Fashion program finds a home

By CiaraShook

Almost 1,000 fashion students attend Columbia and even more alumni have influenced fashion in the U.S. and abroad. The college is recognized as a beacon of fashion studies in the Midwest. The only problem is that fashion majors don’t have a real home.

Students now enrolled in the Art & Design and Arts, Entertainment and Media Management departments comprise the largest fashion program in the Midwest.

Eliza Nichols, dean of the school of Fine and Performing Arts, said that they want to bring students from the Art & Design and AEMM departments together to form a free-standing Department of Fashion Studies.

“There has been some thought of this before,” said Dennis Brozynski, associate professor of Art & Design. “We started the curriculum 20 years ago in fashion design and Dianne Erpenbach and myself had a vision some time ago about combining the two programs.”

Nichols said the number of students in the fashion design major and Arts, Entertainment and Media Management students with a fashion or retail management concentration is more than 900, which is more than the enrollment of the Theater and Marketing Communications departments.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Nichols said. “In terms of Columbia, this is a good thing because we should be known nationally for our fashion studies. People think we are the equivalent of the [School of the] Art Institute. They have 150 students studying fashion—why are they always talked about?”

According to Nichols, there are roughly 125 fashion students for every full-time faculty member teaching fashion courses at Columbia.

“We have no central office for people to come to,” Nichols said. “They have to figure out where to go and it’s not always that clear.”

Nichols said the Art & Design and AEMM programs are doing as good of a job as they can to focus on the fashion design and fashion-retail management students, but being respectively the second and third largest departments at Columbia, students of all three departments will get more attention once the Fashion Studies department is underway.

“The department is going to be focused on the needs of the students who are interested in fashion,” Nichols said. “Right now, they’re just part of a larger system.”

Fashion studies is in its infancy as Nichols and faculty from both areas search for a department chair and consider new degree options and opportunities to offer students.

Nichols said while Art & Design and AEMM bring in different guest speakers, they are focused around arts management and art and design.Nothing is solely focused on fashion.

“Those are great things, but what we don’t have is a high-profile for what it is to be in the fashion industry today,” Nichols said.

Fashion Columbia, a scholarship fundraising event in April, and “Launch,” a student-run fashion show presented at Manifest, will be maintained in fashion studies.

Fashion studies will not be in full effect for at least three years, and Nichols assures current students that while curriculum will be evaluated once a chair has been chosen, the current curriculum would not be changed this year or next year.

Under a new curriculum, Nichols and the faculty hope to have more collaboration among the students. The design students will become more immersed in the management side of fashion, as well as management students familiarizing themselves with the creative side of fashion.

“We are going to try to integrate some of those connections into the curriculum,” said Dana Connell, associate professor for AEMM. “It’s certainly possible that someone could come in here and be completely absorbed in [fashion] design and have no business.”

Connell said the faculty is also looking at other degrees, programs and certificates, such as business certification or an additional degree.

Both departments expect to keep almost the same curriculum when fashion studies comes to fruition.

“We’ll still have [AEMM] connections because much of our core skill sets and knowledge base come from the management classes that are taught there,” said Dianne Erpenbach, associate professor for AEMM.  “I don’t think we’re thinking of abandoning all of those.”