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A U student putting the finishing touches on a mannequin.

A mannequin dons a skirt of poinsettia leaves created by a group of University students.

A holiday fashion challenge

Retail merchandising students create holiday-themed clothing for mannequins at Bachman's

By Patty Mattern

Dec. 19, 2006

Twin Cities audiences don't need to turn on the TV to get involved in a reality show like "Project Runway," where contestants compete with each other to create theme-based outfits within a limited time frame and with certain materials. To see cost-conscious creativity in action on the local stage, they can visit the flagship store of Bachman's, one of the area's oldest and most established florists.

Six retail merchandising student teams from the U's new College of Design are finalists in a contest called "Project Holiday." The challenge was to create holiday eveningwear for mannequins using products that Bachman's sells and whatever the students could buy for $250.

"[Bachman's gave us] a box full of items that included big poinsettia leaves," says senior Renee Wasmer.

Her team created a striking dress, layering poinsettia leaves down from a sleeveless bodice.

"We're all retail merchandising students--none of us had any apparel design experience--but we were able to put together this wonderful evening gown," Wasmer says.

Students were told that the final design "should be over the top, but believable and wearable," says Kate Daly, the University research associate directing the project. The students wowed Daly. "Their displays are fantastic and creative," she says. "This project is really about how to integrate active learning in the classroom into the community."

The College of Design wants to give its students real-world experience and often challenges them to create functional or beautiful work with limited resources. (Read more in M, winter 2007 cover story, "Design in your future.") Last year, architecture students were given $20 to build a shelter and spend the night in it in an effort to understand what it's like to be homeless.

Bachman's customers have the holiday season to vote on their favorite "Project Holiday" display. The creations can be seen at the 6010 Lyndale Ave. S. Bachman's store in Minneapolis. The winning team members will each receive $200.

A total of 51 students competed to be among the finalists in "Project Holiday." Those whose designs were not chosen, created alternative displays at other Bachman's locations.