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Positively Creative Convo with Jeannine La Bate

Abby: Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Jeannine: I’m Jeannine La Bate and I am an emerging designer here in Memphis. I teach full time Fashion Design and Visual Arts. It’s been amazing to be a part of the growth of the Fashion community here in Memphis. I had the opportunity to launch and work with you, Abby, and write all of the curriculum for the Fashion Design Certificate program at the Memphis College of Art. That’s been really amazing because students have been so receptive to learning fashion fundamentals and just really getting in the same room with like-minded fashion enthusiasts. They make connections and build their skills. I enjoy working with all ages….especially kids because they take to the sewing machine and in time, they’ll grow in strength and skill. I definitely feel invested in helping them tackle those skills early on.

Abby: Yeah, kids have that lowered inhibition where you can really just create and have fun. It's just so important when it comes to this kind of work.

Jeannine: Absolutely I couldn’t agree more. That is part of the creative process and that’s something that as an instructor I really enjoy. Having students bring forth their own imagination, their own point of view, opinions, and ideas takes courage! With the younger ages, they have more enthusiasm and instinct to create. We all have that, so it’s important that we can remind them of that and try to cultivate it from the start with our students.

Abby: So tell me a little bit about your fashion journey.

Jeannine: Well my fashion journey really began in New York. I grew up on Long Island so having exposure to New York City from such a young age really piqued my ideas about fashion. Especially getting on the Long Island railroad, going into the city, seeing people on transit and how they distinguished themselves through garments, apparel, and style. I saw people throughout the city who were very stylish because they had access to all of the major stores. So New York was really my foundation early on and I’ve been so fascinated with it since. As I’ve grown to study fashion through graduate studies and undergraduate studies it is an art of design; it’s a social science. There are so many layers of identity to fashion that I’m able to explore with students too. Now with the digital age that we’re in and how things translate onto a digital screen as you render, create and how you’re able to access your clients inspiration through that. It’s a very fast paced industry that you’ll always be busy creating something.

Abby: How did you end up moving to Memphis?

Jeannine: So like all New Yorkers, we’re snowbirds, so we would go to South Florida for the winters and eventually my family just wanted to stay there year round. So, around 2004, we decided to just stay in South Florida full time. That’s when I decided I wanted to go back to school and get my undergraduate degree. So with the agreement that I would go back to school, we all moved to Florida and I moved to West Palm Beach where I studied at Palm Beach Atlantic University and I studied theatrical design. I worked under the costume instructor there. Then through West Palm Beach Florida, I had an internship in Nashville.

Abby: Was it an internship at a theatre?

Jeannine: Well, I freelanced for theatre there but I actually opened up the Nordstrom in Nashville. I was the visual stylist there. I did the window display styling and the mannequin display styling in the men’s department and kid’s department. All throughout my studies in West Palm Beach, I worked at the Bloomingdale’s in Boca Raton. I was the Marc by Marc Jacobs sales specialist. Between Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom coupled with my studies for technical design meant fashion was just the track for me. From Nashville came an opportunity to teach in Memphis and so Memphis has been home ever since.

Abby: And then you went to grad school?

Jeannine: Yes, I received a full scholarship to Illinois State University and that’s where I really got to explore the ways art educators can bring sewing into the classroom again. With the decline of home economics, there really wasn’t a venue for students to learn these skills and it’s really been a detriment ever since, to be honest. My graduate studies allowed me to build a curriculum focused on ways we can get textile arts into secondary education. I designed more shows, designed fashion shows, built up my sewing construction skills and also worked on a thesis for secondary education for fashion in the art room. It was a phenomenal experience. Then I had my sights on Chicago because I really wanted to thrive in a metropolitan area but I thrive here. Memphis called me back.

Abby: Memphis sucked you back in! A lot of people probably don’t realize this, but you were a very integral part of the Fashion Design program at the Memphis College of Art and while you were still at school you helped us write the curriculum for the Fashion Design Certificate Program and really helped us get that started.

Jeannine: It is exciting! I don’t take that for granted. I always tell students, once you’re in my classroom, you’re always my student. It’s just a new dynamic, you’re outside of the classroom and you’re working on pursuing this. I’m always going to be a contact, I’m always going to be rooting for you. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. It’s a learning community that I really feel very fortunate to contribute to and receive from! Thank you for saying that and thank you for bringing Memphis Fashion Week to Memphis! Abby, you’ve done amazing things.

Abby: Well you said it, Memphis Fashion Week has been a growing entity since year one. This is its ninth year and it’s really awesome to see what the educational components have brought to it and how it’s really made all of the designers step up their game which is so neat.

Jeannine: Yeah that’s been amazing to watch for sure.

Abby: I’m going to switch gears a little bit because I want to talk about summer camp and the classes that you’ll be teaching because you’ve taught them previously. Tell us a little bit about those.

Jeannine: I was going to teach the Fashion Sketching class in June that unfortunately was cancelled but that class gives the students the opportunity to think like a designer. They explore how to create a fashion collection, a product, or an idea that communicates something about who they are or an idea that they’re inspired by and how that process begins. We also sketch out and talk about ways to present their work as well. A lot of students really love the project where they get to design their own clothing boutique window displays. We talk about all of the various industry tracks that they weren’t even aware of. Everyone knows fashion design and illustrators but there are more opportunities in fashion that they get to learn about and explore through discussions and assignments. They think like a designer, look onto other designers that they may not know about and look at a lot of images to see what style they gravitate towards and how to make it their own.

Abby: Great! That’s usually a half day class, but you have a full day class as well, right?

Jeannine: Yeah that one is in July and that is an all day class fashion design class because the kids leave with a great appreciation of how long it actually takes to make a garment from start to finish. We consider the illustration and art making process and think like a designer, but in this sense thinking how they make these pieces that create a larger whole -- a garment that fits well using different fabrics and how that informs and influences your design and the overall impression of your work, color palettes, prints, solids, logos, hand stitching. Of course, they learn how to use the sewing machine! They really love that. It’s fast paced but I give lots of time for them to process the information too by working in their sketchbook, taking notes, how to thread the bobbin etc so they have that knowledge that they can take with them and take beyond the week that we spend together.

Abby: So from these classes, what is the takeaway? Are they completing a garment? What does that look like?

Jeannine: When you’re working with textile machines and technical skills, everyone will work at their own pace, but they will leave with an entire garment completed. I’ll usually teach them some upcycling techniques too so if they have some old shirts or garments that they want to give new life to, they can bring those and create new garments. They’ll also create pants or a skirt and students can continue to create more depending on their level of experience. They can go on to make dresses and jackets. We actually make accessories like fabric clutches, appliqué techniques, working with yarn. I’ve done some tie-dye with students that were interested in that.

Abby: So outside of summer camp or the Fashion Design Certificate Program, what are some other opportunities that you’ve seen in Memphis for designers?

Jeannine: Getting involved with the markets. It really comes down to putting out questions for your own pursuits. I find that a lot of designers find other designers that are like minded and reach out to them to see how they’re navigating selling their products and a lot of the time they end of collaborating. It’s more about using Instagram to connect and reach out to others to see what is working for them. I find that there is a community aspect that is very much considerate of other people's successes . Fashion is very competitive so it’s really great to see that any designer in search of opportunity can reach out to someone else that’s already doing it and get some tips, connect with them and I’m sure they’ll have that encouragement behind them.

Abby: Is this your second or third year for the Emerging Memphis Designer(EMDP) project? This is a program for Memphis Fashion Week, in the fall, we call for sketches and then work with the designers through those 7 months to showcase on the runway, which we didn't get to do this year but we will still have a showcase in August. Tell me a little bit about what that process has been like.

Jeannine: This will be my second year. It’s been awesome and amazing and terrifying but in the best way possible. It’s an opportunity for me to showcase my work and having taught and continue to teach full time I’m pouring that into other designers which i love to do. The EMDP has given me the opportunity to cultivate my own practice in which I have a strong deadline which keeps me going. I really enjoy the theatrics and drama and excitement that a fashion show brings. Just as much as I love to share my work with clients and students, it’s a whole other level when it’s on the platform of a fashion show. It’s been great and wonderful. I’m looking forward to August.

Abby: Yeah, so are we! Memphis Fashion Week will look different this year but we still want to celebrate the over 30 emerging designers that we had and it’s been really fun for us to watch. I think we started the EMDP in 2013, the second year of Fashion Week, and like I said just to watch the level of creativity but also refinement that has come to pass you know that’s really how the Certificate program got started. We had our first year of the EMDP, the creativity was there, the gusto was there, but really those finishes and fine tuning of all of the components like the lighting and making sure the finishes are done well. That’s when we said, okay the education component is really going to be important. That’s your entire background. It’s going to be so important to continue this legacy of art learning, creation and being able to collaborate like you said. Having that person next to you that can support you and push you, all of those things are going to be so important that we don’t lose that in our community.

Jeannine: 100% It’s vital! What I see in the EMDP and in the community education program at the Memphis College of Art, and what Arrow will now offer, builds students' efficacy and their confidence and they get to understand who they are as an artist. As they get exposure to other students' work. I’ve learned to appreciate so many other design points of view and I get to know mine more because I can see where I would do something differently or where I would gravitate toward certain ideas. It really is a space that no other place in Memphis has to offer but Arrow is now going to bring to our community. It’s vital. It’s so great that it’s happening.

Abby: Thank you, we are really excited about it. What advice do you have for people wanting to get involved in the fashion industry?

Jeannine: I would say keep a sketchbook, keep your iPhone readily available, keep documenting, writing, and reading. I know Dianne von Furstenberg is a brilliant person and she says “Travel’. I think what she means by that is to keep looking, keep your eyes open, and keep your curiosity ever pressing. When you are traveling to a new place and you have a new point of view and a curiosity that is something we as designers need to pay attention to. We can’t always travel, especially now, so you know where we can keep our sketch books where you can keep magazine clippings and things that you read.

Abby: Thank you so much for joining us today and we will see you soon for summer camp!


Image featured in the blog are from Jeannine La Bate's Spring 2019 fashion collection titled "Wildflower Harmony"  featured in the emerging designer category in Memphis Fashion Week.

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