Fashion Design Camp attracts budding designers to New York

The conference room on the third floor of the New York Helmsley hotel is rather soberly decorated in a palette of brown and beige. The scaffolding on the outside of the windows further blocks the little sunlight that manages to enter the canyons between the downtown skyscrapers. And periodically, invisible construction workers puncture the walls with a force that creates a dull ache that stretches from the ears to the molars.

None of this seems to have intimidated or distracted the 17 young women gathered for the first session of Camp Fashion Design to be held at the headquarters of the US apparel industry. Campers range from 12 to 18 years old and for them the idea of ​​someday creating their own line of clothing or accessories is so enticing that they committed in four days to drawing, draping, sewing and competing in their own junior version. of “Project track”.

There is no Michael Kors or Nina Garcia to trigger crying spells or neck rotational antagonisms. Instead, camp counselors serve as benevolent judges for all design challenges. The role of role model master is played by camp director Lisa Nargi, who teamed up with Christian Siriano to win the 2008 season of “Project Runway”. And if there is a nice Tim Gunn figure, a good candidate would be Hasaan Rozzelle, a drawing instructor who is all broad-shouldered and bicep-thick. He has worked for companies such as Phillips-Van Heusen and specializes in men’s clothing. He spent several hours teaching girls how to transfer the whimsical ideas floating in their imaginations onto paper and ultimately into real clothes.

If the enthusiastic monitor with the little brown fedora had one message during his first sketching session, it was to relax. “Hold out your hands in front of you,” he told them. “Shake them up. Relax. Relax. Relax. Peace of mind! “

“You just have to draw a line,” he encouraged them. “He doesn’t have to be perfect. Just draw a line.

A room full of girls sat hunched over blank paper, squeezing the pencils so tight that their knuckles were almost white. The first day was all nerves, intensity and fear of the unknown. The girls were distracted, without any of the high-pitched screams or laughing silliness one might expect to hear when churned hormones meet long-held fantasies.

The girls came from all over the country for this day camp and they were divided into six teams, which they named. Among them: Divas of Design, the Catwalk Creations, Urban Design and, the particularly charming – if grammatically suspect – “Flowy and Fierce”.

The Flowy pilot team is made up of Karlee Henry, a tow-headed blonde from Saratoga Springs, NY and Jade Cuevas, a sweet-faced brunette from Somerset, Texas, a small town not far from San Antonio with a population of around 1,600 inhabitants. Karlee and Jade are 17 years old.

This is Jade’s first trip to New York. “My parents are sightseeing while I’m here,” she says. And already, she is in love. “Love it! It’s so busy and I love it. Texas is not sleepy, but there is so much more to do here.

Both girls were trained in fashion through popular culture – red carpet images, fashion magazines and, of course, “Project Runway”. They don’t really know what their passion means in terms of college or career and so they came here at the request of their parents, who found the camp online, to help sort out the issues. “I think it would be cool to own my own store, have my own business, and sell my own clothes,” says Karlee.

What kind of design does she like? All roads lead to reality TV. “I love Anya [Ayoung-Chee]”Karlee says of the winner of Season 8 of” Project Runway. “” Her clothes were like flowing dresses with an edge. “

Says Jade: “For some reason I love Vince Camuto,” which is a contemporary collection of feminine dresses and youthful couture.

She too would not hesitate to own her own boutique and perhaps sell evening dresses. “I love dresses and red carpet events,” Jade says. “I’m more interested in clothes than in the stars.”

Despite all their affection for “Project Runway,” which is famous for showcasing high-end designers as guest judges, campers seem less enthralled with the daring glamor of being a star designer and more focused on simple craftsmanship and the sale of clothes.

This down-to-earth attitude may have been due to the day’s first speaker, a designer named Sarah Strong, whose presentation was such a stiff cocktail of brutal realism that the program might have to be renamed. four days Camp Garmento. Strong, an ash blonde woman in a black dress with a long silk scarf draped around her shoulders, spoke from the perspective of a designer for the account, one who works for manufacturers and interprets a brand identity for a large clientele. She was serious, a little scattered, and exhausting honesty.

“I am fusing the creative and business worlds,” Strong said with a Long Island accent that was all backstage on Seventh Avenue. “I get ideas from everywhere. … You don’t have to go to the stores to look for ideas. You can go to museums. I go to cloth stoahs. I go to all the galleries. There are nay-cha, trees, curtains.

“If you have a passion, if you love pets, you can make a line for dogs,” Strong advised. “Don’t rule anything out. “

Jade asked Strong if she had ever run out of ideas and, if so, how she could get out of a slump. “You go in cycles. Yeah yeah yeah. You can’t sit in a cave. I had a company that put me in a room with no windows and said design. No! You have to know yourself really well, ”Strong said.

Another girl – long dark hair, hipster nerd glasses – wondered if Strong had ever been asked to design something that included her perspective, her aesthetic, her I-want-to-go-to-Paris- and-being- dream of an artist. “You have to develop strong skin and try to see things from different angles. It’s all about the sales and the numbers, ”said Strong. “An extra seam or button can mean a lot of money.”

Their widened dreams thus reduced to modest proportions, the girls turned to their first challenge. They had to collaborate on a piece of clothing of their choice – draw it, sew it from a piece of fabric from a pile, and fit it into a small wooden doll. Go!

While the budding designers worked hard, in a nearby conference room, 49 girls gathered for Modeling Camp NYC. The four-day training camp began in northern Virginia in 1996 and is now in its third year in New York City. It is, as one can imagine, populated mainly – but not only – young girls particularly tall, particularly thin and quite pretty, between 13 and 18 years old. They learn makeup application, photoshoots, nutrition and the nature of the modeling beast. “Being a successful model isn’t just about taking a pretty picture,” said Heather Cole, founder of both camps and former model. “It’s about body language and the beauty radiating from within.”

And, as has been in the news lately, modeling can also be about stress, superficiality, race, and false values. But this is a summer camp, not the filming of “Gia”. Much of the training camp is all about self-confidence, including a pep talk from Ashley Howard’s first day of Cycle 13 of “America’s Next Top Model.”

Model Camp spawned Camp Fashion Design, first in Virginia and now in New York. “We had calls from girls who were interested in the behind-the-camera aspects of fashion,” Cole said. Each four-day camp costs $ 999 – accommodation not included. At the end of each session, the campers meet for a fashion show.

Despite all the junior seamstresses “Project Runway” inspired, there has been no marked increase in the number of design students, said Frank Mitchell, admissions advisor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The school, which claims former Kors and Calvin Klein status among other things, receives more applications thanks to the show’s success, but they don’t necessarily come from qualified applicants with a strong portfolio, construction skills and a proven track record. aesthetic eye.

Mitchell was at the fashion camp to talk to the girls about the preparation. As he spoke, the girls’ gazes drifted around the room and they were particularly engrossed in picking up the polish from their nails. Yet despite the nonchalant body language, their questions were focused and crisp. What makes a great portfolio? Does FIT provide scholarships? Is it difficult to get into FIT?

While Mitchell was selling FIT, a recruiter from Parsons The New School for Design was on deck ready to tell stories about famous alumni like Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan.

The school sites finished, the campers returned to their drawings of dolls. They were laughing and arguing. Compromise and negotiation. There was a particularly grandiose black and white polka dot evening dress with a loose skirt from Catwalk Creations. There was something unidentifiable in pale blue that was being torn apart by another team. And in Team Flowy and Fierce, Karlee and Jade triumphantly styled their articulated little model in a strapless mini dress with a balloon skirt sewn from a square of lime green fabric in a watercolor print. Sewing skills aside, it was quite charming.

There was no evidence of future fashion stars as of yet, but finally the campers had started to relax.

Joseph E. Golightly