Changes to fashion show resulted in fundraiser and increased enrollment

By Ashley Festa

The annual fashion show produced by the Fashion Management Department at UIW has seen many changes through the years, including the event’s name and the quality of the show.

“It was kind of a sleepy event” in the old days, according to Betsy Gwin, a former member of the university’s Board of Trustees.

Dr. Annemarie Walsh, director of the UIW fashion management program from 1993-2007, agreed. The earliest fashion shows, she said, were put on by class members in the classroom for their mothers.

However, that all changed when Gwin’s good friend Kathleen Watson, a graduate of Incarnate Word High School, became chairwoman of the UIW board. Watson served on the board from 1990 until 2000 and as chairwoman from 1996-99. She received an honorary degree from UIW in 1999.

“She was a very fashionable lady and very, very giving,” Gwin said. Watson died of cancer in 2000.

It was Watson’s love of fashion that drove her to help bring the event up to its full potential.

“As chairwoman, she decided she wanted to beef up the show,” said Gwin, who served on the board from 1994-2000.

Early on, the show was a sparsely attended, low-key event. There was no community involvement; only a handful of faculty members and students went to watch. Eventually, the show started to more closely resemble the level of production it does today.

“When Kathleen Watson put her power behind it, it really took off,” Walsh said. “It really made a huge difference. It just grew and grew and grew. She was wonderful to work with.”

“She was proud of Incarnate Word and the students and talent there. She used her contacts to make others in the city aware,” Gwin said. Over time, “others in the community began to realize what a jewel the fashion show was.”

The improvements to the show had other effects, such as increased enrollment in the degree program.

“When I started there in 1993, there were only 12 fashion majors; when I retired in 2007, there were well over 200,” Walsh said. “Merchandising students do the production aspects of the event. It is the culmination of their degree.”

Though none of the students have their own design line – yet, Walsh stressed – some have had success as designers. For example, one student was the exclusive designer for the singer Selena before her death, and afterward began designing for the department store Dillard’s.

“There’s usually one student per year who really stands out,” Walsh said.

Today, the official name of the event is the Cutting Edge Fiesta® Fashion Show, an annual New York-style runway show that involves a silent auction and luncheon. It has been an official Fiesta® event for more than 20 years, and proceeds from ticket sales provide scholarship funds for students.

Through the years, the university used proceeds from the event to endow the Annemarie Walsh Scholarship, a fashion-designated award named in honor of Walsh’s years of service to the fashion program.

Walsh, who was awarded Professor Emeritus status in December 2008, developed and taught a variety of courses and was instrumental in building both the academic program and the fashion show into what they are today.

Two $800 scholarships were given in spring 2009, one scholarship for each concentration, fashion design and fashion merchandising.

This year, two $1,000 scholarships will be given.

In addition, a $1,500 scholarship will be announced the day of the show, thanks to Mercedes-Benz of San Antonio, the presenting sponsor that began supporting the show in 2009. Beginning in 2006, Tiffany and Co. became a sponsor, providing the fashion show’s winner awards. Tracy Avery, a UIW alumna of the fashion design program, has worked as the store director in San Antonio since 2008.

In honor of his late wife’s contributions to the fashion show, Mark Watson Jr. also is still a sponsor of the event through the Watson Foundation.

“They were very gracious about giving to their community,” Walsh said of the Watsons.

Have a flair for fashion? Join us!
When: Monday, April 19
Where: Marriott Rivercenter Ballroom, 101 Bowie St.
Cost: From $25 to $1,000
Web site: www.uiw.edu/cuttingedge
To buy a Fiesta® medal: They are available through the UIW Fashion Department or the Fiesta® store on Broadway St. for $5. To purchase medals from UIW, call (210) 829-3141.