The lights dimmed inside the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Trustees Theater Saturday evening, leaving spotlights shining on the senior fashion design students’ runway show. The production spoke to the core of what the school is all about—encouraging cross-discipline collaborations. Not only did student work star, the show was actually produced, art directed, and primarily assembled by SCAD enrollments and alumni. It’s this kind of creative freedom that has enabled the school to raise its profile.
The school has shown monumental change in the past three years, with a nearly 16 percent increase in enrollment—due in part to the university’s recent recruits: former Saks Fifth Avenue vice president and women’s fashion director Michael Fink (hired three years ago as the school’s dean), Jinah Oh, a veteran of Escada and Cartier (who has helped develop a fashion business major), and Carmella Spinelli, snagged from Parsons to chair fashion design at SCAD. Just three years ago, fashion was a small portion of the school’s design department, but according to Fink, “President [Paula] Wallace recognized that fashion was a department that had grown so much, it had to become its own school.”
Operating out of a renovated Savannah elementary school, the School of Fashion has now begun to come into its own: A look at the students’ work is a testament to the advantages of attending fashion school outside New York City. “They have a better chance here to develop their point of view,” Spinelli explained. “There’s a definite sense of resourcefulness because it’s not as if they can go down the street to find a button. So they look for alternative, creative ways to accomplish these things.”
That resourcefulness also means looking to other departments for new ideas. ELLE spoke with Samantha Shanks and Zachary Sauer—the latter a textile and fibers student, who with special permission from the college collaborated with Shanks to create a joint senior collection—filled with her designs and his fabrics. The two now plan to forge ahead with their label Egan + Wallace in New York after graduation. “The biggest thing is that I got to feed off of the creativity of other majors,” Shanks explained. “We teamed up with the Visual Effects department and furniture design as well.”
Also striking is the students’ enthusiasm and savvy—saunter around one of their facilities and you will leave with no less than five students’ business cards. “People often don’t think that fashion is different from other consumer businesses, but we emphasize that it’s a whole separate ideology,” Oh explained. “We also prepare them for what can happen when they graduate—who knew that Facebook or Pinterest would spring up? We try to make them learn and connect the dots.”
And while business savvy is an integral part of the university’s education, creativity seems to abound at every turn. A brief stop into one of the fiber department’s knit labs led us to Michael-Birch Pierce, a MFA student who draws portraits of people with a sewing machine. And in the building’s basement, a student was felting wool with a pool noodle.
It was a remarkable environment to witness—a place that feeds off of creativity and encourages the manifestation of bigger ideas. Saturday’s fashion show was no exception—digitalized prints, welded jewelry elements, and architectural shapes all found their way onto the runway; each a process of collaboration and not just an individual train of thought—which, realistically, is what the fashion industry is truly all about.