In the dressing room: behind the scenes of LA Mode Fashion Show

It’s only 20 minutes until the show starts and models are asking, “Where are the directors? We should be getting dressed now.” They’re fixing their makeup themselves, not exactly pleased with the previous artist’s work. Designers are down the hall from the Main Stage’s dressing rooms, in a mirrored classroom filled with racks of clothes and a low murmur as they put the final touches on their pieces and finalize the order in which the models are to come out.

The nervousness that characterizes any staged event shows as designers go from room to room making sure their pieces fit their models as intended. What one feels in the air backstage is closer to nervous tension than an actual rush. Hectic, they say, but it never quite looks that way.

Aside from stress and nights without sleep, this is part of what goes into the production of LA Mode, the annual fashion show presented this Saturday by the Fashion Department at Santa Monica College as part of its Fashion Show Production course. Since 1987, SMC fashion design students have been presenting their designs to the world with LA Mode, in hopes of making their design aspirations reality.

The show also serves as a competition, in which student designers have a chance to win in five categories: "Most Cohesive Concept," "Most Creative Concept," "Most Marketable Concept," "Best Collection," and "Best in Show." Alumni of SMC’s fashion program, Costume designer Daniela Gerschwendtner, stylist and creative director Jeannie Braden, founder of global fashion brand Tumbler and Tipsy, Michael Kulkuva, and e-retailer and former owner and fashion buyer for @Sara, Sara Mogharabi, comprised part of the judges’ panel for the categories.

Some designers, like Carmen Langenback, felt the pressure from their presence more than others. “I know that the people who have graduated from here have gone on to do some amazing things. I’m really excited and a little bit overwhelmed to see what they think.”

As the time approaches for her collection to be shown, she says the experience of creating a collection to show is one worth repeating. “It’s been overwhelming but in an absolutely amazing way,” Langenback says. “I would do it all over again.” She says her collection, Alter, came from a “dark and foresty dream,” which inspired its “witchy” vibe. Black, hooded cloaks that models remove on the catwalk conceal her designs’ velvets, sheers, and low necklines and drive the concept home.

One of the awarded designers was Maricela Resendez. Surpassing her own expectations, her collection, celaMR, was deemed "Best Collection" by the panel. “I didn’t expect it, but I worked so hard,” says Resendez. “I told myself, ‘you know what? I deserve it.’”

Just as the models in the next dressing room are able to start getting into their wares, Resendez is stressing out. She still needs to get a model into a pair of pants that lace up along the sides and while they fit like a glove, the lacing itself takes time, something she doesn’t have much of. From the hem to the waist she laces up the pants with the help of an event staffer. The result is a design that combines versatility, structure, and elegance, intended to go from day to night.

For Resendez, the process has cost her some sleep, as well as the time to keep up appearances. To put the finishing touches on her design, she forsook a trip to a nail salon. Given that this is the field of fashion, it’s more important than it sounds. “I went to the place, I parked, and I was like, ‘I can’t get out of my car, I need to go finish the last minute details.”

Ultimately, the experience and the validation provide motivation for her to do more, even if it means time in the spotlight.

“I don’t like the spotlight, but I’m in this field,” she says, willing to embrace what comes with the territory.

On-the-Spot Winners:

Best of Show - Phila Nkambula, for laGasolo

Best Collection - Maricela Resendez, for celaMR

Most Marketable Concept - Ulrika Lund, for Ulrika Lund

Most Creative Concept - Connor Whelan for Salem O’Dowd

Most Cohesive Concept - Takami Sakamoto for Laxzy

Technical Awards Determined Pre-Show - Minika Ko

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