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Inaugural USC Roski fashion course delves into design

Seyie Putsure speaks to students about her experiences as a fashion executive and interior designer. (Photo/Lorrie Ivas)

From logos and lookbooks to magazines and museum exhibitions, the fashion industry has harnessed the power of visual communication like no other.

As USC Roski School of Fine Arts students learned this summer in the new “Graphic Design in Fashion” course, the tenets of graphic design are central to creating evocative visuals that permeate every stratum of the consumer imagination. Co-taught by Haven Lin-Kirk, design area head, and guest lecturer Lorrie Ivas, the two-week course explored design and its dynamic intersection with art and business.

To give students a contextual foundation, Ivas first delivered a mini-history of print campaigns throughout the 20th century, lugging in 300 books and dozens of rare magazines from the 1930s through the 1970s for students to scour for inspiration.

“We tried to make the class like a salon,” Ivas said. “I purposefully culled designers who had relationships with artists, like Elsa Schiaparelli and Marc Jacobs — they had deep art roots. We could then discuss how to incorporate art into the business of fashion.”

Students learned how industry icons like Coco Chanel, Dianna Vreeland and Ralph Lauren translated complex ideas of desire and identity into recognizable forms, essentially shaping the face of marketing today. In course capsules such as “Editorial + Commercial Fantasy” and “Fashion With a Conscience,” case studies of Annie Leibovitz and Blake Mycoskie revealed the far-reaching effects of strong visual campaigns. Classes analyzed corporate identity systems and interior styling of renowned businesses like Tiffany & Co.

In addition, the course featured weekly lecturers from disparate realms of the fashion world, including lifestyle designer and stylist Seyie Putsure, Nike Global Merchandising Director Blanca Gonzalez and a joint lecture with American Rag founder Mark Werts with denim guru Adriano Goldschmied. Their personal experiences underscored the current demand for designers and art directors who marry business-savvy with an innate aesthetic sensibility. Ivas said fashion design programs too often produce designers lacking dimension, overly focused on one facet of design instead of seeing the entire picture.

“Some designers go out of business because they can’t do a profit statement,” Ivas said. “The students need business, graphic design and construction. At Roski, it’s about aesthetics and what’s functionally amazing. We’re trying to create that balance.”

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Inaugural USC Roski fashion course delves into design

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