Marymount University's faith-based fashion programs

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Janice Ellinwood, chairman of the department of fashion design and merchandising at Marymount University in Arlington since 1987, started her Friday illustration class by asking her students to "champion and critique" each other's spring collections. The six fashion design majors tacked their drawings and inspiration boards to the wall and, one by one, discussed each other's influences - angler fish, Art Deco, Scottish heritage dress - and techniques, from drawing styles to swatch layout. Ellinwood, a professional fashion illustrator and former Fulbright scholar, complimented bold choices, careful research and attention to detail, while also challenging students to explain why their collections might appeal to consumers.

At Marymount, such discussion-based classes are the norm, even in fine and applied arts programs. Ellinwood pointed out that fashion design majors learn more than design, and fashion merchandising majors learn more than business and marketing. Forty percent of fashion majors' classes are in non-fashion departments, including the six credits in theology and six credits in philosophy required of all majors.

The fashion department's most glamorous event of the year, Portfolio in Motion, unites the talents of both design and merchandising majors. A campus tradition since 1989, the event enables future designers to collaborate with future buyers and public relations professionals to produce a juried show from start to finish. Students design outfits, select models, work out the choreography, decide on set design, manage ticket sales and more.

But while the work is entirely student-produced, it is professionally critiqued. Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera are on the list of respected industry guests who have visited campus in the past to provide feedback. Last year's Designer of the Year at Marymount was menswear designer Jhane Barnes.

Outside of Portfolio in Motion, students have other chances for professional development. As the only university offering fashion design and merchandising programs in the Washington area, Marymount students have unique access to local cultural resources and opportunities. Students regularly visit Smithsonian museums for inspiration, and alumni who stayed in the area have designed for the Washington National Opera, among other performing arts companies. The department also organizes field trips to New York and Magic, an international fashion trade show in Las Vegas.

Ellinwood credits the success of the fashion program to Marymount's intimate community. Because the

student-to-faculty ratio is low, students have a chance to build relationships with full-fledged professors rather than

graduate teaching assistants.

"Their study of the liberal arts builds character," said Ellinwood. "Here, we have a cross-pollination of the liberal arts with the arts, which might be minimized at other schools with fashion programs. At Marymount, we have an obligation to teaching the humanities and ethics across the curriculum. When tough things come up, I have to address them."

In fashion, tough issues may include the industry use of sweatshops or the environmental impact of sourcing materials.

Whether studying how to rid fashion illustrations of wax bloom or the media employed in vintage Lord and Taylor catalogs, Ellinwood said "there are lots of great things that come out of (the university's) Catholic association."

One of them just happens to be couture.

Find out more

To learn more about Marymount University's fashion program, visit;-Merchandising.

Stoddard can be reached at

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015