Fashion School Diaries: A Special Occasion Designer Expands Into Athletic Wear

Fashion Institute of Technology senior Gwen Hine took on the challenge of designing outside of her comfort zone to create an award-winning, sports-inspired evening gown.
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Gwen Hine and her gown for the Athletic Capsule Collection. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

Gwen Hine and her gown for the Athletic Capsule Collection. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

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 Gwen Hine, a Fashion Institute of Technology Class of 2019 design student, ahead of her student show.

There was no other choice but the Fashion Institute of Technology for Gwen Hine, who will graduate in May with a BFA in fashion design with a specialization in special occasion wear. She's been set on pursuing fashion as a career since she was 10 years old, when her mom introduced her to her first sewing machine. "My mom's father grew up in upholstery, so he was always sewing. My mom knew the basics of a sewing machine, so she would make curtains, tablecloths and napkins, but not really gowns or fashion," remembers Hine.

Once her mom recognized Hine's knack for sewing at such a young age, she was enrolled in extracurricular activities to hone her craft, from local classes in her hometown of Long Island to weekend pre-college courses at, interestingly enough, FIT

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"I took as many classes as I could each semester and then when I eventually got accepted to FIT it was so amazing because that has been my dream school," says Hine. "I give so much credit to my parents because they noticed my passion immediately and were so supportive every step of the way, and I couldn't have gotten to where I am today without them."

Hine admits that her freshman year was fairly easy since she was familiar with most of the introductory schoolwork. "It wasn't as intimidating trying to learn so much new stuff in one year," she says. Now, as a graduating senior, Hine took upon the challenge of designing outside of her comfort zone to create an award-winning look, which will make its runway debut on Thursday night at FIT's Future of Fashion show during its newly launched Street Style and Athletics Capsule Collection segment.

Ahead of the special event, we spoke with Hine about studying at FIT, balancing internships with school, her plans after graduation and how she created her sports-inspired evening gown.

"The first two years at FIT is when you learn the basics — draping, pattern making, sewing. By our fifth semester, we have to pick our specialization, so I went into special occasion design. I think I always had an attraction towards evening wear and it just comes more natural to me. I took a class called Soft Silhouette where I made a gown — it was the first gown I ever made. It was just so easy for me and I loved working with the fabrics and making such a special piece.

Then, we spent our sixth semester making a wedding gown and in seventh semester, we were introduced to the inner-structure of a gown — more intimate stuff. In our last semester, we do our senior thesis.

The dean introduced the fashion design senior students to the Athletic Capsule Collection idea at the end of last semester, so I knew about it at the end of December last year, but I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted to make.

I think a lot of people were not interested in [the Athletic Capsule Collection], and not that excited about it because they did let us know kind of late in the semester when most of us had our designs of what we wanted to make. So it was like you have to switch your design over winter break if you wanted to do it. Especially in special occasion, a lot of people weren't interested in it because they might not have seen how you can incorporate activewear into a gown.

At first I was not going to participate because I had this vision of this other gown I wanted to make. But then I kept thinking about it and I was like, 'This is a really cool opportunity and it can come out really interesting.' Then I envisioned the gown in my head and I was itching to sketch.

I spent winter break swatching fabrics and working through my inspiration and designing, and then when we came back to school, we had to present all of our designs to our professors and the critics. They help us select the final garment that we're going to make. We get three weeks to drape, make the pattern and do the muslin. Then we have a fitting with a model to make any corrections, and then after that, you get three weeks to actually construct the gown. It was a lot of work.

Gwen Hine's sketch for the Street Style & Athletic Capsule Collection. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

Gwen Hine's sketch for the Street Style & Athletic Capsule Collection. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

My inspiration is actually from scuba diving. My brother has been scuba diving a lot recently, so I wonder if maybe hearing his stories is what sparked the idea in my mind. I knew from the start that I wanted to make a gown and that I wanted it to feature athletic elements. I found scuba mesh fabric and I used it in the bodice, and most of the gown is made of this waterproof nylon material.

It was definitely the first time I worked with all the materials I used in the gown. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It was a little intimidating at first because the fabric is very slippery, but I actually really enjoyed working with something new. It got me really excited to create — just like a whole new vision for myself. I really liked it.

My last professor that I had this semester is one of my favorites. His name is Lester Rodriguez. He is actually the one who encouraged me to do the athletic gown, so I really appreciate him for that. It was not something I would typically make, and when I first showed him the sketch, he was so supportive and he said, 'I think you need to do this.' Along the whole way, he would help me with any questions I had and he was a very encouraging professor.

My typical design style is more girly, classy and elegant. Whereas with this athletic gown, it does have a touch of my style in it, but it's more modern and sportier. It pushed me to adjust my aesthetic and perhaps it might be moving more in this new direction now.

I've done three internships while studying and right now I'm at Oscar de la Renta. It's been such an amazing experience. I feel like I've learned so much interning in the atelier. I get to see the gowns coming to life, and it's really inspiring to see how they work and how dedicated the people are towards high-quality craftsmanship. It's really amazing.

I would say that balancing classes with an internship is all about time management. It's a skill that every fashion design student really needs. Every single day I'm making myself a list of what I need to do the next day and I have tons of notebooks filled with my lists from the time I've spent at FIT. 

It's so important that when you are in the workroom, you stay focused and I think students get distracted and that's not good because if you're not getting the work done at that time, then it leads to you rushing to meet a deadline at the end. My dad once told me, 'If you do it right the first time, then you don't have to do it again.' Whenever I'm in the workroom, I always hear his voice in my head saying this, and then if I ever start to get tired or feel myself starting to rush, I've just got to slow down and do it right the first time.

I'm excited to start my fashion career after I graduate. My internship is ending next week at Oscar de la Renta, so I'm on the job search in New York. I'm currently looking for an assistant designer position for a company that I genuinely love and feel a passion for their product. I want to find a place that allows me to continue to learn and push myself creatively. And then, hopefully, after I get a few years of industry experience, I would love to venture off on my own. Whether that be a boutique or designing a collection to show at fashion week. I don't have an exact plan for my career yet, but I think that's OK and I think it's good that I'm open-minded in considering all possible opportunities.

I learned through the Athletic Capsule Collection that it's good to try new things and expand my horizon. And after creating this gown, I don't know if I'd rather pursue evening wear or athleisure. As I started looking for a job I realized that the luxury evening wear market is very small, and I think it might be good for me to try a different area of the industry. I could learn so much more."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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