And the Winners of the Evening Gown Competition are...

A New Scholarship for Fashion Design Majors

Fashion illustration

The fashion sketches are pinned up on the presentation wall, spotlit for display. The rest of the small room known as the “Lighting Lab” in McGuffey Hall is in shadows. Seven junior fashion design majors quietly enter the space. They all look professionally serious, most using this to mask the internal churning and burning of electric-like nerves.

For the briefest of moments the room is silent with anticipation as these students wait for RU alumna Nancy Artis to announce who will be the winners of a new fashion design scholarship competition she is sponsoring.


Dr. John Jacob’s junior fashion design class

The junior fashion design class along with Nancy Artis and Dr. John Jacob

Each is a student in Associate Professor Dr. John Jacob’s junior fashion design class. They have been provided a generous and unique opportunity to compete in the first Artis Junior Fashion Design Competition Scholarship.

First and second place winners receive $2000 and $1000 respectively with the funds going toward tuition or to incidental expenses related to successfully completing their degrees. Once the designs have been chosen, the winners will each produce a garment during the winter break and have their designs modeled at the Spring Fashion Show by Artis, who is the scholarship sponsor. In addition, the recipients will also receive independent study class credit for their effort.

For this academic year, the competition is focused on designing evening gowns for the alumna. After completing seven years on the RU Board of Visitors, Artis decided to create this scholarship opportunity as a way to give something back to the students.

The whole idea of the scholarship competition originated from an inquiry Artis made to the chair of the Department of Interior Design and Fashion, Dr. Holly Cline. Knowing that RU has a strong fashion design program, Artis had inquired about the possibility of hiring a student to create an evening gown for her.

Then during an RU Board of Visitors and faculty reception last spring, Dr. Cline presented Artis with a project idea that would accomplish this and also benefit the fashion design department. It was the notion of a scholarship competition.

“The concept that Dr. Cline brought to me about a scholarship really was perfect because then I can give back to the students and as I have indicated, my husband and I like to invest in brain cells,” Artis says. Though she and her husband also donate to brick and mortar projects at RU, their primary concern is to encourage students to use their minds.

Jacob adds, “Ms. Artis was seeking to a way to engage with the Fashion Design program. She wanted a custom-designed gown for black-tie events that would fit her petite frame while simultaneously showcasing the design talent at Radford University.”


The first session

From left to right: Nancy Artis with Dr. John Jacob and Dr. Kathy Mitchell prepare for the announcement of the scholarship (photo by Zach Brodie). Nancy Artis shares her personal style (photo by Elizabeth Dreher).

Artis, who lives in Colorado where she and her husband own a computer software development company, has been very hands on during the competition process. She is currently spending a lot of time in the New River Valley, as her husband is teaching as an adjunct in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.

The competition officially began in September when Artis announced the competition to Jacob’s Junior Studio I class.  At this time, she also brought examples of some gowns she has worn in the past and allowed the students to get to know her personal style.

A few weeks later, she returned and each student provided her with mood boards showing various contemporary trends in gown designs (asymmetrical is currently popular). At this time, she provided the designers with fabric samples she had chosen – bright colors and bling, sequined fuchsia and teal, with black lace and gold metallic accents.


Nancy Artis

From left to right: Nancy Artis reviews students' designs. Nancy Artis and Dr. John Jacob enjoy the designs. Thomy Owens takes notes for the next step.

“If you saw the fabrics I picked, they were pretty splashy. The students were very pleasantly surprised that there was glitz and bangles, and that it wasn't blah,” Artis says about her choices.

During a follow up visit, she viewed ten rough sketches by each designer and provided feedback on the designs in a group critique format. The designers remained anonymous.

After this feedback from Artis, each designer narrowed down and refined their designs for an anonymous presentation of their final five finished illustrations and a concept statement explaining why their gowns were right for her.

She received these final presentations on Nov. 11, which she took home and shared with her husband and friends.

When asked about how the winners are chosen, she says, “My husband will get to help me pick the dresses. He'll look at the sketches and he'll pick. Since he's always bought me clothes in London and LA for black tie events, he gets to make a choice, too.”


Artis Award Winners

The winners of the first Artis Junior Fashion Design Competition Scholarship. From left to right: Hannah Waldron (honorable mention), Ashleigh Wells (second place), Nancy Artis (scholarship sponsor) and Thomy Owens (first place).

Two days later on Nov 13, Artis has returned to campus to announce the winners.

Artis appears in stylish professional wear appropriate to the occasion and stands in front of the seven designers. She greets each by name, looks them in the eye, shakes their hands and thanks them for all their hard work.

At this point, numbers identify the designs on the presentation wall. Only Jacob knows the true identities of who created which designs. He hands Artis three envelopes. It turns out that the competition sponsor felt very strongly about more than two of the designs. She chose to add to the scholarship and give an honorable mention with an award of $500 to another student.

Artis takes a deep breath and announces that she has chosen the designers identified by the numbers two, three, and five.


Everyone’s expressions change. Variously, they appear impassive, surprised, shocked, or big-grin happy.

As Artis opens the envelopes, she discovers that Hannah Waldron wins the honorable mention and that second place goes to Ashleigh Wells. Thomy Owens is the first place winner.

After congratulations and explanations, Artis stays to offer feedback to the other four designers and discuss the logistics associated with designing and custom fitting the winning gowns.

The three winning designers will next be provided with fabric and funds for other supplies necessary to take their designs from drawings to finished garments.

A special dress form that is based on Artis’ measurements has been special-ordered and funded by her. The students plan to use this to make patterns for the gowns and then each will produce the finished garment. Artis will return for fittings in the spring semester and then will model all three gowns in the Spring Fashion Show on March 29, 2014, at 8:00 p.m. in Bondurant Auditorium.

Artis is also planning to wear the gowns to a few spring black tie events both at RU and Virginia Tech. Then she will return them to the Department of Interior Design and Fashion, where they will become part of the department’s permanent collection.

During the physical creation process, we will introduce you to the winning designers, Thomy Owens, Ashleigh Wells, and Hannah Waldron and apprise you of their progress toward completing the gowns.

As for the Artis Junior Fashion Design Competition Scholarship, there is a future. Artis has already begun to motivate the sophomores, next year’s juniors about the 2014-15 competition. Though undecided about the theme, Artis hints that it could be career wear, resort wear, or perhaps simply a coat design.

Dec 16, 2013