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Developing Style: An Evening With Kate Spade and Fashion Studies

Posted May 17, 2013 in Student

Style watchers were treated to two different perspectives on the fashion world at the Grand Rapids Art Museum a few weeks ago. Co-sponsored by Kendall and AIGA West Michigan, the sold-out two-part event began with a runway show featuring the designs of Fashion Studies students at Kendall College of Art and Design, and it concluded with a presentation by Katia Kuethe, Director of Creative Services at Kate Spade New York. 

Student designs fell into three categories, including fashions made entirely of paper, muslin mixed with black, and recyclable designs made of re-purposed materials. “The designs chosen for the fashion show emulated creativity and ingenuity in design,” says Fashion Studies chair Lori Faulkner. Some of the most spectacular designs were created with very humble materials, such as a feathery cocktail dress made of plastic grocery bags, a mod chain-link sheath made with toilet paper tubes, and a ruffled dress made with paper cupcake liners, all surprisingly wearable and flattering for apparel made from disposable items.

“The GRAM was an incredible venue for our first fashion show,” says Faulkner. “Putting on this show with just one or two classes under their belt was a huge undertaking, and I am very proud of the creativity and hard work put forth by our students. Creating this show has given them first-hand experience they will need to know when they enter the fashion industry.”

Following the fashion show, designers stood by with their models to answer questions about their designs. Second-year Kendall student Athena Anger was also on hand to model her “Make It Zig” dress, the winner of ModCloth’s “Make the Cut” contest, now commercially available at ModCloth.com.

The crowd then adjourned to the Cook Auditorium, where AIGA West Michigan President Gwen O’Brien, a Kendall alumna, introduced Kuethe. A stark contrast to the playful, girlish, and colorful designs Kate Spade is known for, Kuethe took the stage with her close-cropped hair and tailored black and white outfit saying, “I’m really not the Kate Spade girl at all. But one of the things they stand for is color, and there’s something in there that works for me.” She added, “Sometimes it’s almost better if you’re not ‘the type.’ You get a little better result if you’re just one millimeter away.”

Using slides to illustrate how her style and confidence has evolved through the years, Kuethe walked the crowd through her rise to the Kate Spade position. After studying graphic design in Germany, she found an internship in New York, where she says, “I just got lucky.”

Before joining Kate Spade in 2012, Kuethe landed a packaging design job for Tom Ford, worked as a freelance typographer, and created an independent e-zine, which she credits for some of her success. “When you do something that comes from your heart, it helps people understand your aesthetic so much more,” she says. Out of her entire portfolio, she says, “Still, this is the piece of work people respond to.”

One of the pieces of advice she offered to the crowd was to build a huge library of ideas. “Anything could inspire you if you thought it was the right thing,” she says. Once you’ve gathered enough examples of designs, color schemes, type, and other solutions, Kuethe says, “You can find something in your archive and build on it.”

She also spoke about the long-term responsibility involved in shaping a brand. “One thing that’s really important for a brand is where it is at this moment. It’s easy to do something that’s beautiful at first glance, but a brand needs to maintain its integrity, quality, and consistency,” she says. That’s why she created a style guide to “think ahead” about design choices at Kate Spade.

Kuethe challenged the group of young designers in the room to believe in themselves. No longer insecure about her talent, she says, “Now, I know what I am doing is working. I kept thinking this was an accident, but now I’m past that. When you know what you want to do, you do it, and you know it’s going to work out. That’s a precious takeaway.”

The following day, a group of Kendall Fashion Studies and Graphic Design students was treated to a workshop with Kuethe. Teams coached by Kuethe collaborated to come up with marketable ideas, using “nature” as the inspiration. Students were asked to develop a line starting with a log and extending into a mini-collection of products. The amazing results created by the students ranged from accessories to apparel, and all had a unique and distinct interpretation of nature.

Capping the workshop was the announcement of a new Kendall Fashion Studies award for excellence sponsored by Mimi Ray, a local independent fashion and design professional and principal designer at Mimi Ray Style:Design, who was integral to the launch of the Fashion Studies program at Kendall. The first year’s winner of this new annual award for Outstanding Student in Fashion Studies was Athena Anger, who was chosen by the Fashion Studies faculty and recognized for her creativity and craftsmanship. Says Ray, “When I was a student, I loved participating in fashion competitions and shows. It meant so much to me to be part of these events and be recognized by peers and professionals. I’m glad my company can do the same for other students today, and I hope other companies and individuals can support Kendall’s fashion program. We have lots of talent here, and recognition helps us highlight our community of designers.”

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