It is nearly 8 p.m. on a Wednesday and Aurora Price is hard at work under fluorescent classroom lights. Her shoulder-length coppery hair falls over an eye as she deftly measures and trims a swatch of stiff fabric. She is creating a test pattern for the corset of her wedding dress, partly inspired by Victorian fashion. Price has already mapped out the color scheme: pale, creamy coffee overlaid with white mesh and embellished with grass green, taupe and silver accents. The gown sounds almost medieval as she describes it. There is a little of the medieval about Price herself, with her pale complexion, delicate features and moss-hued tunic (another one of her own designs). Although she has taken art classes and has sewn since she was 10, this is her first foray into design school work.
Price is a member of the inaugural class of students to attend the new (and formidably titled) International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT) in Novi. The school began holding classes for 300 students; tuition is about $300 per credit hour. The academy offers three career-oriented training programs: fashion design, interior design and a program called “visual communications,” which preps students for entry level positions in graphic design, illustration, layout and the like. The academy awards 18-month certificates in these fields, and expects to receive full degree-granting authority for associate and bachelor’s degrees later this year.
In a culture increasingly tethered to the cubicled-hives of corporate life and the soul-sucking get/spend cycle, it feels good to be reminded that a creatively fulfilling existence isn’t dependent on an astronomically large bank account, a blue-blooded pedigree or hip reading lists.
For Price, and students like her, the hope is that the design academy will offer entrée into hard-to-get-into creative fields — without the staggering loans or a four-year absence from the work force. Price, who works at a bead store in Ann Arbor, hopes someday to open her own boutique stocked with racks of her quirky designs. She is already off to a good start. At last summer’s Ann Arbor art fair, a stranger from out of town was so taken with a dress Price was wearing (one of her own designs) that she commissioned her to make another just like it.
The Novi school is part of a chain of design trade colleges owned by the Career Education Corporation, which operates about 78 such schools throughout the world. The new facility is one of 10 IADT locations in the United States, including Chicago.
Although many of the students look young, the academy attracts a range of ages and backgrounds. In order to be admitted, students must have a high school diploma or GED. Financial aid is available for those who can’t afford the tuition.
One of the grand opening’s most dynamic events is a fashion show in which students show off their work. After only a semester of training, some of the students show striking promise. One of the evening’s most impressive creations — an adeptly sewn, lovely gray suit that blended clean lines with subtle femininity — is exhibited, as well as a shawl and matching hat in a bright, pumpkin shade of plaid. Afterward, visitors are invited to mill around the building, soaking in the creative vibes along with the soothing sounds of a two-piece jazz ensemble. Upstairs, accomplished students in both fashion and visual communications (including Price) give live demonstrations of their work in various classrooms.
In one room, a handful of visual communications students are seated at easels, working on drawings-in-progress. Marilyn Serafinski, who sketches her self-portrait in front of a long mirror, describes how she attended Macomb Community College years ago but needs to finish her degree so she can fulfill her personal goal of becoming an art director. Another student, Shawn Hardy, is more inclined toward the fine arts, without regard to the commercial end of things. He talks of taking drawing to a new level and serving as an inspiration for others.
This year’s faculty includes: Adair E. Hinds, an artist and seasoned art teacher; Barbara Marini, an interior design instructor formerly on staff at the College for Creative Studies; Julie Patterson, a fashion design instructor with a focus in marketing and merchandising; and Nekia Morris, a fashion design instructor specializing in image consulting.
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