Marymount Students Participate in White House Fashion Workshop

Ten Marymount University students participated in a once-in-a- lifetime fashion education workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama and industry icons such as Vogue magazine Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and designer Jason Wu, a favorite of the First Lady.
     “It was really amazing,” said Priscilla Gillis, a sophomore fashion design major from Nokesville. “I was working on my design and she came up and touched my shoulder and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, these designs are amazing!’ The First Lady really made a personal connection and made us feel like we were already professional designers.”
     The five-hour event on October 8 brought together high school and university students, 35 designers, editors and “fashion technologists” and included a luncheon where the First Lady spoke and a panel discussion was moderated by designer Diane Von Furstenberg. It was part of the First Lady’s “Reach Higher” project, whose goal is to inspire high school students to make a commitment to higher education.
     “A solid education and the willingness to work hard are really at the core of what it’s really going to take to reach your goals,” Obama told those attending.
     Janice Ellinwood, chair of Marymount’s Department of Fashion and Merchandising, said students who came within arm’s reach of the First Lady were very affected and starry eyed.
     “It was a once-in-a-lifetime event to have all of that talent under one roof and a First Lady who values the potential of these students,” Ellinwood said. Typically, she added, a student could hope for access to one top designer – or at most, a panel of four or five.
     Kayla Young, a sophomore fashion merchandising major from Clinton, Md., said jewelry designer Alexis Bittar began selling his wares on the streets of New York and now has collections in 34 countries.
     “He really inspired no-name designers like us,” she said. “He started his entire company from scratch and now has 415 employees.”
     Shawn Banks, a freshman fashion merchandising major from Clinton, Md., said fashion designer Phillip Lim stressed the importance of “going with your gut instincts” and that inspiration can come from anywhere. Lim talked about how he once gained great inspiration in a biology class.
     Kyana Hallacher, a sophomore design major from Fairfax, picked up pointers from fashion designer Lela Rose and suggestions on what to look for in an internship.
     “She said being kind goes a long way in the fashion industry,” Hallacher said, adding that she now has Rose’s business card and will pursue a possible internship opportunity with the New York-based designer.
     Other Marymount participants included fashion design students Taylor Fitzgerald of Bridgewater; Christian Cox, Norfolk; and Gabrielle Andries, Washington, D.C., along with fashion merchandising students Roshana Coleridge, Greenbelt, Md.; Angelic Britton, Hyattsville, Md.; and Daryl Frierson, Prince George. All are freshmen or sophomores.
     “This opportunity demonstrates that Marymount’s fashion programs are considered to be venues through which students can reach professional status — and that observation travels by word of mouth,” Ellinwood said.
From what the students described, she added, the event was a credit to all the fashion professionals who participated.
     “They tried in earnest to show how they began their careers — at the same level the students are now,” Ellinwood said. “They were truly generous in their desire to bring others into the fashion industry.”