Adjunct Professor Takes Academic Approach to Fashion
When you think Tucson, the words "fashion mecca" might not be the first to come to mind. But that doesn't mean the Old Pueblo doesn't have style.
Some of that style will be on display this week when local designers showcase their pieces during the second annual Tucson Fashion Week.
The fashion celebration kicks off tomorrow and runs through Saturday. This year, the University of Arizona will be a beneficiary for the first time.
On Friday, a "Moveable Feast" dinner and runway show, featuring a special appearance by iconic American fashion designer Betsy Johnson, will benefit scholarships and programs in the UA's Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, which is housed in the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The event will take place on Friday, from 5:30-9 p.m. at the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. Tickets are $150 per person.
Martha Van Gelder, director of the Lundgren Center, said she is excited that the UA is beginning a relationship with Tucson Fashion Week and she hopes the University can become even more involved in the future.
In the spirit of fashion week, Lo Que Pasa chatted with UA adjunct professor Charlette Padilla, a UA alumna and one of three core instructors for the UA's 18-unit fashion minor, which was launched in 2012 and saw its first group of students complete the program over the summer.
Offered through the Norton School, the fully online summer program prepares students for a wide range of careers in the fashion industry, from buyer to accountant to retail manager to stylist.
Padilla, who also is a faculty member at Pima Community College, teaches the UA's "Introduction to Fashion Retailing"; "Fashion Forecasting and Research Trends"; and "Society, Culture and Fashion Relationships."
Before she started teaching in 2005, she worked a variety of jobs in the fashion industry, including stints with Talbots and J. Crew. She also co-owned a local menswear boutique called J. Kareiva Menzwear.
What inspired you to work in fashion?
I think it was my dad. My dad was a Green Beret and he wore really beautiful uniforms and I would just stare at him. He had that green beret and his military uniform and his black patent leather shoes. It felt very powerful, and that’s one of the things about fashion – image is powerful. Most people say the inspiration comes from their mother, but I always loved a man in uniform, I guess.
What made you want to teach?
My mom was a teacher. And, actually, Josephine Brawley, my great, great, great aunt, was the first schoolteacher in Arizona. And her daughter Gertrude was one of the first graduates from the University of Arizona. Everyone in my family is a teacher, so I think it’s a gene we inherit.
How does fashion fit into an academic curriculum?
There is science involved. Fashion is really interesting because it's utilitarian. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, clothing and food are at the top. People have to dress so they're not running around naked, but when you dress it also speaks to your psychology. It's like a gift wrap and you're wrapping yourself, so you're branding yourself by your clothing, and that’s when it becomes more of a science.
There are so many theories on fashion – the trickle-down theory, the trickle-up theory, and my favorite is that fashion is evolutionary not revolutionary. There are PhDs in fashion because there's so much to the process.
Our students also have to learn history because without history they wouldn’t know the foundation of what goes on in fashion.
Our students do a big thing on the Zeitgeist, which stands for the spirit of the times, and we start picking out trends through what's happening at different times. For example, in the '70s, when the female left her home and went to work, fashion had the big shoulder pads because we were going to work so we needed power, and the power suit came in. Right now, as a nation, we don’t feel very safe and if you look at the colors that are out there it's the neutral colors, which we wear when we want to feel safe.
Can you comment on any current major fashion trends?
Right now there are so many subcultures, and trends are getting harder to define. We see a lot of what we call "style tribes." College students are wearing what their friends are wearing. It's no longer the designer setting the trends.
In the end it’s the consumer that’s going to tell us what the trends are. The retailers might try to tell you, the marketers might try to tell you, the magazines, but it's really up to the consumer and whether they are willing to accept that trend.
Where do you recommend people look for fashion inspiration?
Go to art museums and look at the classics. Look at how the artists are dressing the females. Look at old pictures from really good photographers. These are people that take years and years learning art, balance, design, color, and what they're putting together is a beautiful piece.
So go to the museums; see what the artists are doing. And go to the street. Go to Fourth Avenue and see what's happening on the street.