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Fashion degree program to style a new generation of Sun Devils starting fall 2017

Dennita Sewell VI
Dennita Sewell, the fashion curator at the Phoenix Art Museum, is pictured in her office on Tuesday, March 15. Beginning next year, Sewell will join the faculty at Arizona State University.

In a place as large as ASU, the next great artist could be walking past you on Palm Walk or sitting next to you in class at any given moment. Come fall 2017, Herberger Institute School of Art's fashion degree program will finally give budding fashionistas the opportunity to specifically harness their inner Coco Chanel.

The program will be headed by the Phoenix Art Museum's fashion design curator Dennita Sewell. She said that even though her planning is still in the early stages, she is incredibly excited to be working on what she said will be a "world-class program."

"There's such an opportunity that I think exists just from being at ASU and being exposed to such a melting pot of ideas and support and enthusiasm," Sewell said. "There are so many interesting and smart people to forge relationships with and get ideas from."

She said she is still working diligently on creating the major map for the fashion degree, but she hopes the courses will allow students from all disciplines to find a place to engage. 

"There are going to be some really exciting foundation courses and plenty of opportunities to take advantage of working with other students in subjects like sustainability, engineering, business and film and theater," she said. 

Sewell added that sustainability is the number one concern in the fashion industry right now. 

"If there are people on campus studying from their own perspective, it'll be informative for fashion students to have cross pollination with them and understand the subjects and be exposed to those classes," she said. 

Sewell said the program will be designed to give students the opportunity to learn from the industry's finest even beyond the classroom. 

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Posted by Phoenix Art Museum on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

She said she's looking to forge relationships with international schools for partnerships and is already speaking with renowned industry professionals about developing internship opportunities. She even spoke with leading high fashion company Badgley Mischka about the potential for sending them interns.

The program is still in early development, but Sewell said she is excited nonetheless.

"There's been such a positive response to there being a fashion program," she said. "It's really gonna be an exciting part of the Herberger offering."

School of Art director and professor Adriene Jenik said the fashion degree program will marry and amplify a collection of fashion-related courses that already exist at ASU. 

"We had some bones in place to potentially be able to offer a suite of courses across Herberger to serve students who were interested in fashion," she said. "What we didn't have was the spine of the person and the courses to run through it."

Now that an extraordinarily qualified director is in place to captain the ship, the fashion degree program can move forward with a slew of specialized courses that will allow students to pursue their own unique interests. 

Jenik said the program will include courses in portraiture, history and illustration. 

Additionally, the school will offer students a taste of the fashion program beginning fall 2016 as they roll out a series of one-credit courses in collaboration with Phoenix Art Museum. Jenik said the intensive courses will take students into the vaults of the museum to see the collection close-up, get a feel for the fabrics and view exclusive films. 

In the meantime, Jenik said Sewell will continue to develop an advisory counsel of people in the industry who will work closely with students interested in the program. 

Marketing sophomore Hannah Gur-Arie, who serves as vice president of Business of Fashion at ASU and works as an intern for Sewell at Phoenix Art Museum, said the program will be a perfect addition to a Phoenix fashion scene that is slowly growing slowly. 

"There's a push toward fashion being taken so much more seriously in Phoenix," she said. "And Dennita is so much more than well-equipped and prepared to make it amazing."

Gur-Arie said she's personally more interested in pursuing a career in the business of fashion rather than the design itself, and echoed Sewell's sentiments about the intersectionality that the program will offer.

"Fashion is incredible because you could really pursue a degree in anything and apply it to the industry," she said. 

For instance, an engineer or technology student with a desire to update current systems of textile design could gain an edge by engaging with the fashion program, Gur-Arie explained. 

"I think in a weird way, science complements fashion," she said. 

Gur-Arie said what excites her even more than the classes themselves is the people who will be teaching them, and that the instructors may not even be who people expect. She knows based on her work with Sewell that the opportunity to learn firsthand from professionals is invaluable. 

"Dennita herself would be a great instructor, if she had the time," Gur-Arie said. "It's been incredible learning from her. ... She’s always been encouraged to inspire young people to realize there are amazing things happening in fashion."

Although the fashion degree program is still over a year away from accepting students, Gur-Arie offered her advice as to how ASU students interested in fashion can make the most of the existing resources on campus and throughout the community. 

"The Phoenix Art Museum gets overlooked sometimes by people who are interested in contemporary fashion," she said. "But there are amazing things happening there."

In fact, the museum will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its fashion design collection in collaboration with the Arizona Costume Institute on April 2. 

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Gur-Arie also said the community at large is beginning to recognize its local designers, and that the metro's fashion weeks are taking off.

"I think ASU really needed that push toward fashion," she said. "(This program) is a step in the right direction, especially with the local fashion in the community."

Related links:

Business and Fashion: The Dynamic Duo

Throwbacks & Comebacks: 90's fashion trends that made a comeback

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