Not your mother's home ec class: Ludlowe sets fashion trend for state

Students in Ludlowe's fashion and textiles technology program stand with their designs. Pictured are Victoria Menard, Flossie Dewar, Megan O'Hare, Abby Melagrano, Mia Hogue and Lydia Hammond. Dewar and O'Hare are holding an award from the state Department of Education.  (Photo--Miriam Kelliher)

Students in Ludlowe’s fashion and textiles technology program stand with their designs. Pictured are Victoria Menard, Flossie Dewar, Megan O’Hare, Abby Melagrano, Mia Hogue and Lydia Hammond. Dewar and O’Hare are holding an award from the state Department of Education. (Photo–Miriam Kelliher)

Fairfield Ludlowe High School students signing up for one of Donna Huber’s fashion and textiles technology classes had better not be looking for a gut. Math-phobes in particular, be warned, the following question is typical of those on the state exam, taken annually by students in their second year and beyond of the elective program, which was recently ranked first in the state by the Connecticut Department of Education.

Q:  Instructions to draft a pants pattern read: “Take one quarter of the hip measurement plus one-quarter inch from the ease to determine the width of the pants-front pattern.” The width of the pattern measures 7 3/4 inches. What was the hip measurement?

A:     A) 8 1/4”
B) 29”
C) 30”
D) 39 1/2”

“We are very math-based, especially when you get into patterns and second-year samples,” said Huber, who 10 years ago helped revamp Fairfield’s Consumer and Life Sciences curriculum to adopt a more career-oriented approach.

The tall, elegant, and eminently fashionable Fairfield resident gives her students all the credit for the program’s recent award and top ranking, pointing out that “in the past six years, my students have won the award four times.”  She added that “in an additional two years, Warde won.”

The award was based on the performance of Huber’s class of 18 students on a state exam last spring, and was given to the school in October.

See sidebar for Ludlowe students’ thoughts on the fashion classes and state exam.

Four of the courses Huber teaches at Ludlowe will earn students credits at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, a private Manhattan college focused on the fashion business.

In spite of the program’s rigorous standards, Huber says, students also come to her class to relax and let their creative juices flow.

Creative release

“I had one student last year who went on to study engineering at Harvey Mudd College,” Huber said. The girl told her that when she walked into Huber’s classroom, she thought, “Ahh, I can breathe.” The fashion and textiles classes, Huber said, allow students a release from being “tied to a desk.”

Sometimes that release extends beyond school grounds, as when Huber takes her students into Manhattan’s Fashion District to pick fabrics at stores like Daytona Trimmings and Mood, made famous among even the non-fashion savvy by the television phenomenon Project Runway. During a recent field trip to Daytona Trimmings, Huber and her students ran into a former Project Runway contestant, who Huber says was “very gracious” when recognized by fans among her group, agreeing to pose with them for photos.

A New York field trip for one of Huber’s classes this month will have them touring the One Jeanswear Group in the company of a former student of Huber, who landed a  junior account executive job with the company.

Return to roots

Exposing students to the hurly-burly of the New York textile and fashion world is something of a return to roots for Huber, who grew up in Fairfield, but whose immigrant grandmother worked as a seamstress from the front sunroom of the family’s house in Queens. Huber remembers hearing stories of her grandmother making wedding dresses out of parachutes for women during World War II, when returning paratroopers were the only source of silk around.

Today, it’s wedding dresses Huber sees “upcycled,” in an assignment in which she directs her third-year students to take an old garment and make it into something new. Often the wedding gowns become party dresses for the teen designers.

The Ludlowe program

Huber teaches three courses in fashion and textiles technology at Ludlowe, which students may take in sequence during their four years at the school.

 “Every student starts out in the first year by making a full set of pajamas,” Huber said. In the second-year course, students advance to making jeans, and applying themselves to the upcycling assignment. It’s also in this second year that students get to go to the fashion district and — if they’re very lucky —  catch a glimpse of their favorite Project Runway contestant.

“My third-year students are actually designing their own clothing,” Huber said, recalling one former student who went on to enroll at the Fashion Institute of Technology and reported back that the first semester began with draping skirts, which she said her Ludlowe training had taught her to do “with my eyes closed.”

In addition to the three sequential courses in fashion and textiles technology, Huber teaches a half-year fashion merchandising course, drawing on her undergraduate training in the subject and years of experience in the field.

The program includes special events, such as the annual spring fashion show showcasing student creations. One year, Huber said, the  the 3- and 4-year-olds in Ludlowe’s laboratory preschool modeled pajamas made for them by Huber’s students.

The night, which included foods catered by students in the culinary arts program, raised $1,000 for the charity Relay for Life.

In another special event, fashion merchandising students stage a one-day boutique in the school library in December every year, selling items — half of which are designed and made by the students, and the other half bought at cost — for charity. The boutique, Huber said, teaches students the skills of marketing, advertising and display.

The back door

Huber said she “always wanted to teach fashion,” but when she graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising, schools didn’t offer fashion programs — for students to take or teachers to teach.

Huber said she instead had to come to teaching “through the back door,” working first in retail and marketing, including for Jose Cuervo beachwear, and only then going back to school to become certified in education. Huber also took a sixth-year degree in fashion design at Katharine Gibbs College in Norwalk.

“And here I am loving every minute teaching the kids,” she said.

Answer to the sample question at the beginning of the story: C.

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