The Story of DEBUT

Join us in March to attend the DEBUT Runway Show

Debut Runway Show attracts nearly 10,000 people over three days.

FIDM's annual DEBUT Runway Show attracts nearly 10,000 people over three days and features designs by graduating students in FIDM's Fashion Design and Theatre Costume Design Advanced Study programs, as well as work from Interior Design, Digital Media, and Textile Design students. The extravaganza concludes on the third night with the DEBUT Runway Show & Gala, a scholarship fundraising event attended by industry notables, FIDM Alumni, and fashion celebrities.

For the last several years, DEBUT has been held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. In addition to the industry, the runway show is also attended by high school students from around the country, friends and family of the graduating students, fellow FIDM Students, and FIDM Staff and Faculty. A special invitation-only pre-party is attended by high school students who are members of official FIDM High School Fashion Clubs and features celebrity guests, eyelash bars, and a DJ.

Q&A with Fashion Design Program Director Mary Stephens on DEBUT's History

FIDM's annual runway show got its start over three decades ago, before FIDM launched its Advanced Study programs. We sat down with the Fashion Design program's Director, Mary Stephens, who has shepherded the Advanced Study program and DEBUT from its early beginnings and works closely with the students throughout the year to develop their collections. Here's what Mrs. Stephens had to say about the evolution of DEBUT and the Fashion Design Advanced Study program:

How did the idea of the fashion shows first come about?

There were originally fashion shows before the advent of the Advanced Study program and then when we launched the Advanced Study program, the fashion show included both Fashion Design and Fashion Design Advanced Study graduating students. In 1979, we decided to make the fashion show for the Advanced Study students only, but it wasn't yet called DEBUT.

How was the name "DEBUT" chosen?

I named it DEBUT because it was the students' debut into the industry. We treat them as if they are in the industry as working designers and developing a collection. The Advanced Study program is a tough program.

Where were the first shows presented?

The first three shows were held at the California Mart. After that we turned it into a fundraiser for the FIDM Scholarship Foundation and it was held at places like the Biltmore and Bonaventure hotels. From the beginning this has been a show that the industry has always attended.

What were the first shows like?

Randolph Duke (the former Creative Director for Halston has dressed such celebrities as Angelina Jolie, Kim Cattrall, Tyra Banks, Jennifer Aniston, January Jones, Faith Hill, and Hilary Swank) and Kevan Hall (Katherine Heigl, Virginia Madsen, Tina Fey, Vanessa Williams, and California First Lady Maria Shriver have worn his designs) were among the students who had runway shows before we began the Advanced Study program. Kevan and Randolph were outstanding students, very dedicated and very serious. Kevan Hall once said, “You were the toughest instructor I ever had but I learned so much.”

How many people apply to be in the Advanced Study Fashion Design program?

Every year is an exciting year. We can get as many as sixty portfolios and we select about ten students to be in the program.

Monique Lhuillier, who has designed gowns for Kristen Stewart, Angelina Jolie, and many other stylish celebrities, was in the Advanced Study program. What do you remember about working with her?

She designed a wedding collection and she made every single rose on her garments by hand. She was such a delight and a wonderful student to work with.

What is it like working with and giving feedback to the students?

I thoroughly enjoy getting to know them. They all have their own individual personalities. Sometimes they listen; sometimes they don't. I'm really very direct with them.

What are some of the careers the DEBUT designers have gone on to after graduating?

We have many very successful graduates. Leanne Marshall, who graduated just a few years ago, won season 5 of Project Runway. Anthropologie sells Alan del Rosario and fellow graduate Brian Sullivan's line, Burlapp. Daniel Caudill is a well-known stylist recently featured in the magazine In Style. Several of our DEBUT designers are working as designers at GUESS, Inc. There are many, many success stories from the graduates of this program. We're very proud.