Behind the Scenes: The 2016 Old City Fashion Show

Yesterday was the Old City Fest Fashion Show! Local boutiques, Philadelphia designers, and Made Institute design students were able to show off their collections and latest pieces.

Months of preparation went into designing and constructing my dress, which graced the catwalk for only a moment. And do you know what – that moment was absolutely worth it. I cannot wait to do it all over again!

The girl who modeled my dress, Laura, was so graceful and professional. I couldn’t be happier with how the dress flowed and moved on her. She really nailed that walk and breathed life into my vision. All the models were from Wilhelmina model agency.

The dress is a strapless, floor-length evening gown. It is made from a lustrous fabric that is smooth to the touch. I named her: she’s called the Champagne Divorcée. I envisioned this concept when I realized the dress I was making looked a lot like a wedding gown – she features a dramatic sweeping skirt with a subtle train, princess seams to offset an hourglass silhouette, and is cut low in the back. This dress is for the sophisticated woman who accepts nothing but the best. She embodies glamour. She has an ex-husband (or two) and the only jewelry she wears are diamonds and rose gold. She has found a new love and is ready to walk down the aisle again – this time in a champagne-colored dress.

You can see Champagne Divorcée in motion at these Instagram videos here (slow-motion). The strapless bodice is held in place by spiral steel boning on the inside, which is inserted in the white channels you see here:

The dress has a satiny lining on the inside. I bought the fashion fabric and the lining fabric during my trip to Toronto, Canada in July!

I started working on the dress in July, and didn’t finish working on it until the day of the show. This was with fairly consistent work – I worked on this dress on weekdays I was free after work, on Fridays evenings at Made Studio, and on the weekends. I’d say I probably spent 60-100 hours working on it. It involved a lot of hand-sewing. Custom-made eveningwear is no joke. I can truly appreciate the prices of couture and custom-made pieces now, after creating a one-of-a kind handmade piece myself.

Here is the lovely Laura, posing in line just minutes before she stepped on to the catwalk:

The day before the fashion show was especially grueling and stressful. Originally, Wilhelmina Philadelphia was scheduled to send over the models to Made Institute two weeks before the fashion show. This way, the design students would be able to fit their dresses and design pieces to the models and make any necessary alterations beforehand. I needed to fit my dress on a model, since you cannot put in a zipper or hem the dress before you fit it to the person who will wear it.

During a fitting, you decide which model your piece fits best and choose who will wear it for the show. Fitting consists of pinning the dress to the model, seeing how it drapes over her curves, seeing whether it needs to be taken in or taken out, and deciding where to end the hem.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, Wilhelmina had to change the fitting day from two weeks before the show to one week before the show – and the models who would fit my dress could only meet with me the day before the show. Needless to say, this sent me in a panic. Sewing an invisible zipper (notoriously difficult) and hemming (notoriously tedious), and sewing up the lining all in one day? I was freaking out.

Rachel, my teacher and the Made Institute owner, assured me it could all be done in one day – and true to her word she stayed at the studio until 2 am on Sunday morning. There were a handful of design students at the Made studio that day, hemming, sewing, hammering, and otherwise constructing their final looks. I left the studio at 5:30 am on Sunday – a mere 10 hours before the show. When I left, there were 3 other students still diligently working on their pieces.

Zipper in progress

Snipping off excess fabric and getting ready to hem

After pressing the hem down, it’s ready to sew! It actually about an hour and a half to press

On Sunday morning, the day of the show, I had a moment of panic when it seemed that the dress was too small for Laura, who was modeling it. The zipper would not move up beyond her waistline. I ran out the studio to find Rachel, who was working with the cinematographer to adjust the background for the catwalk. When she came in the studio and saw the situation, she immediately knew what to do: ask Laura to hold her hands tightly on her hips, then for me to hold the top of the zipper teeth taut while she zipped it up. Thank God it was a simple fix! LOL. All the zipper needed was some elbow grease.

Unfortunately, Rachel did find another issue – there were a couple of stray stitches on the fashion fabric, which I accidentally made while sewing the lining on the inside. So, I had to take that out and slipstitch the bodice lining again.

This is the stray stitch that Rachel spotted. I had to take apart the bodice lining and handsew it back together again hours before the show.

Here is the bodice lining after I took it apart

All slip-stitched together again!

I didn’t officially finish the dress until an hour before the show – at which point I steamed the dress so it could be wrinkle-free and magical.

That amazing moment when my dress was finally for-real done. My arms were aching, my choker was on backwards, but my dress was done!

Other students were adding finishing touches at this point as well:

Brittany zipping up her babydoll circle dress, which features handsewn lace appliqué

Racks and racks of student work. Absolutely breathtaking!

When it was time for our designs to walk down the runway, we (the designers) stood behind stage. There was a tent backstage where the models quickly changed in and out of the looks, and an impressive pile of clothes on the table where garments were hurriedly cast off as they undressed. My dress was in the Eveningwear category, and at the end, all of the designers walked down the catwalk together and waved at the crowd. If I can find a picture of that online, I’ll be sure to post it here later.

Candid of the models waiting in line to walk. Behind them is the white tent where they got dressed.

View from backstage, where the designers stood waiting to walk at the end. The woman clapping is Renee Hill, the show’s featured designer, who also showed at NYC Fashion Week this year.

One of the Made Institute design graduates, Renee Hill, has a fall/winter collection and even showed during New York Fashion Week!

Renee Hill, the show’s featured designer who also showed at NYC Fashion Week this year

Here are some more looks that walked down the catwalk during the fashion show:

I had a fabulous time yesterday, it was an amazing experience. I cannot wait to do it all over again.

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