Memphis College of Art takes a fashion-forward leap with its new
fashion studies program helmed by Jeannine LaBate
Interview by John Klyce
Photo by Casey Hilder
In collaboration with the Memphis Fashion Design Network, Memphis College of Art is offering a Fashion Design Certificate Program. The nine-month series of classes is the first of its kind in Memphis, and will feature seven classes that include Flat-patterned techniques, Fashion Illustration, Draping Textiles, Concepts to Collection, Professional Finishes, and Fashion through the Decades. Students for the program have already been enrolled, and classes are set to begin soon. To learn more about the program, Click Magazine sat down with Jeannine LaBate, who works in MCA’s Community Education department and will be teaching fashion illustration in the fall.
This is a big project, with the classes lasting nine months. What was the driving force behind starting the program?
It was really just meeting the demand of the community. Memphis College of Art has really risen to the occasion of meeting the demand of the fashion community here in Memphis, where education was not previously available for their next level. So I think the motivation is to connect people with something that they’re passionate about. I think there’s a passion here for fashion design, and we have a wonderful school that prepares professional artists. All of our instructors are from the industry and have strong educations in fashion. So the motivation was to connect those professionals with the community need.
Is this the first big fashion program like this in the Mid-South?
Yeah. I know the University of Memphis has merchandising, but this is the first opportunity where students can actually learn fashion design, sewing techniques, presenting and how to present. It’s runway ready. That’s what we’re offering to our students. An opportunity to come into a room, into a nine-month track, and prepare work to be runway ready. There’s no other place in the city that they can get that, currently, unless they were doing it on their own independent way in their own studio. And therefore, they’re connected to Memphis fashion. Now that we’re growing, we’re reinforcing that and offering the education that we’ve felt the demand for.
The fashion industry is a very competitive field. What tools do you think you’ll be able to give your students that will help them succeed over people in other fashion schools and programs?
I think what we’re offering here is the enthusiasm from the city. In supporting local artists and supporting local makers, we’re aligning with that movement. Our fashion designers will be making custom garments within the community, so our intention is not to reach the masses. Yes, we want to give our students the path that will go as far as they would want to take it, but we’re creating an opportunity to align with the creative, local artist community here. They’re having an opportunity to just thrive in a city that welcomes local, handmade creative work.
How are you steering this course away from typical commercialized fashion?
We’re certainly giving people a sense of success within arm’s reach, and a sense of reciprocal exchange between the community and their expertise, so it’s building skills that you’re able to offer to your community and beyond. Honestly, it takes so long to make something by hand, and we are reinforcing that importance to keep that kind of work happening in our society. We’re bringing opportunity for the community to have more access to handmade items, and then we’re fulfilling an artist and a designer’s fulfillment and goal. And making something by hand, there’s immense gratification in that. And that immense gratification is something that we want to manifest more, that gratification of making something by hand and having your local patron or your local client or customer know the time and technique put into it by another human’s hand. It’s an extraordinary exchange.
So you’d say it’s more personal?
I’d say it’s more human.
Would you say you’re trying to move away from the mass production side of it?
Our goal is good design. And good design definitely comes in technology and machinery, and we’re not anti-technology or anti-mass market because this is a global economy. What’s amazing is that you can make something by hand, and then you can go on Etsy, and share it with someone from across the sea. That’s something that we can really advocate in our students, as well. We are having students adapt to this global economy, and we’re making sure that their work is seen and available to other people. But I think having an opportunity to celebrate the handmade items is a nice change from something, clothing, that has become so over consumerized.