Fundraising, showcasing talent at Fashion Columbia

By Sophia Coleman

Flashing lights and gleaming runways were the setting as 15 graduates of Columbia’s fashion studies program displayed their handcrafted garments June 8 at Fashion Columbia, a fundraising event that benefits the program.

The annual extravaganza, staged for the first time at the Media Production Center, 1600 S. State St., was held in honor of Eunice W. Johnson, a fashion pioneer who co-founded Ebony Magazine with her husband in 1942. She created a travelling fashion show in 1958, the Ebony Fashion Fair, which brought haute-couture aimed at mostly African-American women to hundreds of cities across the country. The proceeds from Fashion Columbia will fund the newly established Eunice W. Johnson Scholarship in Fashion Studies.

Desiree Rogers, former White House social secretary and current C.E.O of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, hosted the event.

“Eunice really believed in the democracy of fashion,” Rogers said. “She brought the highest level of fashion to the smallest jurisdictions of the country. So it’s an honor to celebrate those students who are recipients of the Eunice Johnson Scholarship, who are making their way and bringing their change to the fashion industry.”

Rogers offered words of advice to students and recent graduates, telling them to stay authentic to themselves and not let anyone make them think they are incapable of something. Most importantly, if they can help other people along the way as Eunice did, they will find happiness and fulfillment, she said.

“It is near and dear to me to be a part of this and to be able to be here to salute these incredible students,” Rogers said. “ This inaugural event is for scholarships that go to sophomores, juniors and seniors so that they can pursue their studies and become the next—I don’t know—but that’s what is so exciting. You’ve seen it here first. “

Previously, the event had been held in various formats and venues, according to President Warrick Carter. For the past few years it was a luncheon held in off-campus locations. This year, Carter said he was excited to bring the crowd to the Media Production Center.

He added that, because the facility is likely the largest of its kind out of all colleges and universities in the country, the Media Production Center was perfect for the fashion event.

“One of the most exciting things for me, as president of the college, is to be able to share with you the quality of the work of our students,” Carter said. “And I’m like a proud papa, because they rock.”

The show began with the dark, architectural designs of 2012 graduate Cynthia Roman, who was also the winner of the Chicago History Museum’s FashioNext competition in 2011. Her current pieces showcased alligator skin textures, luxurious furs and black and deep green colors.

Another award-winning student was Kendra DeKuiper, who recently won the Driehaus Award for Fashion Excellence. She said the book “Stranger,” by Albert Camus, inspired her collection, called “New Beginnings.” Flowing down the runway were gauzy white and light green dresses, some with flower stem prints, others with butterflies. Some models sported handmade yarn shawls in brown and green.

“I was really affected by the ideas of existentialism, human growth and always trying to better yourself,” DeKuiper said. “I took those ideas and paired it with metamorphosis and created pieces inspired by the juxtaposition between human growth and the experience that animals go through.”

The only menswear design seen on the runway was by Pedro Larios, who just graduated from Columbia, earning his second fashion degree. In his home country, Mexico, he received a degree in haute couture and women’s clothing.

His designs were all black with billows and folds of fabric in non-traditional places for men, such as the legs or on the chest.

“My main concept was redefining the male body,” Larios said. “I wanted to create something that was interesting for men, but not so far as to alienate [anyone.]”

That night, the Alumni Achievement in Fashion Design was awarded to Lana Bramlette, who has found major success in the fashion industry with her iconic hoop earring designs.

Bramlette, a 1997 graduate, was named “One to Watch” by Lucky Magazine and hailed as the woman to watch by Crain’s Chicago Business. Her jewelry is sold in 300 stores worldwide, with prices ranging from $210 for a ring to $2,665 for a pair of earrings. Some 150,000 pairs of her earrings have been sold as of this year. Among her clients are some of the biggest names on the A-list, including Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria.

Commenting on what she had seen at the show, Bramlette said that the talent was evident, and though fashion can sometimes be overplayed or overdone, it was not the case that evening. Most of all, she was happy to see such creativity in Chicago.

“I want to tell students that you don’t have to go to LA or New York,” Bramlette said. “You can do it here. If you have talent, which you do, and you have the work ethic that comes along with living in Chicago, you will go very far.”