Fashion Brings Challenge and Creativity to Phoenix College Designers and Stylists

Monday, June 26, 2023
A man dressed in all yellow and a woman in a sparkly off the shoulder dress walk the runway of the Phoenix College Fashion Show, Vie d'Ours Chique
Phoenix College adjunct faculty and fashion show producer Naomi Ellis stands in front of Fashion Production students on the stage of Bulpitt Auditorium after the 2023 fashion show Vie d'Ours Chique
Phoenix College Fashion Production Students discuss the fashion show accessories
Four models walk Phoenix College's Bulpitt Auditorium stage during the fashion show Vie d'Ours Chique
Five men model the collection of Brandon Ellis, a designer in Phoenix College's Fashion Show, Vie d'Ours Chique

Taking the stage of Bulpitt Auditorium to open the annual Phoenix College (PC) Fashion Show, Vie d’Ours Chique, musician Handsome Ron stepped out in gray bell-bottomed spandex with rainbow stripes down the side paired with a yellow and black blouse. Moppy pink hair and a turquoise electric guitar with purple tuning pegs completed his ensemble. His outfit and songs, "Indigo" and "Violet" ("like the color," he said), set the tone for the first half of the show, titled Prismatic, which was a collection of clothes, shoes, and accessories on loan from three valley boutiques––Nash Vintage Collective, Foothills Animal Rescue (FAR) Resale Boutique, and Turnstyle Consignment––and styled by PC students in the Fashion Production Class, led by adjunct faculty Naomi Ellis, who volunteers as the show's producer.  

PC's Fashion Show History

Naomi started the fashion show in 2018, and hosted another in 2019, but took a break for two years during the pandemic. The 2022 fashion show's comeback, which included a tribute to PC's 2020 Centennial year with styled vintage pieces to document the fashion over those 100 years, drew 300 people. Jana Devine-Castle, who has been sewing for 50 years, was a designer in last year's show. A dancer who quit dancing in her early 30s to have kids, Jana worked in the financial industry for 18 years and retired ten years ago. She started knitting one-off sweaters but they didn’t fit her very well, so she checked out Phoenix College's Fashion Design program. "You need to have something to do when you retire, or you'll just float around," she said. 

In her second year of PC's pattern-making course, Jana's goal is to be able to make any garment she sees. She also has an eye for sustainability, finding quality fabrics at Goodwill. Her recent purchase was a bolt of Italian wool for $2/yard and 11 yards of taffeta for $5. She designed for a boutique but didn't want to sit behind a sewing machine all day, so PC set up a Textiles and Clothing (TEC) internship for her at Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Costume Shop, designing costumes for theater, dance, musical theater, and opera productions. Jana makes clothes for her family and is drawn to the patterns of the 1940s because of their simplicity. Yet, even after she makes a piece, she continues to alter it, incorporating what she sees at fashion shows worldwide. 

A Fashion Show is Far from Simple

While Simplicity brand patterns are available at the fabric store, a fashion show is far from simple. Witness all the people involved in the fashion show for Pharrell's recent Men's Spring-Summer 2024 collection for Louis Vuitton and one starts to grasp the scope of what it takes to produce in this industry. Char Brandom, PC's Department Chair of Family and Consumer Sciences, which includes Fashion programs, noted, "The huge production takes so much work and effort." Still, collaboration and challenge are elements those in the fashion industry greet with their creativity. Naomi Ellis and the TEC150 students spend hours in their second floor classroom in the Dalby building cataloging clothes, shoes, and accessories for each look, and then organizing them behind Bulpitt Auditorium's curtain for the models. Students also make swag bags for volunteers who help make the show a success. PC student Erideily Garcia Cheriz recruited a friend, Michaiah Octavius, to create a playlist of original music for the runway.  

Naomi recruits photographers and sponsors. This year's title sponsor was Sanderson Lincoln. Parked on the edge of Sophomore Square, where the pre-show reception took place, was the newest Lincoln SUV, a red carpet, and a step-and-repeat backdrop for photo ops. Other sponsors included J. F. Ellis Corporation, Creative Council, Fountain Hills Theatre, and Aveda Institute of Phoenix, with their student stylists doing the models’ make-up and hair.   

A Platform to Showcase Designer Work

The fashion show gives designers and stylists a platform to showcase their work, but it's also the final assignment for the Fashion Production Class. Alumna Chloe Ireland, who was in the class for the first production in 2018, notes a lot of preparation goes into each show, but she comes back every year to help out. This year she served as 2nd Assistant Director. She's taken many classes with Naomi––Sewing Basics, Fashion Illustration, and Fashion Production––and is always excited to see what current students create. If Chloe were to start designing again, she would use eco-friendly plant-based materials like cactus leather, but for now she’s into recycled fashion. 

Anna Bain, another alumna of the Fashion Production Class and a designer in this year's show, likes to design evening wear. Her favorite material to work with is satin. "It's more challenging to work with, but I like the way it looks," she said, noting how the show often brings commissions for some designers. Brandon Ellis designed and modeled his floor-length white leather jacket embroidered with gorgeous rose gold fabric in a symmetrical design down the back that looked like enlarged vertebrae and pelvic bones reminiscent of a Rorschach test. Another Ellis design featured white leather pants with multiple pockets, white leather boots, a black top with gold details, and a brass symbol on the model's head as a hat. His whole collection was a highly stylized version of military menswear with a literal nod to music. 

Fashion and Culture

Fashion often reflects culture, so Pharrel's pixelated camouflage suit in Paris and Brandon's military-inspired floor-length jacket in Phoenix suggest we may still need to protect our backs in our technological future, yet we can also greet life's challenges with creativity and move through the layered textures of each moment's creation with joy.  

Here's a short video of some of this year’s designs: 

If you have an eye for fashion, check out the variety of  Phoenix College's Fashion programs, including a fast-track certificate in Pattern Design. Fast-track certificates can be completed in two semesters or less.