Design and merchandising students show off Dior-inspired designs

At Colorado State University, faculty often seek hands-on opportunities for students to engage in projects that are relevant to what is going on in their fields of study and tie them to current trends and cultural events.

Kevin Kissell with two students
Kevin Kissell, right, with students modeling Dior-inspired designs.

For Kevin Kissell, senior instructor and adviser in the Department of Design and Merchandising, that opportunity came up a couple years ago, when a major Dior exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris opened to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior, which was founded by designer Christian Dior in 1947.

A few students from the Department of Design and Merchandising had the fantastic opportunity to be in Paris on study abroad, and they raved about the show when they returned to CSU.

“I thought this would be a great way to show how a cultural event, like a major art or design exhibition, has the power to influence fashion. I wrote up the rubric, and planned the project for the next draping class,” said Kissell. However, the project become far more exciting than he’d originally planned when the Denver Art Museum announced that part of the same Dior exhibition would be coming to Denver.

Plans came together for a department-sponsored trip to Denver to see the Dior: From Paris to the World exhibition, followed by a reception at the CSU Denver Center showing off the Dior-inspired designs created by the students in Kissell’s draping class.

Finding their creative voice

For their final project, Kissell challenged his students to create a new design inspired by the work of the House of Dior. While everyone in Kissell’s draping class completed the same final project, students only had about six weeks to research, illustrate, create patterns for, and construct the garments. That’s a pretty tight timeline.

“There’s a lot of sweat and tears in these projects, and probably a little blood too,” said Moriah Mosley, a third-year student in the class.

Apparently, the sewing machines can get nearly as excited about the garments as the students. The final garments were juried based on quality of construction, design innovation and aesthetics. A select few were modeled during the student exhibition.

For Kissell, watching students connect the research to their own creative voice was a special experience. After several iterations of illustrations, students chose their favorite design, and then set about sourcing the fabrics and constructing the garments. “It’s really amazing to watch the process unfold,” said Kissel.

Kissell hopes that this experience trains students for a future in the fashion industry.

“This is an industry that lives by tight, seemingly impossible deadlines,” said Kissell. “Hopefully this process will teach them to take pride and ownership in their work as they grow in their profession. While this project taught students a lot about how these garments have to be perfect so that they can be shown to buyers, press, or other audiences, this was also a great opportunity for students to talk about their work and their process. It helps them build bonds with other people who share their passion for design and creativity.”

A day with Dior

While the students worked on their garments, Karen Hyllegard, department head of Design and Merchandising, and Kissell were brainstorming how to best tie the class project in with the Denver Art Museum’s exhibit. They met with staff members at the department’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising, the College of Health and Human Sciences staff, and Tiana Nelson, the director of Denver public relations and outreach for CSU.

Together, they discussed how to get students, faculty, donors, alumni and community members involved. After a few brainstorming sessions, they came up with a plan to invite everyone to an all-day event where participants would bus down to the Denver Art Museum, view the exhibit, and then attend a reception at CSU’s downtown Denver Center featuring the student work.

“What I love about Christian Dior is that he gleaned inspiration from so many different sources – Neo-classical art, surrealism and gardens,” explained Kissell. “Later on, other creative directors looked to things like modern American artists and even social movements. I hope these students now realize that inspiration can come from anywhere. Also, hopefully attendees were able to appreciate the art of making clothes. The pieces in the exhibit were painstakingly beaded, embroidered and sewn by hand with needle and thread. Many of the pieces took 600–1,000 hours to complete.”

To view more images from the event, visit the Flickr Album.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.