2015 Achieving Excellence

Sarah Ettinger: Vintage style meets 21st-century technique

Sarah Ettinger

Sierra Williams (left) of Centro Models wears an evening gown designed by senior Sarah Ettinger, who will join Kate Spade in New York this summer.
Photo by Jennifer Silverberg.


You won the Saks Fifth Avenue Emerging Designer Award at the Sam Fox School’s 86th annual Fashion Design Show. How would you describe your collection?

My signature collection was called “The Heirloom Garden.” It was inspired by English architecture and botanical gardens, and by these really beautiful silhouettes I pulled from vintage magazines.

I also collaborated with (fellow senior) Andrew Catanese, an amazing fine arts major, who hand-drew branches for me. I scanned them into Photoshop to make a pattern and had that digitally printed onto all my fabrics — which I then cut using the architecture studio’s laser cutter.

It was a lot of long hours but also a lot of fun and a lot more experimental than anything I’d ever done before. It mixes a 1940s vibe with 21st-century technique.

Sarah Ettinger Portfolio

Three of Ettinger’s illustrations, experimenting with different watercolor techniques.

One outfit, an evening dress inspired by trellises, sold immediately after the show. How much work goes into a runway-caliber piece?

In that case, about 120 hours. I used a really interesting embroidered lace as the base for the dress and then hand cut bias strips, which were top-stitched on. I then inserted boning, a plastic stabilizer, both vertically and horizontally, to create a unique four-leaf clover shape.

Basically, the idea was to create the illusion of vines crawling on a trellis without being too literal. I like it when you have to focus a little to figure out what a design is about.

You’ve interned with Marchesa, Michael Kors and Kate Spade. After graduation, you’ll join the latter as assistant designer for childrenswear and womenswear. Are you excited? Nervous? Both?

My internship with Kate Spade was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was a paid internship; they brought in guest speakers; they gave us projects, which were then reviewed by the head of creative … . They really want to help you succeed. After three months, I felt like part of the family.

Ending up at Kate Spade now — I’m beside myself I’m so happy! As a designer, you know you’re going to be working long hours, so you better be with a company you love.

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