The University of Rhode Island’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design’s “Spring Splash” is an annual fundraiser and student fashion show, with this year’s theme being “Designers in Bloom”. Students who participate in the show are judged for four rounds on the construction and cohesion of their collection, including a final runway show.

Susan Hannel, URI’s TMD department chair, believes that the advice given to students in the first round of judging helps to shape and improve their final collections. From smaller edits to eliminating pieces completely, Hannel and the judges give students constructive criticism. Unfortunately, many students are resistant to the criticism that they receive, often insisting that their work is true to their aesthetic

“I think in general critiques are really hard for students, especially when [they’ve] worked for 20 hours on a garment,” said Hannel. “[But] they need to be able to take critique, because the industry is going to be a lot harder on them than we are ever going to be.”

Stephanie Poncin, a junior at URI who is a TMD and French  double major, participated in the show last year with three bathing suits and has returned this year to continue to grow her skills.

“I want to be a designer so I feel like the more I’m in the shows and the more experience I have with them [then] the better I’ll be when I graduate next year,” said Poncin.

This year, Poncin has decided to make a collection inspired by both the fabric she chose and the streets of the south of France. Her collection, entitled Rosé, features a halter dress, a jumpsuit and a pair of shorts. Poncin named her collection spontaneously while she was applying for an internship with Ralph Lauren, which she will hear back from next month.

Credit: Casey Kelly/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Credit: Casey Kelly/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

“I’m in the Master Seamstress program [at URI] and I’ll get my certificate in May, so I’ll be a certified master seamstress,” said Poncin. “[So] I feel like with that in addition to my education here I’ll be set for the internship if I get it.”

Another student participating in “Splash” is Jasmine Souza, a senior at URI, a TMD major and theater minor, who is fully embracing the construction aspect of the show with her collection.

“I laser cut some leather scales [and] I’m going to place the scales onto a chest piece on the front of the [first] dress,” said Souza. “Then the second dress is representing veins and the vascular system, so I designed a custom print in Adobe… And the third dress is going to be inspired by joints and bones, so the structure of the seams are going to be mimicking different bone shapes and they’re going to be [made of] bone-inspired tones and colors as well, and it will also be a very structured dress.”

The first round of “Splash” is focused on the construction of the students’ pieces and editing the unfinished garments. Then in the second round of judging, students are asked to show their garments on bodies to demonstrate that they can fit the clothes to specific models’ requirements. The second round of this year’s judging, held on March 27, will be done by the chair of the Rhode Island School of Design fashion program, Meg DeCubellis, and one of URI’s part time instructors, Beth Bentley.

This year Hannel expects about seven designers to enter, a decrease compared to the usual number of entries. She blames this on the lack of structure in the fashion programs provided at URI.

“We don’t have a prescribed program for students who want to make three-dimensional garments,” said Hannel. “And I think it is also a problem [that] we don’t have a collection development class, [which] would be a class in fall semester where everybody who wants to participate in “Splash” is creating their collection as part of a class [and] earning credit.”

The lack of guidance present for students in the fashion majors results in rare numbers being able to compete in the show before their senior year, as students are required to finish all of their pattern making classes before being eligible to enter the show.

As a senior, Souza will soon use her experiences at URI to look for a career in her major, hoping that the practice that “Splash” provides with working collectively with hairstylists and makeup artists will help her in the future.

“For the most part I definitely feel prepared,” said Souza. “[But] I definitely think there would be some advantages to having multiple levels of pattern making, multiple levels of draping, so that [students] would have a little more time and a little bit more exposure with the material.”