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Wheel of Fashion

Alexandra Plunkett's GSOFW collection

Written by Cameron Walker | GSOFW photos by Jon Eric Johnson | Cover Image: Looks from Alexandra Plunkett’s GSOFW collection

“The word ‘change’ would be a good definition for the word fashion. If you think about it, if there isn’t any change, there isn’t any fashion,” said Andre West, Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) associate professor and director of the Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE) at the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State.

It’s this idea of change, of constant flux, that is at the heart of Fashion Week.

Traditionally, Fashion Week refers to the biannual womenswear shows that take place in the “Big Four” cities of New York, London, Milan and Paris. Twice a year, designers present their collections for the following season; the Fall/Winter collections are shown in February and the Spring/Summer collections are shown in September. However, as other cities rise as fashion capitals in their own right and the power of social media democratizes fashion, the number of Fashion Weeks has grown to more than a hundred — from Seoul, Korea and New Delhi, India to Charleston, South Carolina and more recently, Greensboro, North Carolina, where several of our students and alumni just showed their collections.

Read on for our conversation with West about the cyclical nature of some aspects of fashion and how fashion trends evolve and spread. Then keep reading for firsthand perspectives from students Celine Borthayre, Emma Rigby and Alexandra Plunkett, and alumna Carly Palmer on their experience showing at Greensboro Fashion Week.

Birth of a Trend

According to West, there are three ways a fashion trend develops: trickle down, trickle up and trickle across.

“The simplest one, which has been done throughout history, is the trickle down effect,” said West. “We used to imitate the kings and queens of the past. But no one is following Queen Elizabeth II’s trends now. Who are the ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ of today? Instagram and social media [stars] have millions of followers; if they wear something, and usually they are paid to wear it, it gets out there and that’s the trend…We went from royalty to movie stars and pop stars to now,” where social media influencers set the trickle down trends.

The trickle up effect is when fashion trends are influenced by regular people. Consider the popularity of denim and t-shirts, once solely for laborers, or pea coats and khakis, once found only in military surplus stores. Punk fashion, which emerged as part of a larger subculture from the London streets in the mid-1970s, has cycled through both mainstream fashion and haute couture ever since.

The trickle-across effect, in which fashion moves between groups almost simultaneously, is increasingly common today. Many designers or fashion retailers will release similar looks at varying price points, so consumers are able to purchase the same silhouettes, prints and colors at the same time. For example, a designer may show an haute couture look and a less-expensive, more wearable prêt-à-porter look at the same time; retailers at different price points will quickly copy the look and make their versions available the same season.


“Prints on the whole are small and moody,”said West. The runways were full of dark and dreamy florals. “I have also seen a lot of animal print, but it’s done a bit differently. It’s more involved with the accessories than it has been before, like the black dress with a leopard skin pumps or leopard skin purse or snakeskin belt, this idea that you can still wear your solids…I can’t tell you why, but usually leopard, snake and zebra are the ones [you see most frequently].”

Color Wheel

“Still purple, but purple across the range,” said West. “And yellow is always around. Yellow is one of these colors that can change very slightly, but it’s very noticeable. [We’re seeing a range from] a sophisticated mustard yellow to a hypercolor yellow…The weirdest thing I’m seeing…is pink and red together. When you see combinations like that, two colors of the same kind but different shades, it’s interesting.”

Mondrian-inspired color blocking trended both on the runway and in the streets at the Spring/Summer 2020 shows — a wheel of color combinations including chartreuse/turquoise, pumpkin/aubergine, crimson/navy and emerald green/royal blue.

Honorable Mentions

Power suits (with strong shoulders, many with vests), belted trench or “spy” coats, faux leather, flared jeans.

Fashion on Repeat

“Fashion is built around decades,” said West. “The way I look at it, it’s like baking a cake: same ingredients, but different amounts and different toppings. It’s just remixing the ingredients in some sort of way so they become their own thing. Even if we try to copy a look from a previous decade, it doesn’t work because the textiles have changed, what people do for a living has changed…It’s like starting with the same bunch of ingredients, making the recipe so many times, but the dish always comes out slightly differently.”

Take the strong-shouldered power suits from the Spring/Summer 2020 runways; they stand as possible commentary on women’s power in the Me Too era, but we’ve seen the silhouette before — as many women achieved corner-office status in the 1980s, the shoulders were boxy and padded, just as they were forty years earlier when women went to work during World War II. In the last decade of the 19th century, blouses puffed up at the shoulders in the “leg o’mutton” style as women joined the workforce en masse for the first time and furthered their fight for suffrage.  

Hemlines rise and fall, volume increases and deflates, the wheel of fashion turns on and trends come and go. But for a trend to be a trend, several designers must have similar ideas at the same time. So how does this happen?

“The designers all know each other; Paris or Milan, they gravitate toward the same area, same neighborhood,” said West. “They hang out in the same bars, the same clubs, and they’re talking. There’s a conversational piece that’s happening there. But they’re also seeing the same influences; there may be a show at the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, or a particular movie came out. Those things are what I call subliminal messages, so they’re inputting this [cultural information], but they have a blinkered view because they cannot see what else is out there, right? So they’re all taking in this impression, then they’re [individually] reacting to that impression.”

Think about the mod aesthetic popular in the 1960s; during this time, young designers were influenced by the space race, and fashion reflected this futuristic optimism, from bold color and geometric prints to sleeveless dresses and miniskirts. Or picture the minimalism embraced by designers in the grunge era of the 1990s; perhaps the excess of the previous decade required a palate cleanser, leading to simple slip dresses, faded flannels and muted colors. 

Greensboro Fashion Week

In early October this year, several Wilson College of Textiles students and an alumna showed collections at Greensboro Fashion Week, a growing showcase for the region’s top design talent.

We spoke with them about what it was like preparing for a fashion show and watching their designs walk down the runway.

Carly Palmer’s design for Greensboro Fashion Week.
Carly Palmer’s design for GSOFW | Photo by Jon Eric Johnson

Carly Palmer 

Carly Palmer graduated from the Wilson College of Textiles in 2019 with a Master of Textiles. She currently works as an operations sewing specialist at on-demand textile company Spoonflower.

“Greensboro Fashion Week (GSOFW) was unlike any other experience I have had,” she said. “I have mostly done school-related shows where the models were friends of mine. For GSOFW, the models assigned to us lived all over (Atlanta, Georgia, Virginia, Charlotte, Winston Salem, etc.) and some were as young as 14! They also had all kinds of different body types and proportions. This was something I had not been anticipating. Because my designs were so unconventional, I had to find a way to meet with each of them before the show.” 

Palmer’s collection, “Net Worth = Owned-Owe,” questions why our society is so wedded to disposable packaging.

“My entire collection is made from fruit and vegetable net bags, their packaging/labels and other sources of plastic packaging,” she said. “The purpose of this design is to show that materials can be reused instead of ending up in a landfill. Through this colorful, avant garde ten-piece line, I hope to raise awareness of the vast amount of trash that is created through everyday grocery items. I want people to question the value of packaging. Why do we use net bags? Are they necessary? Is the plastic labeling brand message for products worth the cost it has on the environment? Marketing is a powerful tool. Bright colors and cute logos make products sell faster, [but] is there a way to do this in a more environmentally friendly way?”

Much of the material Palmer used in her designs came from creative reuse arts center The Scrap Exchange, as well as friends and family who donated their used fruit and vegetable bags. Grocery chain Aldis also donated more than 100 net bags; she created an entire look from these bags.

“I am glad I did GSOFW because it gave me a project and a goal. Without this, I would have been less likely to complete what I did,” she said, weighing whether or not she will return next year. “It would be fun to see all the girls I met at the show again, and it would be a fun challenge to design something that is true to my art and ethics but that appeals more to mainstream ready-to-wear apparel.”

Dress by Celine Borthayre on Greensboro Fashion Week runway
Dress by Celine Borthayre on GSOFW runway | Photo by Jon Eric Johnson

Celine Borthayre

Celine Borthayre is studying Fashion and Textile Design (FTD) and plans to graduate in 2021. The Centennial Scholar has won first place in several fashion shows, including the AATS Annual Fashion Exposé and the Raleigh Environmental Awards Fashion Show, and now she has earned another distinction for her work. At GSOFW, she took home the first place prize in the College Designer Showcase for her collection, “Enchanted.”

“Participating in Greensboro Fashion Week was such a wonderful opportunity, where I was able to get more experience on the creative side with developing a new collection, as well as the industry side with model fittings and communicating with show coordinators,” she said. “It was also a good exercise in time management, learning to balance the creation of a fashion line with a semester’s course load.”

Borthayre was more experienced than some at GSOFW, as she showed her previous collection a few months earlier at the GSOFW summer showcase.

“The models were shared among all of the designers, so it got a bit hectic backstage, with models sometimes having just seconds to change into different outfits and be lined up to walk in the next line,” she said. “Behind the scenes was a flurry of clothes, makeup and hairspray that was equal parts stressful and exhilarating. While I was hoping that everything would go smoothly the day of, I didn’t feel nervous as I knew I had done the best I could and I was excited about the designs I had created and was ready to show on the runway.”

Borthayre said her collection was inspired by her childhood memories of fairytales and storybooks.

“While my inspiration was vivid in my mind, it was more of an abstract concept rather than a concrete inspiration from sights or images around me,” she said. “I wanted to portray the elegance and beauty while also highlighting the strength and bravery of these characters from different childhood stories. The color palette was originally inspired by plants and earthy tones, but I added in some fun textures and colors (mostly because I found some sequin fabric I got excited about). The silhouettes range from voluminous, handmade petticoats to slim, fitted sparkly gowns.”  

Emma Rigby on Greensboro Fashion Week runway with several of her looks.
Emma Rigby on GSOFW runway with several of her looks | Photo by Jon Eric Johnson

Emma Rigby

For Emma Rigby (FTD ‘21), showing at GSOFW was worth all the long nights she spent making her collection runway-ready. Her parents, best friend and granny — who traveled all the way from Scotland to attend the show — were there to cheer her on.

“It was definitely chaotic, but it was really rewarding getting to see my designs walk the runway on such a large scale and in a professional setting,” she said. “I put a lot of hard work into my collection and it was satisfying to see it finally come together in the end for a successful show.” 

Rigby said that since the designers shared models, each model was “flipped,” or quickly changed out of and into a different outfit, five times.

“Backstage was a whirlwind of people running around trying to get models dressed and through hair and makeup changes,” she said. “Each designer had a short introduction before our collections walked, and this was the time that was the most stressful because I had two models come off the runway from the designer right before me, and go right back on for mine two minutes later. I’ve discovered a newfound talent of being able to lace up garments at high speed!”  

Rigby’s collection, “World on Fire,” is meant to highlight the environmental crisis.

“It is made entirely out of hemp linen that I hand dip-dyed myself,” she said. “The color palette is different shades of green, orange, yellow and grey/black, along with some white accents. The collection starts off green to represent the vibrant and healthy earth, and then transitions to orange and yellow to show the environment catching fire as people mistreat it. I used a bunch of different shades to show all the different stages of the fire and how drastically the situation is worsening over time. It then transitions into grey and black to represent how the environment will burn up to ash if we don’t act soon. It also represents the darkness of the crisis we are facing everyday. This collection was designed with the intention of opening peoples eyes to what is really happening, and if we don’t come together and change our ways soon, the damage will be irreparable.”

Alexandra Plunkett

Model wearing color blocked dress designed by Alexandra Plunkett.
Model wearing color blocked dress designed by Alexandra Plunkett | Photo by Jon Eric Johnson

Greensboro Fashion Week wasn’t just the first time Alexandra Plunkett (FTD ‘21) showed a collection — it was the first time she had created an entire collection.

“The setup of the show itself was great and seeing the designs walk the runway was a surreal experience,” she said. “For my collection, I created each piece to specific models, so I created them solely based on the measurements provided by the team and through communicating with the models. I did final fittings on the day of the show and everything fit just as I had planned. This being my first show, I was very nervous when my collection was up to walk, but the energy and excitement in that moment were helpful in settling the nerves.”

Her collection of 10 looks, “Concord,” is a mix of matching sets and dresses in a palette of greens and blues. Made of suede, knits and wovens, the collection includes summer to fall transition pieces.

“The pieces were very line heavy and each was made of two to three of the different fabrics,” she said. “I chose a color palette that would highlight the contrast between each of the fabrics as they were used directly next to each other in each piece, and also accentuate the contrast of the individual fabric textures. I kept simple silhouettes present throughout the collection, but the overall look was made more complex by including the contrasting colors/fabrics, splitting the garment pieces to create style lines, and by topstitching patterns and additional lines in certain areas of the garments.”

Plunkett took a scientific approach to the design process, conducting painstaking research before developing her collection.

“I began by creating a mood board that encompassed surface design trends such as patchwork, quilting and topstitching as well as colors that were popular,” she said. “For fall, I chose a medium blue, light blue, light green, dark green, bright green and a neutral purple. I also did trend research and created a separate board for that based on what was popular for Fall 2019. I then took my inspiration and trend research and developed technical line drawings of the entire collection and added my color palette to each piece to see the line together as a whole.”

For information on applying to be part of next year’s College Designer showcase at  Greensboro Fashion Week, visit their website.

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