You know designer labels like Prada, Armani and Vera Wang, but how about Kiera Murphy and Jillian Gesumaria? Those last two labels are very exclusive, so exclusive that you probably will have to know someone in the eighth grade at H.B. Whitehorne to even get a chance at them.
That’s because middle school students Kiera Murphy and Jillian Gesumaria have found an after-school activity that they love: fashion design. At the Bass Arts Studio in Montclair they have learned to sketch, sew and create clothes that are as unique as they are, much to the amazement of their friends and parents.
“My friends see what I’ve done and they say, wait, you made this?” says Gesumaria, who cites Vera Wang as one of her fashion influences. “I think her wedding dresses are very interesting.”
Bass Arts Studio was started by Fern Bass, a painter by background who spent 15 years in the art direction departments of New City publishers like the New York Times and Conde Nast. But she loved teaching art as much as doing it and so she devised painting and sculpture classes for children and teens before branching out into fashion. Spring, summer and fall, her instructor Fabiola Arias puts on 12-week sessions that teach budding fashion designers ages 8 and up how to create a pattern to their size, master its sewing and show it off. The classes include a fabric shopping trip to Manhattan’s Garment District and a fashion show that lets them present their work to fashion industry professionals. (The home page image is of Gesumaria on her fabric trip; you can get a fuller sense of the work that both did in the slide show below.)
Classes like this are filling the gap in Verona left by the ending of traditional cooking and sewing classes. For decades, girls at HBW needed to take both. In the 1980s that was extended to boys as well, which is why Gesumaria’s dad knew how to thread her first sewing machine. But the last food class was phased out at VHS in the spring and replaced by a state-mandated financial literacy class this fall.
Murphy is about to start her 6th session at Bass Arts and Gesumaria is not far behind. “It’s definitely not as easy as it looks,” says Murphy of the clothing creation process, which, by the way helps with her regular studies at HBW. “A lot of math goes into it,” she adds. “I’m very good at fractions now.” She sketches designs whenever she gets a spare minute and recently completely a design theme–called a “mood board” in the trade–with clothes that were all inspired by nature. Both girls share a passion for the reality TV fashion design show “Project Runway”.
While Murphy doesn’t yet know whether her future holds a fashion career, Gesumaria is very definite on the subject. She’s turned her room into a design studio, complete with sewing machine, dress form, design wall and lots of fabric. When not sketching, she hones her skills on fashion Web sites like Polyvore, which let her create looks that can be voted on by other Polyvore members.
“I want to get an internship in the industry and have my own line,” says Gesumaria, who is also an A-team cheerleader for the Verona Eagles. “And if that doesn’t take off, I’ll be a teacher and have my own fashion camp.”