Colorado State Students Create Gowns Inspired by Mr. Blackwell; Designer to Visit for Tribute Fashion Show

Richard Blackwell, the extravagant designer best known for his annual lists of the best and worst-dressed women in the world, is providing inspiration for a workshop at Colorado State University this summer. Workshop participants are creating dozens of gowns patterned after Mr. Blackwell’s designs, and will unveil them at a tribute fashion show in Fort Collins this fall.

Workshop participants, including Colorado State students and fashion industry professionals, have been paired with local patrons and will work with them through June 30 to create custom gowns ranging from classic beaded sheath styles to sequined dresses with outrageous feather boas. Taking inspiration from the university’s expansive collection of Blackwell garments, participants are using state-of-the-art computer software to update and customize Blackwell’s designs.

Workshop participants and patrons begin the process at Colorado State’s Museum of Design and Merchandising in the Costume, Textiles and Interior Artifacts Collection, home to the largest collection of Blackwell’s designs in the world. The collection contains more than 70 fashion pieces and many of Blackwell’s master patterns. Blackwell’s collection is valued at more than $100,000 and features such outrageous garb as a rhinestone bra worn by Phyllis Diller and evening gowns worn by Jane Russell and Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty on the television series "Gunsmoke."

"This is a great opportunity for students to create custom clothing and to gain experience with the latest technology being used in the industry," said Eulanda Sanders, assistant professor in Colorado State’s Department of Design and Merchandising. "Lectra software, the equipment participants are working with, is used by so many companies nationally and internationally that knowledge of the programs opens a host of job opportunities. Collaborating with patrons exposes participants to a wide variety of fashion tastes and body types. It’s also a wonderful situation for clients, who receive a custom-made gown that they can model at the Blackwell show."

Based on visits to the museum, participants and patrons discuss design, fabric and fit, and consult over several sketches. Participants then begin work with the state-of-the-art design software to complete the gowns. The equipment, valued at $3.2 million, was given to the university last fall by Lectra Systems. The donated software gives participants a hands-on education with the most up-to-date technology used in the apparel industry.

The Lectra software includes several integrated computer programs that work together as a comprehensive computer-aided design system. Programs include a pattern-making program; a program that allows users to efficiently map pattern layout on a piece of fabric; a print program; a program for designing textiles, repeat prints, wovens and knits; and a program for technical sketching of garments.

Workshop participants use the Lectra software to customize Blackwell’s master patterns and to create patterns from original Blackwell garments. Participants will spend more than 100 hours constructing each garment. Some participants have used the software before, while others are participating in the workshop to learn how to use it.

The workshop is part of the Bohannon Summer Series in Design offered by the Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Applied Human Sciences. Workshops are designed for fabric and apparel designers, educators and undergraduate and graduate students. Each year, the workshops reflect a broad scope of design concerns, ranging from European fashion design, techniques used to create couture garments, motif development for repeat fabric design and computerized embroidery.

The public will be invited to a black-tie dinner and fashion show Nov. 6. The show will include display of many of Blackwell’s original fashion pieces as well as the gowns participants have patterned after his designs. Proceeds from the show will be used to establish scholarships for students within the Department of Design and Merchandising and also will be used to support exhibitions of student work. For more ticket information, call the Department of Design and Merchandising at (970) 491-1629.