California State University, Long Beach
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Fashion Wins Out

Published: May 1, 2014

Fashion or comfort?

Ask Suzanne Marshall that simple question and she hesitates nary a second.

“I don’t care about comfort at all or I wouldn’t wear high heels every day,” she joked. “I dress for fun. I try to look different every day. Even as a child I always dressed up. I’ve always liked colors and I’ve always been really picky about all that. Even if I taught math I would dress up.”

Well, she doesn’t teach math, but more appropriately serves as director and faculty adviser of CSULB’s Fashion Merchandising and Design Program, having taught and overseen the program over the past 27 years.

“I love this job,” she said. “It’s sometimes stressful, but it’s a fabulous job for me.”

Since 1991 she has led students on tours to Europe in June and five years ago turned that trip into a two-week course in Paris. In addition, she leads groups to New York in January and July and the MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas in February.

“It’s interesting to me that the students used to goof off on these trips a lot more than they do now,” said Marshall. “After the recession students started getting more serious, especially those who go on the tours. They began to come on time, not missing a single seminar, which is really different than when I started. Back then they would go out to nightclubs and miss half the seminars. It’s very different now; they’re much more serious. They’ll take their resumes and they look for internships or jobs.”

Marshall feels that the recent recession has had a somewhat positive impact on her program. “It used to be frustrating for me,” she remembered, “but after a few years I told myself this is not really my problem, so let them get whatever they get out of the trip. You can’t force them to get up at seven in the morning, but we don’t seem to have that problem anymore.”

“I think it was good for the seriousness of the students,” she said. “Maybe their parents just wanted to get more bang for their buck. If they were going to send their kids to Europe they wanted it to count for something and not just be a tour. That’s one of the things that motivated me to change it to a course. So it’s better now.”

According to Marshall, who has co-written a number of fashion textbooks, when she came to CSULB in the early 1990’s the fashion merchandising and design program had few courses and was in need of expansion.

“I think what I brought was the business aspect and I did a lot of curriculum development,” she said. “And I updated the annual fashion show to turn it into a real fashion production.”

That fashion show, now officially referred to as the Campus Couture Fashion Show, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013.
“We want the show to be perfect every year,” said Marshall, “but because last year was the 25th anniversary I think everybody tried harder in order to make it perfect and it turned out great.”

Fashion Wins Out
Suzanne Marshall (l) with student Bryan Montalvo.

This year’s show will be on Friday, May 9, beginning at 7 p.m., in the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. It’s considered the largest student-led event on the West Coast and run by students who plan, develop and execute the entire event. Now a sold-out event held in the largest venue of its kind on campus, the show features works from up to 48 junior and senior designers.

Of course, success in the multi-billion dollar fashion industry is a lot about reading trends, but there’s more to it than just that, according to Marshall.

“I think a lot of it is luck,” she said. “You’re always trying to think six months ahead because that’s the season you’re buying into. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. You can bring something in and everybody says it’s going to be fabulous and then it bombs because consumers hate it. Consumers can be really fickle. The luxury market does pretty well almost all the time, but then the teen market flips from one brand to another and they’re always chasing after something new so it’s hard to predict.”

As far as having a career in the competitive fashion industry, Marshall acknowledges it can be challenging, but has some sound advice for students.

“They need to be smart along the way and thoughtful in picking internships,” she said. “If they do that they should be able to get a job through their internships. And they need to be out there networking, which is something we tell them to do from the start.”