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Student gets rare, behind-the-scenes look at New York Fashion Week

Mercedes Miller, a senior fashion student, attended select runway shows as part of her trip to Ne...
Mercedes Miller, a senior fashion student, attended select runway shows as part of her trip to New York Fashion Week this month. (Photo courtesy IMG)

Mercedes Miller stands in her tiny SoHo hotel room unpacking. She’s expected at a New York Fashion Week welcome dinner at 7:30 p.m. and having just arrived in New York that afternoon, she’s glad she spent time earlier in the week carefully styling her outfit for the evening.

Miller pulls out a pair of fitted black-and-white plaid pants that cut just above the ankles. She pairs them with black heels that tie around her ankles in big black bows. Then she reaches for an unexpected finishing touch: a soft, loose-fitting black tank top with bold white letters emblazoned on the front spelling V-C-U.

A senior in the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Miller was awarded an opportunity to attend New York Fashion Week as part of the Collegiate Experience at NYFW: The Shows, a one-of-a-kind educational experience for students created by IMG College Licensing and the IMG Fashion Events division. The VCU Office of Trademarks & Licensing partners with IMG for the official licensing of the VCU brand. As an IMG partner, VCU Trademarks & Licensing sponsored one student to attend New York Fashion Week, joining a group of 21 other students from 15 universities the first week of September. Miller was selected from the applications for the VCU spot in May by a committee from the School of the Arts.

Mercedes Miller on campus. (Photo by Sam Lazo, Campus Services)
Mercedes Miller on campus. (Photo by Sam Lazo, Campus Services)

New York Fashion Week “is one of the industry’s biggest events, how could I not want to go?” said Miller, who spent the summer interning for Burlington Stores Inc. and aspires to be a fashion stylist. “I never thought I’d be able to say I’ve been to fashion week, and it’s amazing that now I can.”

“Being the No. 1 public arts and design program in the country, I felt it was only natural for a student from VCU to be considered for the NYFW experience with IMG,” said Christy Rabil, marketing, trademarks & licensing manager at VCU. “Our office’s partnership with IMG College Licensing allows VCU to be included in rare opportunities like this. Miller was a wonderful representative of VCU and stood alongside some of the top schools in the nation.”

The unique academic enrichment program gave students a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion industry. They had entry into select runway shows, panel discussions and networking opportunities with industry leaders, as well as on-the-job shadowing with retailers and collegiate licensees. The students were treated to two runway shows — Self-Portrait and ICY Presents: Supernova — and were given backstage tours to observe the production of a fashion show. They also attended a panel discussion with Tyler Mitchell, the first African-American and youngest photographer to shoot a Vogue magazine cover, and Elaine Welteroth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue.

“Through this unique collaboration of fashion and college, we have been able to provide priceless, one-of-a-kind experiences and insight into the fashion and retail industry for students,” said Cory Moss, senior vice president and managing director of IMG College Licensing. “As we work to elevate college brands, our goal is to offer our partner institutions resources beyond what a traditional licensing partner can provide in order to deliver greater value to their campuses.”

Through a partnership with Macy’s, students gained insight into the world of retail buying and merchandising. In addition, the students went behind the scenes of major college fashion brands Hillflint, Champion, G-III and PINK to explore product development and marketing, as well as engage with the brands’ leaders.

“As the fashion industry continues to evolve, we are committed to nurturing future leaders and providing opportunities for engagement,” said Leslie Russo, executive vice president of IMG Fashion Events. “The college program at NYFW: The Shows is perfectly aligned with that mission, and we are thrilled to partner with our colleagues in the college division to deliver this unique experience to the students.”

For Miller and other students, industry events can provide a valuable new layer to their VCU education.

“These types of programs not only allow students to apply what they’ve learned in class, but it gives them firsthand experience of the trade outside of a classroom,” said Rudy Lopez, assistant professor in the VCU Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising. “It encourages students to network for jobs while considering the next chapter of their professional lives, and it allows VCUarts to be represented among other prestigious universities on the global fashion industry scale.”

Mercedes Miller and other students selected from across the country met with industry leaders, attended panel discussions and received backstage tours of the production of a fashion show. (Photo courtesy IMG)
Mercedes Miller and other students selected from across the country met with industry leaders, attended panel discussions and received backstage tours of the production of a fashion show. (Photo courtesy IMG)

“So much of the fashion industry is about collaboration, so it’s fantastic to see it in practice between VCUarts Fashion, VCU Trademarks & Licensing and IMG,” Lopez said. “Opportunities like this are life-changing.”

Creating advancement opportunities for students and the VCU brand as a whole are at the core of the Office of Trademarks & Licensing mission. In 2014, the office collaborated with students in the fashion department to design the university’s official tartan, which is registered in Scotland. The Department of Business Services, which encompasses Trademarks & Licensing, granted nearly a half-million dollars in scholarships and grants to students in 2018.

“Funding a fashion design senior to attend New York Fashion Week was another way for our department to support our students,” said Diane Reynolds, assistant vice president of business services. “The opportunity was presented to us by IMG, and we were pleased to extend the offer to the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising.”

The participating students chronicled their experiences through social media using #UofNYFW; Miller’s story can be viewed on the VCU Trademarks & Licensing Instagram account (@VCUGear). Students also shared what they learned with peers when they returned to their campuses.

“My experience [at NYFW] was absolutely incredible and one I will never forget,” Miller said. “The friends I made, people I got to meet and learn from, all of the amazing fashion I got to see, and the overall experience of just being at New York Fashion Week was beyond what I imagined.”