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Woodbury, CSUN Prepare Students for Industry Jobs

There aren’t many places that educate the future designers, pattern makers, milliners, and stylists of the future, but the Valley can lay claim to two institutions offering four-year degrees in the field: Woodbury University and California State University, Northridge. The fashion design program at Woodbury’s Burbank campus has a long history, going back to at least the early 1930s when it started as a costume design program at what was then called Woodbury Business College. Although costume design is a smaller part of the curriculum now, assistant professor Louise Coffey-Webb has every intention of growing it again. “What I’m learning is that costume designers need good people,” she said, “and they need people with a good, rounded education and lots of varied skills and that’s one thing we offer.” The fashion design program, which has about 100 students enrolled per semester, offers graduates a bachelor of fine arts degree, unlike its neighbor to the south, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, more commonly called just FIDM. “FIDM does not offer a BFA degree,” said Coffey-Webb, “just an AA in fashion design. And also they’re a for-profit institution. I think it makes a big difference.” Another design program, at American University in West L.A., is rumored to be closing while Otis College of Art and Design (formerly Otis Parsons) down near LAX has more of an emphasis on the artistic side of design. CSUN is the only other educational institution in the Valley that also offers a bachelor’s degree program similar to Woodbury. With a very small percentage of actual jobs available for fashion designers, Woodbury wants its students to have the skills they will need to fill the multitude of other jobs in the industry. “I would like to say that we’re a really good blend between the academic and the trade,” Coffey-Webb said. “We’ve been turning out very skilled students who can design from scratch and construct and make patterns and all that and I think we should expand that.” Graduates go into all aspects of the design industry. Some become costumers while others become stylists, assistant designers, or pattern makers. Woodbury alumnae are currently working at places like St. John (Irvine), BCBG/Max Azaria (Vernon), swimwear designer Robin Piccone (West L.A.), and the Valley’s own Juicy Couture (Arleta). To complete the program, students must create a collection, which is then judged by a panel of industry experts who review and critique the work and suggest which garments should go into the annual fashion show that is a major fundraising event. “One of the things that I like to remind people,” said Coffey-Webb, “is that the architecture students, they don’t have to build a house to graduate; whereas our students have to create their own line and make it themselves and do everything themselves, and I think that’s something.” The 44th Annual Fashion Show and Gala will take place on May 4 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Proceeds benefit the Woodbury scholarship program. Fashion as a business Woodbury is also known for their business programs and the perfect melding can be found in the university’s fashion marketing program. “Fashion marketing is a business major,” said Marketing Department Chair Karen Kaigler-Walker, Ph.D. “We are in the School of Business which is very unique.” About 60 students each semester are taught the fundamentals of fashion merchandising, promotion and trend analysis, marketing theory, consumer behavior and international business. They follow an MBA-prep program, Kaigler-Walker said, and many do go on to get their MBA, or other advanced degree, before entering the workforce. Woodbury is working on getting the fashion marketing degree accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “When we get this, we will be the only fashion marketing degree in the world that’s AACSB accredited,” Kaigler-Walker said. “They are really the gold standard for business school accreditation.” Being a fashion marketing major can lead to some pretty interesting internships. In the last year, she said, students have worked on “American Idol” and ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters.” Others go into fashion journalism. One of the program’s top graduating students last year (Gabrielle Tompkins) is now working on her masters in journalism at Northwestern where she hopes to focus on covering the fashion industry. But styling for the media is one of the primary career destinations for Woodbury students. “Everything you see on TV, even on “American Idol” where it looks like they just walk on stage wearing anything: it’s all styled,” said Kaigler-Walker. Woodbury’s marketing students are schooled in the social sciences as well as business and marketing. This helps them in being able to read a script and then create the right mood or attitude for the show, or the individual scenes, through their choices of clothes, accessories and props. “And that is marketing,” said Kaigler-Walker. “That is being able to understand the client, and give them what they want making the production company happy and meeting the budget. These are marketing demands.” The state’s secret weapon The design program at California State University, Northridge, may very well be its best-kept secret. A search for “fashion” on the CSUN website yields just about nothing. That’s because you have to search for “apparel,” which yields a link to the Apparel Design and Merchandising web page on the department of Family and Consumer Sciences website. CSUN offers both a bachelor of science degree in family and consumer sciences, and a masters degree. “We have three specialties: production and design, merchandising, and textiles,” said Dr. Jongeun Kim. “We have about 350 students in the ADM program and it keeps on growing.” The department has been around for more than 20 years, said Kim. Some of its students are now teaching at colleges like Woodbury, the Fashion Institute of Design Management downtown, Santa Monica Community College and Pasadena City College. While they don’t offer a business degree, CSUN’s merchandising students do take some business, marketing and economics classes as part of their curriculums, she said. Last week, a group of students comprising the Trends fashion club, put on their annual fashion show, complete with a runway, models, a DJ, and more than a hundred family, friends and faculty cheering them on. ADM students Shannan Marie Dunlap and Amy Agajanian co-directed the show with Kim as faculty advisor. Dunlap, 24, is president of the Trends fashion club, the student-run organization that planned and produced the event. “It’s taken months of planning,” said Dunlap, with the show costing “about a few thousand dollars.” The proceeds from the ticket sales “are going straight into our campus account, and will be carried over for the next semester,” she said. The reason for the show, said Kim, is to give the students a chance to show-off their class work.. More than 60 models of all shapes, sizes and colors strutted the runway over a two-hour time span. They walked with confidence, stopping, turning and posing like pros. Musical performances punctuated the pauses between collections, giving the models time to get into their next outfits. Some industry professionals were brought in to judge the offerings including attorney Crystal A. Zarpas, partner of Mann & Zarpas, LLP in Sherman Oaks who specializes in apparel industry law and who also judged the event last year. “The show was very professionally done,” said Zarpas the next morning. “I’m always surprised at the level of creativity in the kids.”

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