Student Profiles

Fashion Through the Decades
INTERVIEW WITH WANDA COBAR

On your website (www.wandacobar.com), you mentioned becoming interested in fashion while bedridden following knee surgery. What was it about fashion that interested you so much?

I have to say that it was the Versace ads in Vogue magazine that caught my eye. My mom was a seamstress growing up. She used to make all our clothes and school uniforms but the clothes did not look as elegant and as fashionable as the ones I saw in the magazines. I also loved the fashion photography.

Did you know right away that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, or did something happen to lead you in that direction?

No I did not. I actually did not know what I wanted to do after graduating high school. I got interested in fashion just simply looking at fashion magazines while recovering from knee surgery. I did always like art and my favorite subject in high school was drafting but never really thought about pursuing it as a career.

Why did you decide to study fashion at Harper College? How did the college’s program at the time compare with those of other local and national schools?

When I was going to Northwestern Business College for Fashion Merchandising my teacher took us to a student fashion show competition and almost every single student that was winning that year was from Harper College. I remember telling my teacher right then and there that I wanted to study fashion design even though at the time I did not know how to sew. So she was nice enough to take me to visit some of the Chicago downtown schools and I told her that I would like to visit Harper College. At first, she was a bit hesitant because she felt it was too far for me to go to school since I lived in the city but I reminded her that most of the winning students were from Harper so she took me to visit the school.

I really liked the program at Harper the best because the program seemed to focus mostly on fashion and art. The downtown schools for some reason didn’t appeal to me especially when I saw how much tuition was. I honestly could not afford it and I did not want to take out another student loan. Plus when I walked into Harpers fashion classroom there was a student working on a beautiful garment that just blew me away! I didn’t see that at the other schools. Then when the director of the fashion program told me how much tuition was I was sold! ;) She explained to me that I could get a chargeback from the city to pay the in-district rate at Harper College. It worked out perfect! Plus I had a car so travel to school from the city was not as bad as I thought and I got to bring my own sewing machine to class. I am not a big fan of taking public transportation in the city so it was nice to go to school in the comfort of my own car listening to my own music.

I do have to say that when I signed up for my classes at Harper, a school counselor told me that Harper does not teach sewing so I had to learn on my own but encouraged me to still take the classes because I already had drafting experience to take the basic pattern making classes while I learned how to sew somewhere else. It was not easy at all but I was determined to learn.

Was there any particular part of Harper’s fashion program that you found particularly interesting, fun, or helpful?

I would have to say that I enjoyed every single fashion program at Harper because I was eager to learn everything! We did have a costing class and that was super helpful in learning how to break down the cost of each garment and that is helpful when you are designing garments that will be for sale.

In 1998, you were selected to participate in an international fashion competition in Paris. How do you feel your classes at Harper prepared you for this event? What were the differences between international fashion shows, such as this one, and those you participated in at the local or national levels?

I was able to go to Paris because of Harper College so all my teachers were very helpful in preparing me and making sure that what I was designing a garment that fit the Paris competition requirements. The difference with the Paris fashion show and a local show was obviously the people I was competing with, there were students from all over the world so I got to see some of the garments backstage and I can tell that some had much more advanced skills in patternmaking and design. The show was very high quality with high fashion models but I do have to say that the fashion shows Harper put on at the end of the year were just as amazing! We used professional models with an awesome sound and stage system that presented the students garments very well.

In 1999, you got to study fashion at American Intercontinental University in London. What did you learn there, and how did it build on what you learned at Harper?

I took 2 classes in London: Trend Forecasting and History of British Museums. My Fashion Costume History class at Harper really opened my eyes to seeing fashion in a different light, it was interesting to learn about how events in history would affect the way people dressed over the years so when I was looking at paintings at a museum I was able to somewhat tell what era that painting was from just by the way a certain person in the painting was dressed. Harper was very good at keeping us updated on what was happening in the textile industry and as a matter of fact Harper brought in a vendor that sold this unique plastic material that I ended up using for my Paris competition garment. Fashion can be so simple and complex at the same time. Technology was becoming big in the apparel industry with new ideas for materials and new shapes and but at the same time many designers look back in time for inspiration which helped me in my Trend Forecasting class. My teachers at Harper College were so inspirational to me and I really looked up to all of them. They taught me to think outside the box and be open to all types of art and fashion so I was able to build enough confidence to go to a different country to live and study.

Where have you worked since graduating from Harper’s fashion program, and how have your courses from Harper prepared you to excel at those jobs?

After graduation I went to work for a prom dress manufacturing company called Alyce Designs shortly after that I went to work for another company called Amerex Kids Group that had the license to design under the Osh Kosh label. I was also hired to work part – time for a fetish company working with leather and suede goods. A year later in 2000 I was hired by a high school to design their dance costumes and I have been their costume designer ever since. Currently I work for a company called Chicago Scenic Studios that has an amazing sewing department that I have access to everyday. Going to Harper gave me the confidence and the drive to succeed in whatever I did. The teachers were also artists themselves so they had the experience in the industry and would tell us their stories that was so refreshing to hear because there are ups and downs in life and no matter what they never gave up. I also made incredible friends at Harper and I ended up getting 2 of my jobs listed above thru them.

Any final words for those who are involved in the program now, or might want to be in the future?

Learn as much as you can in all aspects of fashion including the business side, ask questions and never give up because your passion will open doors for you especially when you least expect it.

INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA DRAPER

What got you interested in fashion?

My Mother taught me to sew at a very young age. She would purchase commercial patterns from our local fabric store and I would customize them by changing the shape and/or by altering a detail. Every garment I made was slightly modified from the original purchased pattern.

Did you know right away that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, or did something happen to lead you in that direction?

I have always loved fashion. I knew at an extremely young age what I wanted to do when I grew up. I designed and made both my junior and senior prom dresses.

Why did you decide to study fashion at Harper College? How did the college’s program at the time compare with those of other local and national schools?

My mother found the Harper College program for me. She was a single mom with two kids, so we didn’t have a lot of money. The program came highly recommended. Our local junior college, Elgin Community College, didn’t have a fashion program, so I was able to receive an out-of-district waiver for my tuition.

Harper students’ competed against students from some of the top Fashion Colleges: Fashion Institute of Technology, Art Institute of Chicago, University of Cincinnati, etc.

Was there any particular part of Harper’s fashion program that you found particularly interesting, fun, or helpful?

The Harper program was intense. The drop out rate was high after the first semester. The teachers were passionate about fashion and their enthusiasm fueled the motivation of the students. If you wanted to succeed in the program, there was no slacking-off.

While studying at Harper, did you win any kind of awards or recognition for any outfits you designed?

One of my garments represented the school in New York at the International Competition of Young Fashion Designers sponsored by Air France. I also had several garments selected to compete in the annual Fashion Group International design competition.

Where have you worked since graduating from Harper’s fashion program, and how have your courses from Harper prepared you to excel at those jobs?

I have worked at the following companies: Eddie Bauer, Nordstrom, Levi’s, Zumiez, & Amazon. I have worked in the fashion industry for nearly 20 years.

Any final words for those who are involved in the program now, or might want to be in the future?

If the program is anything like it was 25 years ago, I would highly recommend it. However, I do recommend continuing on with higher education and getting at least a bachelor degree. It has benefitted my career to have both an Associate in Applied Science Degree (in Fashion Design) and a Bachelor degree (in Clothing & Textiles).

INTERVIEW WITH REVECA TORRES

What got you interested in fashion?

Ive always been interested in art and fashion. My favorite part of Cinderella was when the mice made her dress. Watching Pretty in Pink I loved the part when she made her own prom dress. My mother always made me and my sisters our clothes and I loved watching her.

Did you know right away that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, or did something happen to lead you in that direction?

I knew in like 5th grade. I started drawing dresses and thinking how I could make them. I was injured in a car accident at the age of 13 and was paralyzed from the chest down with limited hand function and so I thought my dream was over and I would not be able to design. The fashion teacher at Palatine High School (Sally McDavid, she now is an instructor at Harper) helped me find a sewing machine I could operate without using a foot pedal… and that was it! I was back on track!

Why did you decide to study fashion at Harper College? How did the college’s program at the time compare with those of other local and national schools?

I initially decided to study at harper because I didn’t feel ready to leave home for a 4-year university and I also wanted to save money. When I found out about the fashion program I was really excited because I had heard really good things about it. I was really proud of being where I was because we had great instructors and our program was comparable to those of SAIC and Columbia. In fact, we often won at competitions against them.

Was there any particular part of Harper’s fashion program that you found particularly interesting, fun, or helpful?

The staff was great at helping adapt anything necessary so that I could participate with the other students. I was the first student in a wheelchair to go through the program so I think they were nervous about my needs but even so were open to meet my needs. It was life changing for me to travel to Paris to the AirFrance competition. I was able to visit many places I had only read about in books like the Louvre. It also gave me confidence to travel internationally in a wheelchair.

While studying at Harper, did you win any kind of awards or recognition for any outfits you designed?

I designed several collections for the fashion shows at Harper and was part of the planning committee. In 2001 I was a Costume Design Finalist at the Fashion Group International competition in Chicago.

Where have you worked since graduating from Harper’s fashion program, and how have your courses from Harper prepared you to excel at those jobs? Have your courses from Harper helped prepare you for your current work with Backbones?

I continued my studies in Theatre Arts at the University of Arizona and designed costumes for theatre and dance- Borderlands Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance, Luna Negra Dance, Dance Detour, Bodies of Work, DanceWorks Chicago. Learning about patternmaking was really important to be able to adapt my designs to the needs of dancers.Also, being knowledgable about different properties of fabrics and textiles was important because certain fabrics lend themselves to the stage- more breathable and ease/comfort for dancers and actors who need to move a lot or do quick costume changes. Illustration classes were essential in my communicating with other theatre artists or clients. I could discuss and modify designs visually and the whole team could picture what it would look like.

I really came to understand the body and that was helpful in peaking my interest about anatomy, movement. It has been really helpful when working with people with spinal injuries and also creating fact sheets and learning charts. My experience at Harper has also helped me when I share information with others with SCI who are looking to go back to school after their injury and are scared or intimidated. Planning and deadlines have helped in my event planning with BACKBONES too.

Any final words for those who are involved in the program now, or might want to be in the future?

It is a very well rounded program with excellent instructors and individual attention.

INTERVIEW WITH FRIEDA ANDERSON

What got you interested in fashion?

I have always been interested in creating and I was making my own clothes.

Did you know right away that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, or did something happen to lead you in that direction.

I became interested in fashion when I was a seamstress in the costume department at the Gutherie Theater in MPLS, MN.

Why did you decide to study fashion at Harper College? How did the college’s program at the time compare with those of other local and national schools?

I decide to study at Harper College, because it was close to my home and it was affordable and I liked what I saw in the program.

Was there any particular part of Harper’s fashion program that you found particularly interesting, fun, or helpful?

I loved all of my teachers and fellow classmates. I really LOVED the workroom and often fantasize about those long wooden tables. I would love to be able to work in that room now.

While studying at Harper, did you win any kind of awards or recognition for any outfits you designed?

I did not.

Where have you worked since graduating from Harper’s fashion program, and how have your courses from Harper prepared you to excel at those jobs?

When I finished up at Harper I began working with several fabric reps, I eventually became my own boss and am now a quilt designer and teacher. I travel around the world teaching my unique form of fused quilting and machine quilting to students. I have my own pattern and hand dyed fabric business, you can view my work and products on my website at http://www.friesytle.com.

My original quilts have won numerous awards. I think the most important lesson I learned while at Harper was excellence, the quality of workmanship. I can still remember being told to rip out a top stitching seam and do it again, or remaking flap pockets over and over again until they were perfect. These are valuable lessons.

Any final words for those who are involved in the program now, or might want to be in the future?

Talk to an advisor and figure out the best course of action for you to take in this wonderful program. I learned so much about fashion and design and myself at Harper. I had a great experience there.