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The Fashion Event is an elaborate production that is months in the making

Fabric, forms and undergraduate designers swirl on a late winter afternoon in Spidle Hall’s design lab. Amid the colorful stripes, spindles of thread and chatter among the young designers is an undercurrent of drive and expectation. These students in the Auburn University College of Human Sciences Apparel Merchandising, Design and Production Management program are furiously working toward translating sketches into fully realized garments for their senior projects: original collections that will debut at The Fashion Event on Friday, April 12 to an expected crowd of nearly 1,100 attendees.  


Karla Teel helps design students

Professor Karla Teel in the Spidle Hall lab with students.

The three students in the lab today — Sydnee Johnson, Olivia Heywood and Mary Ashley Allen – are members of the student-run planning committee for The Fashion Event. The year-long class consists of 30 students who plan, design and execute the popular event that culminates in a live runway show. Each committee member had to apply for coveted positions in the class. Throughout the year, they work closely with their Wrangler Professor Karla Teel — an expert in the field of 3D body scanning in the Department of Consumer and Design Sciences — as they learn first-hand how to put together every aspect of the multifaceted event. More than a class, it is a built-in internship experience that prepares them for the fashion industry as they manage a $35,000 event budget to produce and promote the show. 

“The Fashion Event strives to be the premier event on campus for entertainment and creativity,” Teel said. “The students put in an incredible amount of work behind the scenes to make it happen.”

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Planning by committee

“Within the class we’re broken into different committees: styling and modeling, public relations and media, fundraising and lookbook, creative, decorations and galleries,” said Heywood. “My role on the creative committee is to help decide the theme and color palette.”

Starting with a theme, “The Silver Screen,” the student-led committees spent the fall semester creating an aesthetic vibe for the event, strategizing and taking care of logistics: everything from booking the space to photo shoots to creating promotional materials and fundraising events.

“The Silver Screen theme stood out to everyone as being something fancier and elevated. It’s been really fun coming up with ideas to promote it,” Heywood said. 


Display window curated by the design committee. Photo courtesy of Ellis Thompson.

For a taste of those promotional ideas, take a look at the curated content on the planning committee’s Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. They will soon piggyback on AU Fashion Week to help raise awareness and gather footage for a promotional video — all the handiwork of the PR and social media committee. Also look out for posters across town in the next few weeks and a spot on the local news.

“We have an invitation to come to Channel 12 News in Montgomery,” Teel said. “Our PR committee will also invite the Plainsmen and Eagle Eye TV to the show.”

For the spring semester, it is all about the details. The decorations and galleries committee created promotional window displays, bulletin boards and concepts for the day of show. They will be furiously working to make every aspect of The Fashion Event look polished, intriguing and on theme with a luxurious old Hollywood look. 

On the fundraising side, there have been events to generate support for decorations and an editorial drive to complete this year’s Fashion Event Lookbook, a coffee table book and guide to this year’s designers that includes looks from their collections, their bios and a dive into the Silver Screen theme.

Beyond finalizing posters, merchandising vignettes for the program, coordination with the Auburn AV team, this year’s director, Savannah Laundre, will recruit and oversee more than 100 volunteers for the day of the event making everything from set up to decorations and models run smoothly.

From model to designer

“I’m the co-chair of the styling committee,” Allen said. “We work together with the designers to pick models and make sure everything’s styled the way the designer wants it the night of the event.”

In February, Allen worked with her committee to audition the models: all Auburn students.

“Some of the models have past experience with our show, but I was really excited to see so many new faces at the auditions this year. We’re expecting to select between 30 and 40 student models for the show, one for each garment,” she said.

Johnson, now a senior Apparel Design student and vice president of Auburn’s Apparel Merchandising and Design Association, modeled in The Fashion Event her freshman, sophomore and junior years. 

“As a sophomore, I realized how incredible the event is, and I wanted to be a part of it from the planning side,” Johnson said. “The creative committee handles the graphics and the aesthetic of how The Fashion Event is perceived. And I did not realize how much work went into planning. It’s been almost a year in the making from submitting my application to be in the class, to immediately diving into the details in August and now bringing the event to life. We will begin interviews for next year’s planning committee in April.”

In February, Johnson had the opportunity to work with designer Christian Cowan during Fashion Week in New York. The experience helped further prepare her for the time management she employs this spring while she finishes her degree, plans the event and completes her design collection all at the same time.

“Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that problem solving skills are key,” Johnson said. “The fashion industry is not by the book, and I love the hustle and bustle of it.” 

Collections, internships and careers

In addition to their roles on the planning committee, each senior is working on a capstone project in Apparel Line Development where they create a brand extension line and work with a team to create their own collection to show at the event. Fourth year and fifth year seniors have the option to create a mini collection of their own apart from the capstone project.

“My senior mini collection is called ‘Playing with Fire.’ It's inspired by the highs and the lows of when you’re infatuated with someone. My color palette is deeper colors that contrast with soft volume silhouettes and very textured textiles,” she said. “It creates a chaotic look, but that’s the point. I want to get that emotion across.”

Allen describes her collection as pink, feminine and full of tulle, flowers and rosettes. She applied to Auburn specifically for the Apparel Design program. Consistently ranked No. 18 in the country and No. 1 in SEC, the program gives the burgeoning designers and industry members a full education.

“I’ve loved every bit of it. I came into Auburn not knowing how to sew, not knowing how to do anything. The professors taught me from the ground up and just made me the designer that I am today,” Allen said. “I was nervous to enter my design internship with Chicos FAS last summer, but after I got into it, I realized how prepared I was to go into the job force, and I had an incredible intern experience.”

That internship translated into a job offer from Chico’s FAS, which Allen has accepted and will start after she graduates this spring. “Knowing I’m going back to a company that I love took a weight off my chest this semester. I was thrilled when they offered me the position,” Allen said.

“It’s my job to teach my apparel design students the things in class they’ll need to know to go into the industry, but it's also my job to prepare them to get a job,” Teel said. “We talk about managing a monthly budget and cost of living. We talk about interviewing and how to get the internship, how to stand out to get the job. Things like timeliness and knowing that a deadline is a deadline.”

Olivia Heywood works on her collection in the Spidle Hall lab.

The main event

Tickets for The Fashion Event are now available for purchase beginning Monday, March 18. Cosponsored by the College of Human Sciences, Department of Consumer and Design Sciences and the Auburn Apparel Merchandising and Design Association, the production is poised to deliver an entertaining show. The designers and the committees’ hard work will take the stage in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum Friday, April 12 at 6 p.m.

“I can’t wait to show off what we’ve been working on,” Heywood said.