Scene-Stealing Designs

USF’s costume design students helped raise funds for the Tampa Museum with their couture creations.

Couture gown designs by USF students came to life on the runway during City: Fashion+Art+Culture at the Tampa Museum fundraising gala.                                                                                                                                        photos: Candace Kaw | College of The Arts

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 1, 2013) – USF’s Costume Design program in the College of The Arts made its own contribution to fashion week last week. The talented students in Assistant Professor Marilyn Bertch‘s class put their creativity on display at Neiman Marcus and the Tampa Museum of Art for a good cause thanks to USF alumna Renee Mihale.

The BFA graduate of USF’s College of The Arts, with a concentration in stage and costume design, is now an investment manager with Goldman Sachs and served as chair of the 2013 Tampa Museum of Art event City: Fashion+Art+Culture. She contacted Bertch to see if there was some way to use the museum’s art to inspire couture gowns that would be featured at the event to raise funds through an internet auction.

“The idea came from chairing the event,” Mihale said. “I was talking with Mary Perry, Tampa Museum board member and trustee, and I mentioned that I thought ‘City’ was missing the art element. It was Mary's idea to have students design fashion inspired by art. I had the USF connection and so I reached out.”

She was met with enthusiasm and as it turned out though they didn’t know each other from USF, they were not strangers.

Bertch said, “I was totally sold on the idea when she mentioned her goal was to create a greater community awareness of our USF theater design program. Ironically, she worked with me as a USF Costume Design intern during my career at Busch Gardens. As costume manager, I supervised her work with Howl-O-Scream.”

Inspiration Leads the Way

That initial contact was made last November and led to a 2013 spring semester class project. In between, a group made up of students visited the museum in January for inspiration.

Bertch observed, “It was exciting to see their reaction to artwork that created this inspiration. They took sketchbooks with them, not so much to copy the art, but to capture the energy of the work.”

By April, eighteen designs were submitted to Mihale’s committee for consideration and seven finalists were chosen. Those iinspired by Georgia O’Keefe, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Arthur G. Dove, John D. Graham, Richard Beckman and Judy Pffaf made the cut and were constructed throughout the summer under Bertch’s supervision. Melinda Alderman designed two of the dresses and the rest were designed by Ryan Brown, Whitney Campbell, Bridgette Dreher, Carleigh Tuttle and Jamie Weber, all USF School of Theatre & Dance students.

The finished couture gowns were displayed in the Neiman Marcus store at International Mall in early September, available through Bidding for Good’s online fundraising service and finally modeled at the gala.

All of the gowns – designed so that they could be tailored to fit sizes 8 through 16 – were sold.

Mihale chatted with one of the winning bidders who walked away with the dress inspired by Miro’s “Women and Birds in the Night” during the gala. “She sat around the bid computer until the very last second to make sure she took that gown home. She wanted it!”

Looking Ahead

Though she didn’t buy any of the gowns herself, Mihale said, “What I loved about them is how beautiful they made the women look.”

Proceeds from the auction benefit the museum’s exhibition and education programs including scholarships for art camp, Title 1 bus grants and free admission for all Hillsborough County public school children.

“This event is a way to bridge the art in all the things we do – fashion – culture – people. The vision that first drew me to the Tampa Museum, bringing the finest art from around the globe to display in Tampa Bay, is vibrantly alive and 'City' is yet another step forward in the partnership of museum and community for a brilliant future,” Mihale said.

A future that will include USF.

College of The Arts Dean James Moy (left) and President Judy Genshaft (second from right) congratulated student designers Whitney Campbell, Carleigh Tuttle and Ryan Brown on their art-inspired gowns displayed at the Tampa Museum of Art.

“We are already planning and I very much hope we get even more interest and more donations next year now that we have a crowd that is used to the partnership.”

Future students have much to look forward to with this event and in promising careers.

Within the design track program, a student selects an area of concentration, with costume design and technology being one of these areas; the other two focus on lighting and scenic design.

“Our program stands out from others because of the opportunities students have, when qualified, to design and build costumes.Realizing a design from a sketch is an opportunity that many other programs may not have.We focus on student involvement so they are able to apply their knowledge to gain the experience required to continue on with their choice of grad school or employment opportunities,” Bertch said.

“Since most of my career was working with Busch Entertainment and SeaWorld Theme parks, I know how difficult it is to find qualified costumers. There are opportunities with theme parks, movies, theatres, Broadway costume work, New York costume houses, and fabric and alteration businesses.

“This past year costume students have taken jobs with Disney, Busch Gardens, Lowry Park Zoo designing Boo Zoo; designing costumes for an Indie movie project; David’s Bridal Salon, local theatre productions and worked on a Broadway production with costume designer, William Ivey Long. If students are more entrepreneurial, there are many opportunities with CosPlay, RenFairs and Gasparilla, just to name a few. Students also continue onto top graduate programs.”

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563