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Anything But Typical

A dozen NC State student designers, along with more than 2,500 spectators, celebrated the fusion of fashion and art at Wednesday’s Art to Wear fashion show at Reynolds Coliseum.

From the use of traditional medium and fabrics to local eateries’ fast-food containers, student designs and materials ran the gamut. Kirk Smith, a senior food science major, took home the Juror’s Choice award.

“When I heard my name announced, I froze – I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Smith (admittedly, whose choice of major is a bit further off-the-radar than many Art to Wear contestants) won top jurist honors with a collection that made use of everything from pizza boxes to Bojangles sandwich wrappers.

“Kirk’s work was terrific,” said Vita Plume, faculty advisor for NC State’s College of Design. “We usually have a lot of non-traditional work in the show, and I think what was interesting is that he came to that collection from his knowledge base (food) and I think that’s why it was particularly such a success.”

Smith – who claimed a $1,000 cash prize with his win – entered the preliminaries on a bet with friend, and fellow Art to Wear designer, Kendall Leonard.

“She bet me that I couldn’t make a beer-can dress that could get into Art to Wear,” Smith said. “I eventually want to go into marketing of food products, so I thought working on a project like this would be something that could only help me in the future.”

In February, judges looked at a pair of designs from each of 36 contestants before selecting 12 to show their work at Art to Wear. In total, a trio of prizes was on the line – the live Audience Choice balloting, won by senior Eleanor Hoffman, as well as an online People’s Choice Award, given to Smith (votes were submitted via The News & Observer‘s Web site), were announced Monday.

All designers, Plume said, exceeded expectations.

“Each year, the bar rises – the students make more work, better work, and more exciting and challenging work,” Plume said. “The quality of the work was higher across the board than in the past.

The designers worked especially hard on their models’ choreography this year, Plume said, with help from College of Design graduate student Precious Lovell. NC State junior Chase Kennedy was one of several students who returned to the finals after his initial appearance in last year’s exhibition.

“This is a way NC State helps prepares me for my career, so it’s great publicity for myself and my business if I were to start my own venture,” said Kennedy, a fashion development product management major at NC State. “I get into it so people in the Raleigh area, [across] North Carolina, and even those around the country can see my stuff and have my name in their minds.”

Indeed, Art to Wear offers an incredible opportunity for NC State students to show off and sharpen their vision, but it’s one that comes with an incredible amount of work – and a serious time commitment.

Especially, Smith said, when you have to change gears mid-design.

“I originally started out with sewing, but I quickly learned that a lot of my medium was paper-based,” he said. “Sewing can easily destroy the integrity of these materials, so I had to experiment with bonding agents like glues and tapes to keep my designs together.”

A video recap of Art to Wear, and an interview with Chase Kennedy.
(Credit: Donna Barnes/Bill Baverstock, University Communications)

Over nine years, Art to Wear has increased in both attendance and overall prestige in the community, thanks to the support of a number of local businesses and donors. N.C. native William Ivey Long, a five-time, Tony-Award-winning costume designer and one of the Art to Wear judges, also donated the cash prizes. The event ­ — a collaboration between NC State’s Colleges of Design and Textiles – is entirely student-run.

“The designers work hard to get their collections together, but there is a whole other team of students that help the designers get their work showcased,” Plume said. “I want to give them full credit for all the work they do helping those designers get their work on stage.”

Events like Art to Wear, coupled with the academic degree programs offered on campus, give NC State an edge over many other universities, Kennedy said.

“I’d been into fashion since I was probably 11, so when I was getting into my latter years of high school, I was thinking I’m going to Parsons, FIT or some school in New York, or try to get to Paris somehow,” he said. “Somebody had actually come to my school from the College of Textiles and was telling us about textiles and the fashion program, and I thought I would check it out.”

An on-campus, summer program – where Kennedy was able to create his own jacket in a week – sealed the deal.

“It’s definitely more hands-on [here],” he said. “We can actually go from start to finish with these things, whereas other schools might just give the creative direction and you might do a sketch but that’s about it.”

And that, Kennedy says, should make him a more attractive candidate when he enters the workplace after he graduates next year.

“I certainly think I have a better skill set and I think I’m definitely more marketable,” he said. “At most design schools, you basically just get a creative education whereas here, you get a business education, as well as being creative and being able to produce products.

“I can actually go into a company and know nearly all the background of the fashion industry and the textile industry as well, whereas some people might just know the artistic side of it,” he said. “It’s definitely worth it.”

Smith, who plans to donate some of his Juror’s Choice prize money back to Art to Wear, will use the rest as he makes plans for post-Baccalaureate work. Until his exposure to Art to Wear, Smith’s grad-school plans were based around dairy or food science, but he’s now taking a broader look at where his interests may take him.

“I’ve seen my future career blossom over what’s taken place these the last few days,” he said. “The opportunities are opening up quite a bit for me, because I’ve been able to pair my background in food science with a ‘design’ imagination. Hopefully I’ll be able to utilize what I’ve learned about the food industry as well as my talents on the marketing scene.”

“That’s exactly what programs like Art to Wear are meant to do,” Smith said. “Students like me can come together and show their portfolios to the world, and that will benefit them in the future endeavors.”