When Chantilly High School senior Christina Bracco was in elementary school, she always liked to design outfits. So, when a fashion design elective was offered at Fairfax Academy, she readily signed up.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take this class," Christina said.
Unlike other classes in Fairfax County that focus on fashion merchandising, the classes at Fairfax Academy — Fashion Design I and II — teach students to design and make their own clothes and fashion lines. The only class of its kind to be offered in the county, the classes teach students the principles and history of fashion design, as well as the technical skills involved such as pattern making, draping and garment construction. Using software and their own sketchbooks, students create a portfolio of their own fashion lines.
"The students have a very high interest in the course," said fashion design instructor Barbara Galindo, who added that 80 to 90 percent of students who take the class major in fashion design in college.
WHEN THE CLASS started three years ago, the program had no sewing machines, Galindo said. As it's grown, so has the waiting list for the class. Because of its popularity, West Potomac High School will offer a similar course next year, for students who can't make it to the Academy.
Galindo interviews each prospective student so that the student understands that the class isn't just a sewing class. Students spend one semester learning about customer profiles, illustration and portfolio development, and spend the second semester on actual garment construction. Fashion Design I students design, make the pattern and construct one garment, while Fashion Design II students are required to make five garments.
"I tried to structure in the course a smattering of what they will experience" in a four-year college program, Galindo said.
But the students' projects don't just remain in the classroom. Some students create portfolios for college admission. The students in Fashion Design II recently participated in a fashion show where their own designs were featured on the runway. Christina's theme for her designs for the show was "Come Away With Me," featuring springy, flowing, and light-colored dresses.
Her classmates, Fairfax High School senior Jinny Bennett and Woodson senior Catalina Lavalle, also made designs based on themes they had chosen.
"There's a curriculum, but there's so much freedom," said Jinny, whose theme featured sweet-looking short dresses. Jinny will attend New York's Fashion Institute of Technology next fall. "Most people are saying we're learning what college students are learning."
"I thought it'd be perfect to give me a head start," said Catalina, on why she took the classes. Catalina will attend the fashion design program at Virginia Commonwealth University. The theme for her fashion show outfits was "New York Nights," featuring a variety of dresses one would wear for a cocktail party, clubbing, or for formal events.
The students in the classes find their inspiration from the popular media, including movies, magazines and music. Robinson Secondary junior Maria Maltagliati was busy at the computer designing a Spanish-influenced skirt and top.
"I've always liked Spanish stuff," Maria said.
The students don't regret the extra hours they've put into designing and making their own clothes. They've enjoyed it. In fact, Catalina made her prom dress.
"It's so fun," Jinny said. "Even if it's hard at first ... you get this feeling that you're so proud of it when you're done."