Fashion school students around the world are preparing to enter an industry that's rapidly changing. There are courses to pass, design prompts to ace, runway shows to prep for and professional connections to make. In our series, "Fashion School Diaries," those students give us a firsthand look into their day-to-day lives. Here, we meet Kaitlin Barton, a Fashion Institute of Technology Class of 2018 design student, ahead of her student show.
For a lot of students who travel to New York City for college, their motivation might be a memory of visiting the city for the first time, or a lifelong dream of living there. For Kaitlin Barton, it was a 16th birthday trip to the Big Apple. She and her family traveled from a "super tiny town in Northwest Indiana called Valparaiso, middle of nowhere" and as soon as Barton arrived in the city, she knew exactly where she wanted to be and what she wanted do with her life: study at FIT and have a career in New York. "It was the only school that I applied to," says Barton. "I put all of my eggs into one basket."
Barton was interested in fashion from a young age. "I actually did challenges for myself," she remembers. "I would wear a different dress for 50 days straight and if I ran out of dresses, I would make one so that I could continue my challenge." When she was accepted into FIT, she knew that she wanted to focus specifically on designing lingerie. "My grandmother has been buying me lingerie since I was like 11, which is a little odd for a grandmother's gift," says Barton. "But she has always thought that you need the best underpinning to make yourself look right from the inside out. I also find that is part of my design philosophy."
The opportunity to study lingerie as a specialization at FIT is no easy feat. After two years of learning the core basics of fashion design, students obtain their associate's degree and have the option to continue onto the bachelor's program, where they can focus on one specialization.
Barton's entire last year and a half at FIT has been spent studying intimate apparel, in addition to working: Two days are spent in class, two days at her lingerie internship and the three other days she works as a stylist for the lingerie boutique Journelle. "I have something going on all seven days, but that is the way that I like it," she says. "I like to be busy. I like to have something to do and I like to feel like I am contributing to something greater."
When Barton graduates in May, she plans to take the time to travel before kickstarting her fashion career, hopefully as an assistant designer at a lingerie or swimwear company in New York. Her involvement in FIT's Future of Fashion runway show on Thursday night will certainly help, as a select number of designs from the school's top students are chosen by a panel of judges made up of fashion professionals across the industry. Ahead of the show, we spoke with Barton to learn more about her experience at FIT, as well her design process — and the unexpected crunch time that came with it — behind her two Future of Fashion looks.
"Studying lingerie at FIT has been phenomenal. It is such an individualized program, which ends up making it very, very hard to get into — being only sixteen spots — but once you secure one of those spots, you are guaranteed a hands-on, very focused education. Our professor, Alexandra Armillas, really educates you in the structural component of lingerie and what it takes to create a literal masterpiece. That is what she expects and that is what you end up being able to create. I am so proud of my whole class, and am very proud of myself, as well.
I really enjoyed studying intimate apparel couture. It's our core class taught by Professor Armillas that we have two days a week, three to four hours a day. It is our main focus, where we are actually creating intimate apparel pieces. Some of the other classes that I really enjoyed was a class called 'Couture Embellishment.' In that class, we created a book of all these little samples of embellishment details — little pleating edges and all sorts of different beading. That is the class where I learned how to embroider, actually. I have been doing embroidering on my own time, like little cactus motifs into pajamas.
Designing for the Future of Fashion show has been amazing. It has also been very, very overwhelming but very exciting, too. We had to create two head-to-toe looks. We are supposed to have six weeks for the first look and then four weeks for the second look. But due to a bunch of snow days, we ended up with about eight weeks for the first look and only two weeks for the second look. So I created my second look in nine days. Sometimes I feel like your best work comes out from being under pressure.
At the start of the year, I started working on my first look, which is a black lace bodysuit. We had to come into class fully prepared from over winter break with swatches of the fabric that we wanted to use, sketches and an inspiration mood board. We selected our garments first thing and then started working on them immediately.
My looks were inspired by spending winter break at my grandmother's house, who lives in England. She is one of my biggest inspirations for everything that I do in my life. She has this absolutely, stunning garden that is twice the size of her house. It is her backyard and there is no grass — just flowers everywhere you go. It was winter, so I didn't get to see it in full bloom but I have been there in the summer and it is absolutely amazing.
I knew that I wanted to use that garden and that concept and put that into my garment. The way that her garden is arranged is by different sections of flowers and they are all fenced off with different types of fencing and different structures. Some are metal and iron; some are wooden; some have little roofs over them, like greenhouses. It's just this combination of architecture and hard lines with these soft flowers. So I wanted to take that into my lingerie and do a lingerie version of hard and soft.
In sportswear, your hard and soft is usually leather and lace, but in lingerie I wanted to do lace and strapping, so a lot of hardware. For my second look, I used this really gorgeous multi-tone purple lace with a wildflower motif. It's purple embroidery on a nude net. My hardware on the back of it is actually 24-karat gold-plated — very big, bold hardware pieces and then a lot of adjustable strapping details, so it's combining that really, really soft, delicate lace embroidery.
For my first look I wanted to do soft lace creeping down the body with the hard lines of the underwiring, intersecting it with big bows and all of the very graphic details combined with a delicate side. I used a black Chantilly lace that's very thin and really beautiful. I hand-cut all of the samples out of the lace and then hand-embroidered it onto my bodysuit.
I think one of the biggest challenges I faced was that for my second ensemble, I did all of this 24-karat gold hardware all over it — the rings and slides of the straps. Then for the closures in the back, I went to seven supply stores and I could not, for the life of me, could not find gold garter clips. So I ended up having to hand-paint my own gold garter clips two days before the garment was due.
Pre-judging day for our looks arrives a few weeks before the Future of Fashion show, which is when your industry critic and your professor walk around the class and select sixteen garments that go down to the Great Hall. The Great Hall is this huge exhibition hall where over 200 garments go down to. The intimate apparel class does this. The sportswear class, the knitwear class — every different class does this and sends down the best to the Great Hall.
When you get to the Great Hall, there is a judging day that takes place with a panel of really, really established fashion industry professionals as judges. They come in and they actually select which garments go into the fashion show. I feel very blessed and fortunate enough to have had my garments selected. Not only just my second look was selected as Critic's Choice Award Winner, but my first look was also selected to walk on the runway, so I have both of my looks walking.
We had model fittings the other day, which is a huge component of getting ready for the show. You come in as early as 9 a.m. and you will stay for six straight hours. It is a lot of chaos but it is all the chaos of getting everything in order. Your look is given a number, which tells when your look will walk in the show, then you have to find one of the many beautiful and amazing models that they have backstage and try your garment on the girl. You have to determine what kind of alterations you need to make, so that the garment fits her body, specifically, like a glove. Then, you meet with the stylists and determine what jewelry, shoes and accessories you want to walk with your garment for the show. Finally, we return our garments on Wednesday and just sit and wait for the fashion show, which I am super excited for.
My advice to fashion students is to stick to your guns and be confident about it. If you are being told no, or if you are facing some pushback about something you want to do and you respond with timidness, you will definitely be shot down. If you know what you want and you are strong, independent and assertive, while still professional and polite, of course, your voice will be heard. You will be able to create the garment that you are truly passionate about."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.