Chandler High graduate Carol Wong’s head is filled with medieval fantasies that inspire her real-world career aspirations as a designer.
Wong’s medieval-themed collection was featured in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s (FIDM) Debut Show — an annual outlet to showcase the work of advanced FIDM students.
Wong said she started drawing at a very young age and reached a point when she started to construct garments; she was dissatisfied with what the world had to offer and wanted to create what she saw in her mind.
“It all derives from books, movies, a world inside your head. It comes from dreaming,” she said.
So she asked herself, “What can I do that’s different and make something I can call my own?”
Wong started designing clothes for her sisters and cousins. She said she would pick an overall theme then craft the design according to that individual’s personality.
“In a collection, it’s the same thing,” she said.
Wong applied her love for fashion design and creation in high school, when she joined Chandler High’s Fashion Club — a program run by FIDM — after a speaker from the design school visited Chandler. Wong’s involvement with the program included the submission of eight or nine outfits, a concept board, an essay, and a full-ride scholarship to FIDM Los Angeles for one year.
“I was honored, they told me a lot of people applied,” she said, “it showed my family, who were a bit on the fence about the fashion industry; it showed them I was capable.”
Prior to her admission to FIDM, Wong was a contest winner in the school’s Jumpstart Your Dream Contest in 2009. She took home a sewing machine, which she still has on a shelf in her home.
Five years later, Wong graduated from the design school and showcased her own design collection at the prestigious Debut Show.
FIDM Director of Fashion Design Mary Stephens said many of Debut’s featured students enter the fashion industry after their show and some even receive offers directly after.
The show is part of the Advanced Fashion Design Program offered to Associate of Arts graduates and lasts nine months. Students must complete FIDM’s two-year program before applying to the Advanced Fashion Design Program and there are hundreds of students who do this every year, Stephens said.
Students must submit an application to be considered for the Debut Program. Their grades, portfolios and references are then analyzed before they are interviewed by a committee. Approximately 60 students apply for the Debut Program each year, according to FIDM’s website.
“We select 10 students to participate each year. When they go into the program, it’s their opportunity to design their own collection for the Debut runway,” Stephens said.
Over 60,000 students have graduated from FIDM, including season five “Project Runway” winner Leanne Marshall, Alan del Rosario, whose pieces are sold in Anthropologie, and Daniel Caudil, who was recently featured in In Style magazine.
Stephens said Wong was interested in learning new ways to use fabric and studying new construction techniques.
“One of the reasons Carol Wong was selected was she was an outstanding student in the two-year program; she had a great curiosity for the use of fabrics and her inspiration,” Stephens said.
The three-day Debut show attracts more than 10,000 people annually and is open to friends, family, prospective high school students and members of the fashion industry. Proceeds fund the FIDM Scholarship Foundation.
Stephens said the Debut Show lets students design a collection representing who they are.
“The collection must tell a story and must show some thread through the whole collection, whether that’s through the fabrics, structure, details. They create a trend board and then they must produce all of these. They go through all the steps as if they were in the industry,” she said, “and then upon completion it is shown at Debut.”
Wong’s collection for the show featured metallic treated fabrics and minimalism. She said it was inspired by elements of fantasy like medieval armor, dragons, blue flames and magic.
She said the original designs for Debut were more elaborate than the final product.
“We had a fashion teacher who would rein us in,” Wong said, “I feel like, for me, it was a watered down version of what I’d like to be.”
Wong hopes to revisit some of her original designs for the show and reinvent them to meet current trends. She said she is interested in entering the entertainment business to design costumes because of the level of creativity; there is more leeway than the fashion industry as marketability is not a primary focus.
“It’s not difficult for her to go from an advanced fashion program to costume design because she learned a lot about construction and fabrics, which are so important,” Stephens said.
Wong said the experience after the show gave her a glimpse into what the industry is like.
“At the end you’re kind of proud, but kind of defeated,” she said, “there are so many sketches in the past.”
• Sam Gauvain is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.