“Spotlight”: The Making of a Student Fashion Show

A student fashion show is not just “show and tell”, but a collaborative educational experience that showcases student’s marketing, design, and event production talents.  It’s applying the academics to real life.   I wanted to learn more about the “what, why, and how” of producing a show by the student body and in particular how it is integrated into the curriculum.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (8)

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (1)
Rhonda P. Hill and Julia Szkiba

I interviewed Julia Szkiba, a Fashion Instructor at The Art Institute of California – Hollywood.  She gives an in-depth view on what goes on in the planning and the “behind-the-scenes” activities in putting on this production, and rightfully so, she is the instructor for the Event & Fashion Show Production class.  She has over 20 years experience as a fashion designer, graphic artist, and educator.

This year’s annual student award show was Spotlight.  I had the privilege of being on the judge panel where 3 awards were given  to designers.  Read more on my insight and experience as a judge, Spotlight. . .and the winner is. . .

Here is my interview with Julia on this amazing 10 week journey from casting models to the program booklets and how the teams had to work in concert to make it happen.

The making a fashion show.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (6)Julia, can you share with us how long it takes in the planning and what is involved in preparing for the show – design, marketing, production, etc.?  What are some of the challenges, the concerns, and the celebrations in both the planning process and the actual ‘behind-the-scenes’ day of the show?

Students in the class have ten weeks to pull together everything!  The Fashion Design students will be showcasing their senior collections – for the most part seniors are featured in the show, but sometimes we will allow other students to participate if we feel their collections are well-made.

I think the biggest challenge is marketing the event and selling tickets. The show is open to the public, so those in the class are all encouraged to sell tickets and get the word out to other students on campus as well as the community.  Organizing it and working it before and on the day-of is not a problem for these students. They are enthusiastic and are looking forward to the big day.Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (4)

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (23)
The MC: Chris Valenti

The students are grouped into different teams: we have a group for the set design and entertainment. These students work on acquiring the runway carpet, the decorations, securing a DJ and working with the designers in finding out what music they want played for their collection. I assist them with securing an MC and giving them leads for anything else they may need.  For the most part they are pretty savvy and will contact other students in other programs so they understand what it means to network. They have acquired student photographers, videographers, even set design students to help them with this project.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (19)


The talent team work with the Fashion Design students and have to cast models, find hair and make-up people for a special Photo Shoot day we do about two weeks before the event, and then also for the day-of event. They are there for fittings and have to schedule the models and then organize the order of the show. They also work with another class, the Fashion Styling class, in figuring out how many dressers are needed for the day-of and other volunteers.

Then we have the fundraising and marketing team. They work on on-campus fundraising events such as selling baked goods and special “designer” lemonade, and right now selling tickets. They are also working on the program booklet so they have to work on acquiring the information from the Fashion Design students and interview them, have information about the judges in the book, and they also sell ad space to also raise money to cover costs.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (20) Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (9) Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (12)How much of the annual student fashion show is part of the curriculum of the fashion department and what is its importance in the overall student education?

The fashion show is actually part of a class we offer at the Art Institute Hollywood campus.  It is FMMA203 Event & Fashion Show Production.  In this class the students learn how to pull together an event and are introduced to fundraising techniques (they have to raise enough money to cover costs), marketing, working with the Fashion Design students, finding hair & make-up people, work with other students in teaching them to be dressers, how to figure out the set-design, etc. 

The class is offered once a year, so every fashion marketing student has an opportunity to take the course and work on the fashion show. The class is offered in our Spring term and the show takes place in week ten. During week eleven, our last week of the term, we review photos, video and discuss the good and the bad (if any!) and each student writes a summary and also some words of wisdom for the next class.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (13) Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (22)For the graduate students who will go on to pursue their fashion career, what does Ai do to prepare them for both the technical design aspect and the tools needed to run the business of fashion?

I believe we have a great program because we have a great group of instructors who are still, for the most part, active in the industry. We share with the students a real-world point of view and I believe we do our best in preparing them for a variety of opportunities in the industry.

We also have a great Fashion Club that has really taken off in the past six months and as the faculty advisor for the club, I am very pleased with the community events that have been a part of so far. They have participated in the recent LA Fashion Week Art Hearts Fashion Show event as dressers and directing the fashion show which featured some of their fashion design classmates in the show. They have also worked behind the scenes with the Fashion Business Inc. on a number of their events, most recently a couple of them assisted the special evening with Sue Wong as dressers for her mini fashion show. Currently we are working with LA4Animals for an upcoming pet fashion show (more details soon!), so I believe we offer our students some great learning both in the classroom and outside of it. The more experiences they have the better they have to offer and market themselves to a potential employer.

Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (17) Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.08 (18)Is the curriculum geared more to employment with a company or as an independent designer or fashion industry professional post graduation?

I think we do both – we tell them that to work for someone else is the best way to learn the ins and outs of this industry, and to also network. Networking is so important so working for a company, be it a small one or even a larger one, will give them the tools to practice their skills and when they are ready to branch out on their own, they will have a better idea of the industry as a whole.

Do you see any opportunity or are there objectives and discussions to do more in preparing the students both in the academics and the practical experience?

The academics portion is pretty much set in stone, however, I think each of us as instructors are given an opportunity to fine-tune things as needed. We have a great group of teachers where we can bounce off ideas off of one another, assist each other with feedback, share ideas for lesson plans and assignments, and more. I think we are all doing the best that we can offer to these students and give them the tools to work with to help them on their career paths. Ai Spotlight Fashion Show © Rhonda P. Hill, 2016-06-10 17.56 (3)

Julia, congratulations to you and the entire talented and resourceful team that produced a fine and well organized fashion event.  What great experience for all involved.

Thank you for an informative interview on the making of a fashion show and how it ties in with the curriculum at The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles.

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor