When in Paris, fashion students find confidence and inspiration

Aaron Boehmer, Life & Arts Reporter

Donning leopard print-patterned hair, John Alvarado arrives in France May 27, sporting a cropped white tank top under a cardigan, cargo pants and platform Converse as he walks into a cafe about 40 minutes north of Paris. 

Dead silence and curious stares greet him at the entry. Alvarado said the small village he stayed in prior to moving into his apartment provided an odd experience to kick off his Maymester. 

However, the geological sciences junior soon joined his classmates in Paris on May 29 for the start of the textiles and apparel Maymester program, French Fashion: History and Techniques, which ends Saturday, June 25, and got the full Parisian experience he hoped for. Attending lectures at the Paris College of Art and workshops around the city, students learn about the fashion industry and its history, visiting museums, trade shows, studios, showrooms and more. 

Alvarado said he wanted to channel his inspirations into tactile skills and hopes to take the confidence he gained throughout his time in France back to Texas. 

“I have never been as comfortable as I am right now,” Alvarado said. “(This program) was an awakening for my inspiration.” 

Tyler Miller, Alvarado’s roommate in Paris, said an appreciation for art and architecture drew him to take part in the Maymester. 

“Every corner you go down, you see the most beautiful architecture,” the textiles and apparel junior said. “I love the deep appreciation for artists and artistry. I really wanted to experience that for myself.” 

Program director Gail Chovan, a textiles and apparel assistant professor of instruction, said after two years without the program, she sees a tenacity within her students. 

“They are in it to drink up every moment,” Chovan said. “I want to throw them out there and have them learn how to swim, and they’re doing an amazing job.” 

From visiting Christian Dior’s childhood home to touring Mont-Saint-Michel, learning haute couture embroidery to creating their own fragrances, Chovan said she wanted to offer the best experience possible within a four-week program. 

“I’ve molded this class out of clay that really enables them to live here,” Chovan said. “The reason I did this program is for living it. It’s not just going to a dorm, sitting in a classroom for four hours and doing the work.”

Chovan said she created the itinerary with plenty of open space so students learn how to manage on their own, explore different aspects of Parisian culture and find spaces that inspire them.

“I’m not your mama,” Chovan said. “I’m not a tour guide. I don’t know where to go out at night for (every) student. Culturally, there’s going to be a nest for (every) student. The student has to go down that rabbit hole and find it.”

However, Alvarado said the trip is not free from challenges, such as his feelings of imposter syndrome. A hopeful transfer into the textiles and apparel major, Alvarado said he felt intimidated by his lack of experience in the field. However, he said the opportunity reminded him why he wants to pursue a career in fashion. 

“It’s just reminding myself that I’m meant to be here,” Alvarado said. “I may not know as much as my peers, but that doesn’t invalidate why I should be here. The whole point of me coming here was so that I could learn.” 

Nevertheless, while in Paris, Alvarado said he found new confidence in terms of his personal style and expression. 

“I want to push boundaries for myself,” Alvarado said. “I want to become more fluid and dress for me. (I want to) be more comfortable in myself and my clothing.”