Abigail Davis first learned how to sew when she was five. By high school, she made her friends’ homecoming dresses, fully certain she wanted to become a designer.
Now, at 23 and a graduate of ASU’s fashion program, she’s designing her first major red carpet piece: a custom gown for Colleen Jennings-Roggensack at this year’s 76th Tony Awards in June.
Jennings-Roggensack, ASU’s vice president for cultural affairs and executive director of Gammage, is Arizona’s only voter at the Tony Awards, one of four coveted honors in the entertainment industry that celebrates theater by honoring Broadway's best plays and musicals of the season.
Davis joined ASU as a freshman in 2018 in the then-nascent fashion program at the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. Since its inception, the program has expanded considerably.
"As I began the college search, it was clear to me that going to a top-20 fashion program was not financially possible, so I had to look in-state," Davis said. "I was awarded the Obama Scholarship to attend ASU’s fashion program, which started in August of 2017, and it was a bit of divine timing there."
At the University, Davis was a powerlifter, and still trains as she pursues her pro card. She holds the Arizona state record for the deadlift in the raw teen category, which she broke while competing at the Raw Nationals in 2019.
Davis' experience as a powerlifter has led her to prioritize comfort and expansivity as part of her pieces.
"I could never find something that could grow with me, and so now I create garments that can expand up to two or three sizes," Davis said. "Our high-quality material allows pieces to be passed down while maintaining integrity."
Davis showed Jennings-Roggensack her capstone project line, and she picked an outfit based on an initial design that Davis made as a sophomore at ASU.
"She was a very intuitive pattern maker and a sponge who took in everything," said Victoria Cook, a fashion design instructor at the School of Art. Davis interned with Cook, and credits her with teaching her "how to create individual, unique patterns based on clients."
Davis and Jennings-Roggensack were acquainted with each other after Jennings-Roggensack’s team sought her out based on their tradition of hiring local, Phoenix-based designers for the event. Davis had opened her boutique "PHENOM," based in Anthem, in Fall 2022.
"We’ve had some very great local designers whose careers we’ve launched because you get your first big red carpet dress," said Jennings-Roggensack. "Abigail really has this contemporary eye."
To Jennings-Roggensack, being the state’s only Tony voter is "both an honor and a daunting privilege." Representing an entire demographic requires her to keep a lot of things in mind, such as the emotional impact and layers of a production.
Though the awards allow one exception every year, Jennings-Roggensack has seen every single show this season. As the road vice-chair of The Broadway League, she considers prospective shows that could go on tour and become a part of the Gammage season.
Jennings-Roggensack is a "proponent of the play" and champions contemporary, inclusive work. This also factored in her decision to choose Davis, whose couture line is both sustainable and inclusive.
"We completely repurpose all of our materials, like using scrap fabric to make puffer coats and filling for other garments," Davis said. "I consider sourcing fabric that has longevity and won’t be found in a landfill because it falls apart, as fashion is a big polluter."
All of PHENOM's pieces are custom-made for their clients, and they do not mass-produce their designs.
"Making specific, fitting measurements lets us practice model inclusivity. We will dress any body, across gender, sexual orientation and size or disability," Davis said. "If you have a body, we can make a dress for you."
"We have a lot of talented students, and Sun Devils are making us proud in New York and elsewhere," Jennings-Roggensack said. "On the red carpet, when people ask me who made my dress, I’ll say, 'Abigail Davis! From PHENOM and ASU!'"
Edited by Claire van Doren, Jasmine Kabiri and Grace Copperthite.