From Underdog to Internationally Recognized, Marist Fashion Flourishes
Marist Fashion, a program housed within the School of Communication and the Arts, has garnered significant recognition from a multitude of media outlets within the last year. The program, however, had modest beginnings, according to a Sep. 1977 edition of the Marist Circle, which states that the school’s first inkling of a fashion program originated when nearby women’s school Bennett College closed and Marist agreed to “take in” Bennett Fashion students.
Since then, the program has grown exponentially; as of Fall 2017, 563 Marist students are either majoring or minoring in Fashion Design or Merchandising, as stated by Jared Todisco, the Marist College Reports Manager for Institutional Research and Planning. In this year alone, the program was ranked within the top 50 fashion programs internationally by Business of Fashion, students in the program have appeared on national television as part of an “upcycling competition” on Good Morning America, and Marist’s “FM/AM” magazine has been awarded multiple prestigious honors by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The cumulative message of these accomplishments is obvious: Marist Fashion is flourishing.
Radley Cramer has witnessed a tremendous amount of growth within the department during his 13 years serving as the Fashion Program Director. “During this time, we have more than doubled enrollment, expanded our curriculum and study abroad options, and became recognized recently as one of the top 50 Fashion schools in the world,” he says. “It has been and remains an honor to lead such an amazing team of faculty in our goal of preparing our students to enter the global fashion industry.”
Melissa Halvorson has been a member of Marist Fashion’s distinguished faculty for ten years, and serves as a Professor and Special Projects Coordinator within the department. She teaches students in a variety of topics, including “Sustainability in fashion, knitwear design, textiles, visual merchandising, and then writing for fashion and magazine production.” Halvorson believes that, though the program has received more accolades lately, it has been constantly undergoing development since being established at Marist.
“I think it’s always been a very vital program, with lots of exciting new things happening, it’s just that now we’re getting a little bit of recognition,” Halvorson says. “So, I think it’s always been in the state of evolution, it’s just that, perhaps, due to some increased visibility, people are seeing us, so that’s really exciting. We, as a program, have always been interested in change, and progress. That’s the nature of the industry, but it’s also how we operate here, we have to always be on top of what’s next, what’s new.”
Fellow Marist Fashion faculty member, Jamie Perillo, who teaches Fashion Design students, agrees that the program is continuously progressing. “We’re constantly adjusting the curriculum to meet the needs of the students to be prepared to enter the fashion industry,” she says. “We’re constantly updating what we’re teaching, constantly looking for new opportunities for students to get into the industry… internships, we’re always bringing as many critics and designers into the department as we can…it’s a different version of that every year. We’re always updating studio equipment, trying to get the most modern equipment that students will see when they graduate, and textile innovation…there’s a lot.”
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Marist Fashion program is the fact that there are innumerable opportunities for students to gain valuable real-world experience while simultaneously completing their undergraduate education. The department boasts a multitude of achievements such as the production of the “Silver Needle Runway” show annually, as well as “The Brunch,” an event organized by the Event Planning course, and the ‘MPorium,’ a highly successful on-campus shop operated chiefly by students enrolled in the Retail Entrepreneurship course. Another example of a hands-on educational opportunity students have at their disposal is the ability to participate in the creation of a magazine. “FM/AM,” which is abbreviated for Fashion Magazine at Marist, is the product of a special projects class taught by Halvorson that creates a professional magazine that can be purchased internationally.
“The projects that I get to work on that are in collaboration with students, and us working as true professional collaborators, those are my favorites,” shares Halvorson. “So of course, the magazine production. In putting the magazine out, we have to do photoshoots, for instance, working with photographers and models and set design and site location and story development…real editorial work…and so the classroom atmosphere really falls away.”
Halvorson believes that, though at times the pressure can be intense, it is definitely worth it for the end result: a polished magazine. “We distribute that internationally, we sell it on newsstands all over the world, so we’re proud of that because you never know in whose hands it will show up. It also adds a little bit of extra high stakes pressure to make sure it’s perfect,” she says.
Senior Katie Heaton has obtained a different type of real-world experience from her involvement in the Marist Fashion program. A Business Administration major concentrating in Marketing with a minor in Fashion Merchandising, Heaton believes that the lessons her role within the MPorium provided her with are invaluable. “My favorite experience has been my position in the Retail Entrepreneurship course (MPorium) this semester,” Heaton says. “I have already learned a great deal about marketing through the scope of fashion retailing.”
The MPorium, a popular pop-up shop currently located in Donnelly Hall adjacent to the Marist Fashion department, will reportedly be included in the program’s move to the new Steel Plant Studios, in a high-tech space on the other side of Route 9. The move is predicted by department faculty and students alike to be an essential one for the expansion of the program.
“During the next academic year Fashion and Art will share a beautiful new 50,000 square foot space,” Cramer shares about the new location. “The new space will give us room to bring in the latest technology and expansive creative spaces to our students.”
Sophomore Sara Kaseta, a Fashion Design major, believes that the introduction of the new building will be a tremendous asset to students studying fashion. “I think it’s going to make a really great impact on the students, because right now, especially my grade, we’re very cramped in our rooms, there’s only like four tables for us to all work at,” she says. “[In the new building] We’re going to have to studio for textile design, and a studio for sewing, and a studio for just doing regular work and a giant digital lab. It will help students out a lot, and help people get work done faster.”
Perillo echoes these sentiments. “We’re a little bit limited in what we can offer, and equipment we can purchase and house in our current space, so the new building will allow us to do even more,” she says.
Halvorson is also anticipating the change in location, as she believes it will contribute to the expansion of the program.
“I think that the building will be a catalyst for even more attention, which is what we’ve always craved, and that sounds a little craven, I guess, but when you work so hard and you know that you’re doing is really, really fun and exciting things and that students are having a really valuable experience, you want people to know about it. Not so much for accolades, but because you want the students’ education to be perceived as valuable,” she shares.
The growth of the program will not end with the construction of the new Steel Plant studios, however. There has been, and will always be, a push for the program to become even more adept. “The fashion show, the Silver Needle Runway…that needs to look like it’s happening in New York City, even if it’s happening in the Civic Center in Poughkeepsie,” says Halvorson. “Our magazine, our other endeavors…they have to be really polished and to industry standard, and so evolution of the program naturally follows that, I think. We have high, high expectations.”
These high expectations left a lasting impression on Jennifer “Jenn” Kuzara, a Marist alumna who graduated in 1996 and studied Fashion Design and Merchandising. She believes that “learning to think creatively and innovatively while having a good business sense” were the primary ideas that her time as a Marist Fashion student impressed upon her. Kuzara also believes that there have been positive interdisciplinary contributions to the program’s curriculum. “I feel it has expanded into a positive direction in regards to business and communication,” she says.
Cramer believes the development of the program has contributed to even more opportunities for students. “Aside from continued growth in enrollment, our students now benefit from an ability to better chart their academic course toward their destinations within the fashion industry,” he states. However, aside from the new Steel Plant, the program still has many more surprises to come. “We also have some additional new international options that we hope to tell our students about in the near future,” Cramer says.
Between the new building and even more opportunities for growth, Halvorson is optimistic about the future of this already flourishing program. “We want to be encouraging students to innovate, then execute, and become makers and doers,” she says. “That’s the part that’s exciting for me.”