Blue and green beams illuminated the stage as the house lights fell over a full auditorium at Pius XI Catholic High School. Models shuffled backstage while being outfitted with Mount Mary University fashion design students’ handmade garments. The models were preparing to stomp the runway at the school’s 49th CREO Fashion Show on Friday.
CREO features the works of 30 fashion design students who put in countless hours of brainstorming, sketching and hand-making attire that ranges from casual wear to sleek, on-the-town ensembles. The students’ inspiration had similar range – some were moved by the 1940s, others a a post-apocalyptic universe and Diana Ross.
Junior design student, Tamara Sanchez, wanted to create an element of make-believe in her sleek, neutral designs, so she drew inspiration from the name of her blog, “The Poet, The Rebel and The Wardrobe.” She did so by topping her outfits with animal masks.
“I basically wanted to create a very sophisticated line, but I wanted to bring in a little bit of fantasy,” she says. “So taking the inspiration from the blogs name and the idea behind it, like a surreal blend of the different characteristics that I embody, and bringing them into one.”
The process of taking a sketch to the runway isn’t an easy task, of course. In order to receive an A on the projects, each student needs to put in 85 hours of work on their designs for the show, on top of their other classes. Many go above and beyond the minimum hours. “The coat alone, there’s probably over 50 hours of work in that and a trip to the hospital, included,” says Sanchez. She says her hospital stay resulting “from just working on it and not taking care of myself nutritionally. And all-nighters.”
Sanchez’s all-nighters paid off in the end, because she was awarded the Sandra Tonz Outstanding Collection Award from Florida Perry-Smith and the Best of Show Award presented by Bon-Ton.
Another award winner was sophomore Alexandra Schnepp, who won the Historically Inspired Garment Award presented by Friends of Fashion. Schnepp designed a cinched-waist, iridescent beige gown that extended outwards below the waist, echoing styles from a simpler time. “I was looking at a lot of architecture and that’s kind of how the design came up,” Schnepp says. “I was looking at a lot of opera houses and theaters. The curtains were really catching my attention.” She, too, put in her fair share of extra hours, with the cartridge pleats of the dress taking 40 hours alone.
Aside from designing the duds, planning and organization of the event takes months. Everything from the projected videos, lighting, model training and theme are part of a collaborative effort of Mount Mary students. Students from the Fashion, Art, Interior Design and Graphic Design departments all work to make the show a staple in Milwaukee’s fashion scene.
The show was put together during Mount Mary’s Fashion Show Coordination Class, with the help of Florida Perry-Smith, who is the creative director and choreographer of CREO. She has been working with students to cultivate ideas for CREO since the early 1980s, but she doesn’t take the credit for the intricate event. “They have input; this is their show. I always tell them, even as a professional coming in to assist and guide them, this is their show,” she says. “Each show they want to take their theme, their title and they really want to bring that to life.”
This year’s theme was “synergy,” which meant vastly different design elements came together to create one showcase, the same way that the technical aspects of the show come together. “We had a really good fashion show coordination class in terms of their chemistry and their ability to work as a team,” says Sandi Keiser, an associate professor in the Fashion Design program. “They sort of finished each other’s sentences,” she says.
The hard work by students has been going on since 1967, two years after their four-year degree program in fashion was launched. It was the first program of the kind in the country and was created by Sister Aloyse Hessburg. Even though Hessburg is now retired, she and her program leave a prominent legacy.