For years, students of CSU’s apparel and merchandising program have been waiting for this weekend. Many have watched patiently, as their fellow students, one by one, took spotlight, to showcase their unique collections to more than a 1,000 people. Now on Friday, it’ll be their turn.

On March 31, Colorado State University’s Department of Design and Merchandising will host their annual senior fashion show at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins. The show is an annual event each spring, showing collections made by graduating seniors. This year’s collections feature a wide range of categories, including costumes, beachwear and evening gowns.

But this senior fashion show is just one of the fashionable aspects that puts Fort Collins on the map for fashion and draws in talent to Colorado. 

Biridiana Torres’ collection “Divine Destination” at last year’s CSU show.

The show provides an exciting opportunity for young designers to have the experience to create a cohesive collection of garments and show them on a runway to an audience. Many of the graduates of the program go on to intern and work in New York City.

Some of the notable alumni currently working in the fashion industry are Elizabeth Steed at Tory Burch; Sam Silver at Calvin Klein; Tricia Pless at Oscar de la Renta; Veretta Andersen and Alexis Stelmach at Jonathan Simkhai, and Brian Guiducci at Teen Vogue/Vogue.com.

“The Department of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State has been a leading influence in bringing about more focus on the fashion scene and also encouraging growth,” said Madison Meagher, head of the garment and modeling committee for the show. “Many students graduate and pursue an entrepreneurial path in starting their own fashion related business or store because of that exposure in Fort Collins.”

As of 2016, the CSU apparel and design program was ranked in the top 5 percent nationally; their merchandising program is ranked fifth, and their design program is ranked 17th

This has contributed to the changing aesthetic of the city in terms of what community is wearing. Boutique owners are interested in bringing the latest trends to Fort Collins through their clothing and accessory offerings.

“With Northern Colorado being a destination for students, travelers, and new residents, we have seen more excitement around fashion trends and style in general, said Laura Ludwin, owner of GG Boutique. “We have always aimed to offer new styles and accessories that are fashion forward and affordable.”

Fort Collins’ shopping scene has grown, both at Foothills Mall and in Old Town. They are offering more fashionable retailers not often in a town known for agriculture including  – Nordstrom Rack and J.Crew Mercantile at the mall, and Storm Men’s Shop, Rain, and Topo Designs in Old Town. 

“The aesthetic of the city has definitely changed with the success of the fashion department as well as the department has changed with the new growing demand for fashion in our community,” said Nicole Pink, one of the co-directors for this year’s show.

Old Town Fort Collins has seen a growing number of boutiques within the last decade, some of them started by alumni of the CSU apparel and merchandising program, such as Magnolia Moon started by Cameron Moon.

“Shopping local is important to our community,” said McKenzie Murray, owner of Blue Harvest Apparel. “All of the boutique owners come together and we work collectively to create a downtown shopping district.”

The inside of Blue Harvest Apparel at their Old Town location. Photo courtesy of Blue Harvest Apparel’s Facebook page.

These boutiques have grown to establish relationships with the various CSU fashion student groups, including CSU’s student chapter of the nationally recognized Fashion Group International; CSU’s student-run online fashion publication Fashion Report CO; and the Design and Merchandising Leadership Team, an organization that gives student the chance to gain leadership experience with peers, faculty and visitors through hosted events and community outreach.

“The department’s student organizations and faculty actively try to get involved in the community through events such as the recycled and senior fashion shows, volunteer work, etc,” said senior Kenzie Grieman, vice president of DMLT. “Through this, I think, we have also created a presence in the community.” 

The department, along with the other student organizations, provides strong outreach efforts with the local community. Each year, DMLT invites high school students interested in the program the opportunity to tour the fashion department.

The faculty of the department also started Fashion FUNdamentals, a two-week, no cost summer enrichment program that targets underserved girls between the ages of 11-14 in northern Colorado. The program builds self-esteem and knowledge about the STEM fields by having them create their own fashions.

Staff and students from the Department of Design and Merchandising at CSU who are involved with Fashion FUNdamentals. Photo courtesy of CSU Department of Design and Merchandising’s Facebook page.

CSU and Fort Collins influence each other, especially in terms of the sponsorships the community provides for the show, in addition to the show taking place at the Lincoln Center.

“We would be nothing without our local sponsors who support and push us forward,” said McKenzie Miller, a co-director for the show. “In return, we get a chance to connect with the Fort Collins community and help support them as well.”

Meagher believes that the CSU fashion show is not only a fashion show but can also be considered a theatrical production from all the elements that have to be taken into consideration.

“The blending of various forms of art from dance, fashion design, and music to bring together a memorable and unique experience for our audience is not only exciting for myself and the rest of the class planning the show, but also the entire community who helps it all come together.”

The theme of this year’s show, “ascent,” perfectly sums up Fort Collins’ rise to becoming a fashion Mecca in Colorado despite its location:

“‘Ascent’ is all about rising to a higher level and achieving something greater. For us, this means accomplishing our goals and rising above any challenges we are faced with,” said Pink. “This is present in our everyday lives, the individual challenges each designer faced when creating their designs and the process of putting together this whole event.”

Ascent takes place on March 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Center. Tickets can be purchased at the Lincoln Center’s website

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