Fourteen local teens transformed the High Line Park into a runway as curators and designers of the park’s first public fashion event, a back-to-school show.
The show capped a two-month apprenticeship program sponsored by Friends of the High Line and the Ford Foundation. While some of the students had previous experience, according to Claudine DeSola, owner of Caravan Design Studios, it was not required. Friends of the High Line and two participating styling studios, Harlem’s Fashion Row and Caravan, chose one young man and 13 young women for the program based on their levels of responsibility, focus, and interest.
Once selected, the students were assigned to designers from five up-and-coming design companies including: Boy Meets Girl USA, Tabii Just, Synderela, Huminksa, and Junk Food, and began to think about putting looks together for the show.
“Fashion tends to be a very closed-to-the-public thing a lot of the time,” said DeSola. “Our objective in putting this program together was to make it palatable for the people, and realistic. We wanted to students to take a look at their own clothes, and find a way to execute them into new designs.”
According to the High Line’s Community Engagement Manager, Erycka Montoya Perez, the idea for the apprenticeship program came from a park visitor survey conducted in 2010.
“After observing the park’s demographics, we realized large portions were white and held master’s degrees,” said Perez. “That is just not true of the neighborhood where we are located,” which is “right in the middle of two large housing complexes.”
A poll of more than 800 residents from those complexes indicated that residents wanted job training and skill-building opportunities for their teens, and that fashion events were of particular interest.
“I’m really excited that [my daughter] was able to be a part of such an amazing experience,” said Duana Schoonmaker, mother of Dajour, 19, who both designed clothes and modeled in the show. “Dajour is preparing to enter the Miss New York USA pageant in a few months and this program taught her all the necessary pageant skills like walking on the runway, putting together outfits, and how to be confident. But it also taught her the business side of things.”
“The program taught me a lot of important skills, especially how to work as a team and overcome conflict,” said Dajour.
Curating and designing looks that ranged from leggings and tunics to a stylish way to wear a black dress, the students drew a standing-room crowd that exceeded the 100 seats set out within the enclosed portion of the park, near 16th Street.
“I was incredibly impressed with the student’s professionalism,” said Stacy Igel, founder and designer of Boy Meets Girl USA. “They were so poised and nailed the looks down to the final touches.”
“I loved the show. It was incredibly impressive. I felt like I was at a Fashion Week event,” said Taki Fujikagee, 19, friend of participant designer Isabella Bravo. “I’m just unsure if some of the designs are appropriate for back-to-school. I guess they work in New York where the students have more of a fashion-edge.”
The show emphasized “looks you would wear to school, but then just fun fashion moments that you would see in an editorial to make [the event] fun,” said Desola. “Also, with teen celebrities going to events like the VMAs, you are seeing more of these high fashion outfits on students.”
The three students who designed under Igel’s direction got to go backstage at Boy Meets Girl USA’s New York Fashion Week event, and the other participants now have “an incredible resume builder,” she said. “They got to get a sense of what it is they really want to do, they now have connections and people to contact, accessibility to learn more, and to walk away [from the show] having learned the positives and the craziness, too.”