Fashion High

Teens on the runway

Last Wednesday night in Chelsea, a group of high school students put on a talent show of sorts. But rather than a variety hour packed with the nervous violin solos and embarrassing rap groups we remember from our formative years, the event showcased glamour and skill most adults would envy.

It was the 80th anniversary of the very unique High School of Fashion Industries, a public school but not an easy one to get into—students (85% of whom are female) must audition for admission. In addition to the usual academic subjects, they study fashion design, jewelry design, merchandising, illustration, visual display, and other industry topics.

The show was a culmination of these studies. First there was a cocktail hour, and then, as with any assembly, the adults got up and thanked each other. The venerable fashion professional chairperson Ruth Finley, adorable in a cream colored suit, nervously presented Mark Mendelson, chief merchandising officer at Jones Apparel Group, with a mentoring award.

A sassy young bride
photo: Andrei Ralko
A sassy young bride

That was all well and good, but we wanted to see what these teens were made of. When designers show their collections at fashion week, the shows last about six minutes, but when there are almost 400 designers showing off their best pieces, the spectacle takes about an hour and a half. Luckily, the audience was entertained with dance numbers between some of the segments in the show, the theme of which was "New York, City of Dreams."

Some of the looks were clearly inspired by the Big Apple, like an Empire State Building gown, by Amarilys Lebron, using rhinestones to indicate the famous lights. Valedictorian Morgan Winter took the slogan I "Heart" NY to new levels with a dress formed out of pink and red hearts—one big one, right-side-up, to make the bust, and lots of smaller, upside-down hearts forming the poufy skirt.

The audience tried to keep up the clapping for the duration of the show, but seemed slightly stunned during two categories—barely there bathing suits and frankly revealing lingerie. The students were modeling each other's work, after all, and healthy-minded adults did not want to witness a wardrobe malfunction at this show. Thankfully, there were none, though there were a few bejeweled belly buttons and inked lower backs, which seemed almost as risque.

Less sexy categories included children's wear, which brought a big round of "awww"s from the audience, sportswear in bright greens and pinks with tennis rackets as accessories, eveningwear, which ranged from trendy and frilly to subtle and sophisticated. As we all know from watching Project Runway, menswear is a challenge. Some of the suits were peculiarly cut, looking slightly 80s, but very impressive nonetheless. Our favorite model was a young man with a sculpted blond hairdo (an updated Mohawk, kind of) who had mastered his cat walk, lifting his knees up high and criss-crossing his footsteps all the way down the runway.

Traditional fashion shows end with one a show stopping wedding gown, but the finale at this show had dozens of brides, and a few dapper grooms (remember how all your Barbie's had to date the same three Ken's? No?). There were corseted bodices, spaghetti straps, one hoop skirt, and even a couple of midriff-baring dresses, for the bride who is more sassy than blushing.

 
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