose,” says Bradshaw, 22, of Clarion.
While it’s a monumental undertaking for all involved, it’s worth it in the end.
“We have a lot of things to do in a short amount of time,” says Klas, 22, of St. Louis. “It’s a lot more fun than hard
work. We really enjoy it and don’t mind putting in the countless hours every week to get things done.”
Over the years, the show has evolved from an in-class final for students to a first-class finale open to audience members, most of whom will never travel to New York for Fashion Week extravaganzas.
“We’re bringing in a new form of entertainment that Iowa really doesn’t see,” Bradshaw says.