Teen Stylin’

About Teen Stylin’

What is Teen Stylin’?

Established in 2005, Teen Stylin’ offers valuable assistance and guidance to students with a passion for clothing design, studio arts, installation art, and sculpture. Over the course of a semester, more than 80 Virginia student designers in grades 6 through 12 will construct one-of-a-kind wearable works of art inspired by the annual special exhibition theme and works of art in the VMFA permanent collection. These creations will be featured during a Teen Stylin’ Fashion Runway Exhibition.

An average day of questions and answers during a Teen Stylin’ workshop:

Q: Where are the scissors?
A: Look in the blue bins on the table.

Q: Is there more hot glue?
A: We have an endless supply. Look in the blue bins on the table.

Q: I smell smoke; is something burning?
A: Unplug that hot glue gun . . . quick!

Q: Do we have more tape?
A: Probably, look in the blue bins on the table.

Q: Do you have birdseed? How about dirt? Sand?
A: No. Yes. Yes. Look in the clear bins on the back tables.

Q: Can my model go barefoot? Can I go barefoot?
A: Yes, as long as it relates to your design. Why?

Q: How many stairs do we have to walk down? Has anyone fallen before?
A: 14. Yes, but they recovered gracefully and went on to win an award.

Q: My model has pneumonia. What should I do?
A: Find a different model.

Q: Can I cut this? Can I spray paint this?
A: Yes. Yes, but go outside, wear a ventilation mask, and lay it on a dropcloth.

Q: Do you have any burn ointment? I just touched the hot glue gun.
A: As a matter of fact, I do. No more touching hot glue guns.

Q: How do you use plaster? Can that go on my model’s skin?
A: I’ll show you. Technically, yes, but it would pull every single hair out when you tried to remove it.

How it all works:

Teen Stylin’ is a year-round commitment that begins with convincing a fine art museum to host more than 500 teens and their families as they take over the museum for two nights. VMFA places very few limitations and restrictions on the teen designers, except when it comes to the use of glitter. Farewell beloved glitter.

Once we get the go-ahead for another year of a fashion-meets-sculpture program and event, museum educators and teen advisors choose a theme, such as “Forbidden” (2014) or “Engineered” (2015). Over most of the spring and summer, teen program interns scour the museum’s permanent collection to identify works of art that relate to the theme and are:

  • in cases, covered in glass (as dictated by our conservation staff for the protection of the art)
  • located anywhere but in a corner
  • thoroughly spread out in every part of the museum (so there are never more than two designs in a single gallery)

E201211_0354Once we have a list of 100 or so approved objects, our summer teen interns put together research packets for every single piece. Tours are developed to teach student designers more about their artworks, and scripts are written for docents. About one month before the program launch, students submit their applications, and more than 100 packets of information are assembled for distribution on Designer Orientation Day, when students walk into the studio for the first time and see images of the artworks that will inspire their garments. An hour later, they set off to the galleries for a docent tour and to view their garment inspiration up close and personal.

The heat is on. From mid-February through mid-May, student designers work feverishly to create their garments, incorporating unconventional materials and techniques and practicing armature construction, material manipulation, and rendering. As their final assignment, designers select a soundtrack for their runway piece and write an artist statement explaining their design choices.  The teens provide this artist statement, a list of materials, design shots, and an image of the inspiration piece to the judges the night of the event.

After eight weeks of labor, love, laughter, burns, blood, and even tears, the students’ designs are featured in a final runway event. Judges choose the nine students from grades 9 through 12 who will win a trip to New York City and six from grades 6 through 8 who will take home awesome fashion designer portfolio kits (including brand-new sewing machines). But regardless of the results, every student designer is a winner. They have pushed themselves further creatively than many of them ever imagined. They have successfully managed their time and stayed true to their commitment. They have worked through the major problems of creating wearable art from unconventional materials. They have repeatedly rebounded from mistakes, turning them into creative adventures. They have coped with their fear and presented themselves and their ideas to a live audience of more than 400 guests. In the end they have plenty of reasons to be proud.

And in June, we start over. We evaluate the program—the successes, the failures. We edit, add, omit, and change, all the while, imagining what next year will bring.