Although she is more likely to appear in The Chronicle of Higher Education than in Vogue, Stephens College President Wendy Libby has become a model for fashion students at Stephens.
The classy designs, created by the students at Libby’s request, will be brought to life when Libby wears them during inauguration festivities April 22-24.
“I thought it would be a great way to showcase our exceptional academic program to prospective students in the industry,” Libby said.
The fashion department chose 10 students with the top grades to participate in the project, which fashion design professors Kirsteen Buchanan and Monica McMurry are overseeing.
Dressing the president
The mission presented to the students was specific but left room for creativity. Libby needed three outfits for the weekend events. She needed a formal evening ensemble for the Presidential Gala, a dress for the inaugural ceremony and a more casual suit for informal events during the weekend.
The inaugural ceremony and gala are invitation only. But the public can see some of the students’ work at other events. On April 23, the students’ invitational art and coffee exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Davis Art Gallery at Walnut and Ripley streets. Libby is expected to drop in at the event as well as at an academic showcase for different departments from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The students began their job by presenting Libby with different mood boards, which displayed color through fabrics, style ideas and silhouette possibilities for each outfit. Libby’s choice of mood offered the students a better understanding about what she was looking for in their designs.
After Libby chose specific colors that represented moods, the students began designing, with the help of the fashion marketing group. The group assisted in editing the number of designs so Libby could see each one and chose her favorites.
In addition to color choice, the students took into account the people attending the weekend’s events as well as the circumstances of each event.
“She will be speaking to alumni at the gala benefit in her formalwear,” said Katie Aichholz, one of the student designers.
She also will be wearing a robe over her formal dress at one point; therefore, it is important for the dress to have a proper neckline.
The students recognized the need for functional usage, such as sleeves, that will allow her to comfortably greet people throughout the night and sit down to enjoy dinner. No one wants a long sleeve to drag through the food, Aichholz said.
After meeting with Libby to assess what she had in mind for her three looks, sketches were made, and then came fittings, which led to more refinements for the designs.
The students quickly realized Libby, who stands 5’9”, is taller and curvier than the mannequins they dress in class.
“Once we got into fitting, a lot of the designs changed to better accommodate her body type,” said Anna Palkie, another design student.
During the day of the inauguration ceremony, Libby will wear a princess-line shift dress. The slim dress slightly skims the body and was designed by Palkie. The red dress with black and white trimming at the neckline will be accompanied by a black and white silk tweed long tailored jacket.
For her casual Friday evening attire, Libby will wear a tunic length top with a Chanel look-alike tweed jacket described in the latest magazines as a great look for spring. The jacket is a mix of turquoise, purple and cream and was designed by Ann Marie Mullins and Bea Barton.
Libby will wear a formal silk crepe black satin floor-length gown to the Presidential Gala. The gown, designed by Katie Aichholz and Megan Intfen, also includes a jacket with an attached scarf meant to wrap around Libby’s neck and shoulders.
Alumni come to help
Beth Heintzinger, a 1980 Stephens graduate and owner of BEH Designs, a small custom clothing business in Dallas, offered her assistance and staff to help in sewing the outfits. BEH employees Carol Foley, a 1955 Stephens graduate, and Crystal Pratt, a 2001 graduate, helped in the tasks. Foley visited Stephens for one final fitting with Libby and took the patterns back to Dallas for cutting, sewing and finishing.
“(Heintzinger’s) work as a custom clothier enables her to advise the students on the special needs, wants and fit involved in the development of a custom garment,” Foley said.
As Libby stood in front of the mirror, women pinned, chattered and double-checked her ease of arm movement. The new Stephens president and happy customer said she couldn’t possibly pick her favorite outfit. She said the pieces are made for specific reasons and all are very different, but she noted a pleasure few women get when buying new clothes.
“The great thing about having clothes made for you is that they have no sizes,” Libby said.
Aichholz said Libby was in charge of her own accessories and shoes, which Libby saw as a shopping opportunity. On a recent trip to New York City, Libby hit her favorite shoe store, Harry’s, on 83rd and Broadway.
“I bought four pairs of shoes, three of which I will wear that week,” Libby said.
Libby said the formal dress is powerful enough that it does not need jewelry. She did, however, buy top-secret earrings and a necklace to accent the other ensembles, but her lips are sealed.
She wants them to be a surprise.
The anticipation will build until Libby’s jewelry, shoes and entirely student-designed garments are unveiled throughout the weekend. The students are proud of their designs and are looking forward to seeing the final products on Libby.
Fashion marketing student Lindsey Lischka said her group also has been working with Stephens’ marketing team to pitch the “Project Inauguration” story, as they’ve dubbed it, to magazines such as Marie Claire and Teen People, along with other newspapers.
“We looked for any sources we thought prospective Stephens students would read,” Lischka said.
The project is especially significant for the students because they will get to see their designs worn in a public setting. “Project Inauguration” also taught the students practical lessons in how to deal with a real-life customer.
“We are custom designing dresses for someone that has specific needs,” Palkie said.