Dreams give way to goals at a surprisingly young age today. For Caroline Smith, a young girl who has a passion for fashion design, it was a teacher’s encouragement and parents providing a clear path that gave her an opportunity to set her dreams in motion. A junior at Matoaca High School, she earned top honors at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ (VMFA) Teen Stylin’ 2010: Transformation project. The aspiring designer brought home Best in Show during last week’s runway exhibition of wearable designs inspired by works of art on display in the museum.
The event was held in the Cochrane Atrium and Marble Hall at the museum. Savannah Cherry, a friend who modeled Smith’s wearable art, won in the Best Model category. Smith competed among 41 young designers from area middle and high schools who live within a 30-mile radius of the museum. Winning designers in five categories won a two-day trip to New York City and will have their wearable art on display at the museum until Jan. 21.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said Caroline. “I really thought Clayton Hall from Thomas Dale would win; he’s amazing.” Also representing the Village News’ readership area was Dichelle Jordan from Salem Church Middle School.
Caroline’s nominating teacher was Jennifer Myer. “We are so excited, this is huge for Caroline, her family, but it is also a big win for all of us here at Matoaca in the art department,” Myer said. “We have an incredible group of artists here right now. They are all going on to big things in the art world.”
Myer hadn’t taught Caroline before the nomination, but was familiar with her work.
“I thought this competition sounded like it was designed for her,” she said. “She has an incredible sketchbook with tons of project ideas and she’s really interested in the figure and developing that part of her work.”
Caroline’s wearable art creation was inspired by an Asian sculpture on display at the museum, Yamataka - Defender of Death. Caroline said she had never been a fan of Asian art.
“I love European art and the classics, but I had never been into Asian art,” she said. “I had a tough time coming up with what I wanted to do with it. Also, picking the materials I wanted.”
The contestants’ main objective was to use alternative fashion materials to create their work of wearable art. With the clothing workshops starting in November and culminating in a runway show in mid-December, Caroline, an AP student, was also under pressure with semester finals. “I didn’t come up with my final design until a week-and-a-half before the show,” she said. “I felt a lot of pressure.”
She interpreted the Yamataka as a warrior, “Powerful, mean, the defender of death.” Her final work included rat wire and corkboard for shoulder pads, faux leather for cover, Tyvek for leggings, plastic paint trays for armor and coffee filters for the skirt. Materials were provided by the workshops, but it was a walk through the hardware store that completed Smith’s design.
A jacket she had in middle school served as the base of the design. Fabric paint, rubber cement and the aid of her parents cutting several hundred coffee filters were a “life-saver.”
Designing each section as its own piece with several late night hours, Caroline said, “You hate your life when you are doing it and then it all comes together,” as she looked up and spread her arms out, “you say thank you.”
The Creative Clothing Workshops, led by VMFA staff, provide students with guidance and assistance in using a variety of alternative fashion materials to create one-of-a-kind works of wearable art. Along with Best in Show and Best Model, additional awards given were Best Use of Alternative Materials, Most Wearable, Best Use of Creative Construction and Best Interpretation of a Work of Art.
Caroline said she taught herself how to sew. She remembers doing paper dresses in the third grade for her Barbie dolls. Her parents gave her a sewing machine for a birthday present when she was in the seventh grade and she couldn’t understand why. It was when she was in the eighth grade that she finally realized why.
She made her first skirt without a pattern. Even though she was helped to use a pattern by her neighbor, Mrs. Peterson, she continues to design by making her own patterns out of muslin cloth. During her sophomore year, Caroline sold her first line of skirts to a boutique in Carytown. The boutique, Heidi Story, is where she also took sewing lessons.
Her parents, Barbara and Steve Smith, are very excited and supportive of her passion.
“I think it is absolutely fantastic,” Barbara said of Caroline’s win. “She puts a lot of pressure on herself, but I knew she would pull it together.” Barbara Smith said the snow the area received in December, which postponed the event, allowed the young designers to enjoy the show in January.
“With the show being during exam week her [Caroline] first priorities are her academics. The snowfall was a gift,” Barbara said. “They really were able to enjoy the show last week because they weren’t on crunch time. All the pieces were much more finished.”
Smith’s focus now is to put together a good portfolio to submit to a design school for acceptance. Her dream school is Parsons School of Design, but she listed several others that would work, including Virginia Commonwealth University, which she said is the No. 1 public art school in the country.