February 29, 2008

Fashion design student wins New York internship

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. — Some girls dream of being a high-fashion model when they grow up. Emily Harris' dream is seeing those models sashay down the runway wearing her creations.

The senior Southern Illinois University Carbondale fashion design student is one step closer to having her dreams come true after earning the top and only prize, a one-year internship with a top New York bridal gown designer, at a recent design competition. The Peoria native claimed the AMSALE internship opportunity at The Circle City Showcase in late January at the Mavris Arts and Event Center in Indianapolis.

"I just screamed when they announced I had won," said Harris. "There were definitely tears in my eyes. All of my friends and my family screamed. It was so exciting."

Purdue University's professional business fraternity Pi Sigma Epsilon and its president, Claire Henderson, created and directed the show. It featured one-of-a-kind evening wear designs by students from Purdue University, Kent State and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as SIUC. Guest judges were professional fashion designers Debbie Jones from Christos and Patricia Keenan from AMSALE, along with Lisa Holderead, a lead buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue.

It's not the first time the SIUC fashion design and merchandising students have competed or seen their creations on the runway but the show was very special, said the students and Laura K. Kidd, fashion design associate professor. The venue was a former warehouse, completely renovated but still featuring lovely wooden floors, brick walls and a décor that had a special appeal and a definite look and feel "like a real runway show," Harris said.

And that's not all. Professional hairstylists and make-up artists put the finishing touches on the models, who in some cases were the designers themselves.

"I had the most fun!" exclaimed SIUC fashion design student Rina Park. "I had crazy hair and giant false eyelashes."

"We had so many garments that we were the entire second segment of the show," Kidd said. "This was a great experience for the designers and it was so exciting that Emily won the grand prize."

"This internship is a great opportunity for Emily," Kidd added. "AMSALE bridal sells bridal gowns under the AMSALE, Christos and Kenneth Pool labels. Austin Scarlett from 'Project Runway' designs the Kenneth Jones lines."

Harris said she and husband Jarrett have hoped for some time to move to New York City to facilitate her foray into a fashion design career. The internship is coming at a perfect time.

"I'm not sure what I'll be doing in New York but AMSALE is a really cool company," Harris said. "I've been a huge Austin Scarlett fan and a huge fan of 'Project Runway' since its first season. This internship will get me to New York and I hope it might lead to a job but even if it doesn't, it's enough that I'll be in New York where I can make connections, set up interviews and everything. It's the first time an employer will get the chance to see my work, not just my resume. To have this internship on my resume will just be awesome, too."

Judging, which occurred strictly on the runway at the Circle City Showcase competition, was on creativity, wearability, aesthetics and construction. The score was an overall composite average, so some designers were represented by just one or two garments while other, like Harris, had as many as four. Harris modeled her own green empire waist, floor-length dress with center front slit and self-sash.

"It's a fun dress to wear, interesting," Harris said of her very elegant gown that simply shimmers in the runway lights. Judges admired the dress too, saying it "looked very 1950's couture," Harris added.

Her creations also included a print kimono sleeve cocoon wrap, embroidered drop waist silk print dress and a cute red cocktail dress in cotton with metallic thread featuring repeat stitching detail in the hem, a high neck with a ruffle and peek-a-boo keyhole and cap sleeves. The fourth of her winning designs actually took first prize in the daywear category last fall in the Emerging Young Designer of the Year Fashion Competition and Show in Missouri. It's a silk charmeuse blouson empire print top with puff sleeves paired with a striped pencil skirt in black and white. It was a real judge's favorite at the Indiana competition as they wrote that it "looked like it was straight off the floor from Barney's of New York."

"The judges said overall our competition garments were the best constructed," Harris said.

Fabrics totally inspire Harris.

"The color is what I see first, then the feel," Harris said. "I love prints and putting them together. I just love fabric. But, if it's cheap, I don't want to make anything out of it."

That's not to say Harris always spends a fortune on the fabric for her winning designs. She acquired the green stretch sateen she crafted into her floor-length competition gown from the "dollar rack" at a popular mass-merchandiser. Likewise, she's currently constructing an outfit with pants from $25 per yard wool paired with a top sewn from another bolt of bargain rack material.

Harris said she's excited about her move to New York and her new position, anxious to get started right after graduation in May. Although she once sought admission to a New York school for her fashion design education, she said she's quite glad she selected SIUC, as it has very much prepared her for an exciting future.

"This is a good school for me," she said.

"This event was to show people in New York that people in the Midwest could really do fashion and it did!" Kidd said. "I'm very happy. I was just proud of everybody from SIUC. They all worked so hard. And we're very pleased for Emily."

Fashion design and merchandising students competing at The Circle City Showcase on behalf of SIUC, listed by hometown were:


Blue Mound: Randi Barnard, a junior, the daughter of Dennis and Michelle Barnard, competing with one dress.

Champaign (and Fuzhou, China): Feng "Vicky" Li, a senior, daughter of Yuiguan Li and Xuijin Lin, with four dresses.

Dieterich: Erica Hollinshead Stead, a senior, daughter of John and Ann Hollinshead, with three dresses.

Eldorado: Nicole Datzman, a junior, daughter of Matt and Barb Datzman, one dress.

Herrin: Lana Weiss, a junior, daughter of Gary and Lisa Weiss, one dress.

Peoria: Emily Harris, a senior, daughter of Mark and Denise Jordan, married to Jarrett Harris.


Enola: Samantha Elliott, a senior, daughter of Brenda and John Elliott, two dresses.

South Korea

Seoul: Rina Park, a senior, daughter of Gwang-Ju and Hae Suk Park, two dresses.


Winning fashion designer — Emily Harris took the grand and only prize at the recent Circle City Showcase fashion show at Indianapolis with her four evening wear dresses. She earned a yearlong internship at AMSALE, a major New York bridal design company. A senior fashion design and merchandising student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Harris is a Peoria native.

Photo by Jeff Garner