Students get chance to show designs during Pittsburgh Fashion Week events

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The students will teach this lesson in style.

Six fashion-design majors who attend, or recently graduated from, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh have their own show at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 called “BTB” — Back-To-Back Runway Shows — in the fourth annual Pittsburgh Fashion Week. They were selected through a process with auditions and a presentation of their garments.

Guests at a fashion show at Macy's on Sept. 25 got a sneak peek of the students' work. Some of their designs on display in the department store windows have attracted attention already.

“People will call and ask where in the store they can find an item they saw in the window by an Art Institute student,” says Joe Hladiuk, Macy's Downtown store manager. “We have worked with the Art Institute many times, and we were excited to incorporate them into our show for fashion week.”

Having this kind of exposure means so much to these up-and-comers.

“This is such an amazing experience,” says Laura Hillman, a second-year student from Elmira, N.Y. “It is almost stressful; it seems unreal when I say my dress is in Macy's window.”

Showcasing fashion's young designers has been part of the mission of this weeklong event since its first year, says Miyoshi Anderson, executive director of fashion week.

Student designers have shown collections in previous fashion-week events, but this will be their first time hosting a show at the school. There is no theme to this event. Each designer was free to express her own style.

“I am very impressed with these young designers,” Anderson says. “I applaud their craftsmanship and amazing designs.”

Christina Knieriem, a recent graduate from Cumberland, Md., creates bridal gowns with fabric from Paris, where she interned with a designer. She loves creating a dress for that special day in a woman's life, including nontraditional looks such as a silver gown.

“What is so nice about bridal is every dress is different,” Knieriem says. “If you want traditional white or off-white, you can have that. And, if you want a dress dip-dyed in purple, you can have that, too.”

Hillman calls her collection Street Couture.

“I see a lot of versatility in clothing,” she says. “I like to create comfort and style in street wear made from high-fashion fabrics.”

Allison Bailey of Chester, W.Va., recently graduated. She is inspired by the Great Gatsby and designs swimwear and resort wear with a vintage look. For this collection, she designed high-waisted shorts, bandeaus and high-low skirts. Her collections are fashionable and functional, she says.

“Fashion gives you an outlet to express yourself,” Bailey says. “I might be one of the few designers who says what I make is not a style I would wear. I have an idea of who would wear my designs.”

First-year students Caitlyn Riegal from Horseheads, N.Y., and Sammi Parrish from Baltimore are fashion-week volunteers. Riegal is inspired by Coco Chanel. She takes Chanel's classic tweed style and updates it for the young generation.

Parrish creates knit and crochet pieces, which she dyes. She says she has been making her own wardrobe since she was in eighth grade.

Erica Ersik from Aliquippa is in her final year at the Art Institute. Her style is classic and elegant. She creates garments with clean, simple lines, such as her tweed jacket and leather pencil skirt that is in the window at Macy's.

This is the first city where Stephanie Taylor, department chair of fashion retail management and fashion design at the Art Institute, has been able to get student work into a department store's windows. She has worked at the Art Institute in Philadelphia, New York and Charlotte, N.C.

“Our program is still relatively new, but it is slowly growing,” Taylor says. “To partner with Macy's and Pittsburgh Fashion Week gives students an amazing opportunity to be part of a professional fashion event. It gives them confidence. It will also help get the word out about the fashion program.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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