It may not occur to most people that this year’s college graduates stand at the leading edge of fashion design. In fact, as parents drop their children off at a specialty summer camp, they may not realize that their child is helping decide next season’s wearable trends. The next generation has an incredible amount of technology at their creative disposal. Today, we connect with two fashion design programs offering unparalleled access to digital technology and advanced design instruction. Justin LeBlanc, professor at North Carolina State University and runner up on Project Runway All Stars, discusses how his students are pushing innovation in the fashion world, and Rob Younkers, co-founder of STITCHED youth fashion camp, shares the incredible talent he discovers in his young designers.
Here at Spoonflower HQ, we are lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by aspiring designers and astoundingly talented artists. Recently, North Carolina State University students put on their 14th annual Art2Wear Fashion Show, and Spoonflower was there to document the event, the theme of which was "Tell Us A Story." Today, we sat down with Assistant Professor of Art & Design, and a producer of the event, Justin LeBlanc. Justin also happens to be an accomplished fashion designer in his own right, and our personal favorite Project Runway contestant from Season 12!
When did Art2Wear start, and can you talk a little bit about its beginnings?
JL: Art2Wear came from a very humble beginning at the College of Design (of NCState University), 14 years ago. A student decided to do her final project on wearable art. Instead of a traditional pin up and critique, this person went ahead and did a full-fledged runway show. Art2Wear was born.
How long have you been involved, and what is your role in this event?
JL: This is my 3rd year being involved in Art2Wear. My role is Faculty Advisor for the College of Design. My role in this incredible student activity is to provide guidance and advice to all students involved, ranging from the student directors to the student designers. For many students, this is the first time they are involved in a production of this scale. It’s very rewarding to me to see their efforts in Art2Wear come to fruition after a year of hard work.
What is the mission of Art2Wear?
JL: Art2Wear is a student-organized runway show that presents fashion, costume, and wearable sculpture created by the students of the College of Design with invitation of College of Textiles at NC State University. This annual event, organized and hosted by the College of Design’s Art + Design department, invites the participation of the College of Textiles to display juried examples of our best student work each spring through wearable art. The mission of Art2Wear is to expose students to all aspects of a large-scale artistic production from fund-raising to the physical construction of the runway. There is much more that goes into a runway production than simply making garments and we strive to prepare students for career activities that will help them to promote their artistic expressions in the future.
How has Art2Wear evolved/changed over the years?
JL: The beauty of Art2Wear is that it constantly evolves with the student population that comes in from year to year. It is really fascinating to see what kind of collection will be represented each year at the Art2Wear show. We never know what to expect from the students because they are constantly pushing the boundaries of the design on what is considered to be fashion and art.
Describe the process for selecting designers?
JL: Each year, we invite a panel of distinguished judges that have a clear understanding of fashion and art in society today. The jurying event occurs in December right before the winter break. Each designer is required to present two well executed looks along with sketches and a concept board with the rest of the collection. After the judges view all of the student designers' work, they will come together and select who will represent that year of Art2Wear.
What's the most memorable collection you can recall seeing at Art2Wear?
JL: There have been too many fantastic collections for me to count! I first saw Art2Wear when I was a sophomore in Architecture and when Art2Wear was held in the “Pit” in the College of Design (also known as the brick courtyard at the College of Design) A designer named Jonathan Gatlin debuted a 5 all-black morning-look collection that was heavily embellished and extravagantly designed. It was an incredible sight to see, especially with all of the models wearing 6-inch stilettos walking down on 25 or so steps in front of a star-struck audience. That was my very first exposure to Art2Wear at the College of Design.
What's next for Art2Wear designers?
JL: Many of the Art2Wear designers and production team take various routes after Art2wear, especially since many of them are seniors who are about to graduate a few weeks after the fashion show. It is my hope that Art2Wear provides students the experience and confidence in being able to put their mind on something and bring their plan to fruition. As the NC State motto says: Think and Do.
About Our Guest Contributor
Justin LeBlanc is a fashion designer, professor, and former Project Runway contestant. His designs have been featured at fashion shows and museum installations throughout the United States. Justin was the first deaf contestant and a Finalist on the Lifetime television production Project Runway Season 12. Justin received the show’s first “Tim Gunn Save” and ultimately earned a showing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in August 2013.
Justin was diagnosed with a severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss at age one. He has an Architecture degree from NC State University and a Master’s degree in fashion from the Art Institute of Chicago.