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Lessons in life and style -- from Fashion U

8 a.m., a Saturday in late fall:

The forecast: heavy winds, dark rain clouds, too cold for tank-tops; not exactly ideal weather to show off the latest fashion trends. Then again, not enough to stop more than 400 teenage girls from dressing to impress. After all, we were about to experience the chance of a lifetime: the first-ever Teen Vogue Fashion University. Beyond the opportunity to watch a real Teen Vogue Fashion show on the third floor of Bloomingdales was the chance to take classes from some of the top designers, photographers and editors in the industry and to see how a story, passion, and inspiration lie in every piece of clothing.

More than 1,000 teens applied to attend Teen Vogue Fashion University, and 500 -- from 47 states and four foreign countries -- were chosen to attend. As fascinating as the seminars were, perhaps the most rewarding thing we took home was the information acquired about what it takes to achieve our dreams in the fashion industry. Then again, the free Dooney and Bourke bags at check-in weren't bad souvenirs to return home with!

Popular seminar choices included learning how a Tiffany's jewelry design comes to life; "Clutch Time" with the head Italian designers of Dooney and Bourke; Janey Lopaty, the director of public relations for Juicy Couture, and Tom Jarrold, the creative director of Armani Exchange. Not to mention other seminars with designers Catherine Malandrino, Thakoon Panichgul, Derek Lam, Trovata and Rebecca Taylor. An "On Location" seminar allowed a small group to tour Teen Vogue offices and set foot in the fashion closet.

New York City resident Samantha Antopol, 16, said she would do anything to work for a magazine like Teen Vogue someday: "I will make coffee ... I'd even run around and do jumping jacks!"

A popular seminar was the question and answer session with Teen Vogue editors on the stage of the Hudson Theatre, across from Teen Vogue offices between 6th and Broadway. Emily Wilson, 16, of Apple Valley, Calif., was most excited about that seminar: "I think I want to do journalism and write for a magazine someday, but I really want to address important issues other than fashion. I really hope to learn more about what I want to do with my life, and I think this will help me with that."
The editors started with a brief overview on how they got to the place they are today. All five stressed the importance of "sucking up as much experience as you can" and "saying yes to new opportunities." Rather than talking about fashion trends, they provided insight into the morals and goals of Teen Vogue; the importance of showing "real" and healthy girls, and working every month to have the magazine "create a story." As head fashion market director Gloria Baume said: "You never know where you'll find inspiration."

Another seminar was given by French designer Catherine Malandrino, who served as guest judge in Paris on this past season's "Project Runway," judging the last five finalists in their challenge to design and make a couture gown in two days.

Speaking with a heavy French accent, Malandrino sat in front of 15 or so girls dressed in black from head to toe in short-sleeve, perfectly-fitted black dress with ribbed-satin detail, black tights, and black platform shoes. She said she was "born a fashion designer," and that by having the talent to design clothes, came "the basic foundation for expressing yourself." She said designing fashion "is a way to speak about yourself without speaking."

She encouraged everyone to "balance life with fashion and love -- don't think you have to be superwoman; it's important to keep in touch with real life and surround yourself with people who care and love you.
The balcony in the Hudson Theatre quickly filled up for the seminar with Project Runway's Tim Gunn. Gunn said he never would have dreamed he'd be the chair of the Department of Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design. For Project Runway viewers, Gunn also shared his opinion that Jeffrey Buttle did deserve to win, and he concluded his speech with his famous "Make it Work."

The weekend concluded with a graduation wrap party at the Levi store, in which participants received diplomas, and a fashion show at Bloomingales, where everyone received a $25 gift card.
Teen Vogue representative Jane Grenier said the idea for Fashion U came from Dawn David, executive director of creative services. "We developed it to speak to girls' interest in the business of fashion, and their curiosity about learning what goes on behind the scenes with an eye to learning and making connections for their own future careers."

Catch glimpses of the videotaped seminars, along with pictures and information at teenvoguefashionu.com. Also, look on the Web site for dates for next year.

Lauren Cohen is a senior at Williamsville North.

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