David Meister On Mentoring Young Designers at Otis College of Art and Design

Photograph by Christian Alvarez, Courtesy of Otis College of Art and Design
Photograph by Christian Alvarez, Courtesy of Otis College of Art and Design

“The fashion industry can make you jaded, but working with students is pretty cool; you approach design from a whole other point of view,” says designer David Meister, the international talent known for his line of cocktail dresses and evening wear by the same name. For 12 years, he’s been a student mentor for students at California’s Otis College of Art and Design. And he says he always walks away from the experience inspired and rejuvenated. Here’s what his student has to say about working with him, plus some tips on dressing up, from the designer himself.
“Fashion is the only thing I ever wanted to do,” says Cheryl Des Vignes, a senior at Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art and Design. “I would sew dresses for my dolls and stuffed animals with my grandmother when I was a little girl.” This spring, Des Vignes will graduate and pursue a job designing in womenswear in Los Angeles. Before graduation, however, Des Vignes will take part in a runway show where the students present their best designs under the mentorship of leading fashion designers.

I spoke with Meister and his student Des Vignes about the experience and the process of creating a garment, from sketch to runway.

Courtesy of Cheryl Des Vignes

This high profile gala event includes leaders of Los Angeles’ local design and fashion industry. This year, renowned costume designer Albert Wolsky, couture designer Chris Chang, and industry leaders in each category will mentor students through the design process of one-of-a-kind garments. David Meister, Zaid Affas, Claire Pettibone, Red Carter, as well as designers from Illia, Michi, and Jessica Simpsonall have mentor projects that will hit the runway this May.

David Meister Fitting Model, Courtesy of Courtesy of Cheryl Des Vignes

Des Vignes says the three main takeaways from working with Meister include invaluable insights into not only the creative side of design, but also the business of fashion. “He’s taught me the importance of patience, but also how important it is to engage with the customer. A lot of design students make the mistake of designing for themselves, and you have to get out of that mindset. David [Meister] is experienced in making sure his stuff sells. Finally, he taught me that more is more.”

David Meister on the business of fashion

“Look, this is a business. It’s survival of the fittest. You’ve got to be passionate and ready for anything. You have to be creative and able to change with the ever-changing fashion world, but all the while remember that you’re looking to create a sale, which doesn’t happen until the cash register rings.”

Courtesy of Cheryl Des Vignes

David Meister on what he gets from students

“I don’t like the word teaching. I prefer to think of it like I’m sharing knowledge, information, and creativity. The word ‘teach’ sounds very didactic and one-sided.” He also adds that working with students brings a natural high. “If you don’t have the energy, you find it quick.”

Courtesy of Cheryl Des Vignes

David Meister on how to wear a cocktail dress or evening gown

“I don’t like that people don’t dress up like they used to. The world has become too casual. I love old Hollywood glamour. When you’re doing a dress for the runway, how can you have too many feathers?”

Mentor Albert Wolsky Looks at Student Sketches, Courtesy of Otis College of Art and Design

“Try something on that you wouldn’t normally think you’d wear. Make sure you feel comfortable in the garment. And definitely make sure you have the right undergarments when you’re trying something on. An undergarment can go under anything.” Des Vignes adds how Meister underscored just how important fit is to evening wear. “You lose half your sales in the fitting room,” she says, echoing Meister’s imperatives.

Another one of Meister’s imperatives: “Laugh hysterically everyday.” And so, one designer passes the torch, (or the fabric shears) to another.

The Otis College of Art and Design Fashion Show and Gala will take place at the Beverly Hilton on May 6.

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