Stitching it all together: Kansas City Fashion Week features ISU student’s designs

Whitney Rorah, senior in apparel, merchandising and design, designed “Engineered Athlete” for the street wear category in the ISU Fashion Show.

Mariah Wellman

As a freshman biology major at Wartburg College, Whitney Rorah, now a senior in apparel, merchandising and design at Iowa State, never thought she would end up creating a line of eight wedding gowns that would be shown in the Kansas City Fashion Week.

Years later, Rorah’s next show to tackle is The Fashion Show 2014 at Iowa State.

Rorah entered all eight of the gowns in her senior collection in this year’s Fashion Show rather than the “normal” senior collection of three garments.

Rorah must take “Senior Collection,” a class in which the students are required to create a senior line of three complete looks or garments. In this class, students develop a target market, customer profile and inspiration for their collections.

Rorah started the fall of 2013 by creating the usual three garments, all of them being wedding gowns. Rorah previously interned with Dornink Custom Gown Design in Des Moines and had a lot of hands-on experience with wedding gowns.

“I have always loved bridal fashion, and I wanted to create a collection of three wedding gowns,” Rorah said. “I was really inspired by intricate Hindu embellishments and creating layers with fabrics of different textures. I used a combination of taupe braided trim, pearl beads, and Swarovski crystals to translate the intricate embellishments into my designs.”

Rorah said she focused on the details of each gown to make sure each one had a distinct look.

“I wanted each design to have an intricate surface design, whether it was floral embellishments, beading or interesting seam lines,” Rorah said. “I manipulated fabrics — including chiffon, organza, satin, tulle and charmeuse — and layered them in many aspects throughout the eight dresses to create an interesting surface design including rosette details, rosettes and cascading ruffles.”

Rorah worked on her first three gowns from October through December of 2013. When she decided to apply to be part of Kansas City Fashion Week, she made five more gowns to complete her collection for the show.

She worked on her last five gowns from January until the beginning of March. Her work was in Kansas City Fashion Week’s show March 15.

Rorah said each gown took a lot of energy, but she didn’t keep track of the exact hours logged on each gown.

“I try to create two or three [dresses] at a time, so I can’t pinpoint how long it takes to make one dress, but I know dress number eight has taken me over 100 hours because it is so extravagant,” Rorah said.

Dress number eight is an ivory A-line dress made from silk charmeuse, polyester satin and nylon tulle. This piece incorporated hand embroidery, hand beading, handmade flowers and layers of 1-inch ruffle.

“The contrasting fabrics, surface design and intricate details made this dress really extravagant,” Rorah said.

Rorah said she knew Kansas City had a big bridal gown retail district and felt her gowns would fit nicely into a show in Kansas City.

The Friday before the show, Rorah said the designers set up for a “designer trunk show.” It was meant to be an event where designers had the opportunity to show a preview of their collections as well as sell previous collections.

Rorah brought two of her models with her to wear her gowns for the trunk show, and because this was her first collection, she had nothing to sell.

The show took place the next day at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

“I had a lot of nervous energy backstage because everything was prepared,” Rorah said. “We were just waiting for show-time.”

“Katie Thompson, a senior at [Iowa State] in my major, was my assistant for the show, so she helped me keep my nerves in check.”

Thompson, a senior in apparel, merchandising and design and her assistant for the show, showed dresses at Omaha Fashion Week the weekend prior. 

“We decided to work as each other’s assistant for each other’s fashion show,” Thompson said. She said her experience in Omaha, Neb., helped her to know the best way to help Rorah in Kansas City. 

“Seeing all of the help she was to me backstage gave me a good idea on what I needed to make sure I helped her with for her show,” Thompson said. “We both worked on our collections at the same time, so I know the tremendous amount of work she put into her dresses.”

Once all of the hair and makeup was complete, Rorah said Thompson and herself put the final touches on the models.

“It was very exciting hearing the reaction of the audience as each dress walked down,” Rorah said.

At the end of the show, the models completed a finale walk with each model after the others and Rorah as the last to step on the runway.

“I think I was most nervous about the possibility of tripping in heels in front of 400 people,” Rorah said. All of Rorah’s hard work completed in the last 6 months was over within ten minutes, and she believed it was worth it.

“I have been mentioned in a lot of fashion blogs [by people] who attended the show, so it was kind of cool to hear their opinions of my collection.”

Rorah has submitted her senior collection of eight gowns as well as seven other individual garments into The Fashion Show 2014, all of which were accepted.

The Fashion Show 2014 is at 7 p.m. April 5 at Stephens Auditorium.