#b#Paula Molino#/b# is one of the fortunate ones who knew what she wanted to be when she was five. Her mother asked her what she wanted for Christmas and the answer was, “A typewriter and a sewing machine.”
She couldn’t have both, so she opted for the sewing machine. Pink and plastic, it was her introduction to the world of fashion design, and she has been there ever since.
Seven years ago, after a long, occasionally jet-setting career, Molino started teaching fashion courses at Philadelphia University. Three years ago she launched a fashion design and merchandising certificate program at Bucks County Community College, and beginning on Thursday, June 3, Molino will bring that certificate program to Mercer County College.
Molino will present the first six-week installment of an overall 30-week program now, and then again in September, when the full, five-course program kicks off in earnest. Thursdays, from June 3 through July 8, Molino will teach “The Business of Fashion Design and Merchandising” to Mercer’s West Windsor campus, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $216. Visit www.mccc.edu/ccs or call 609-570-3311.
A native of Baltimore, Molino parlayed her mother-imparted skills with a sewing machine into her dream job as a fashion designer. She earned her bachelor’s in apparel design from the University of Delaware before moving to Philadelphia’s once thriving fashion scene. There she designed everything from socks to the Susan Graver collection on QVC network, but she mostly loved designing children’s lines.
Molino’s mother taught her to sew at age 11 and inspired her as a working mom. Her mother was a technical illustrator for Martin Marietta who knew how to design spreadsheets long before anyone thought to put them on a computer. Her father, a career bricklayer, also influenced her with his creativity and work ethic, she says.
And she would need a good work ethic because the fashion industry, she says, is not territory for the weak-willed. As a single gal in love with her job, Molino used to travel around the world fairly regularly. Of course she loved it, and of course she wouldn’t trade the experience, but she warns would-be fashionistas that living from a suitcase gets tedious.
Then there are the hours. Her fashion design students have, mostly, been adult women, most married or with families. As yet, none of her former students have rocketed to success in the field, but she is not surprised, since she has only been teaching a certificate program for three years.
But the bigger rub could be the hours. Molino, now living in Yardley, used to live in Lawrenceville and commute by train to New York every day — on the train at 7 a.m., home no early than 7 p.m. most nights, and in bed just a couple hours after dinner. And those were the short days. One company she worked for routinely kept employees around until 10 p.m.. “One night they made us stay until 2 a.m. because they had a showing at Target the next day,” she says. “We got paid well, but I’m not sure that was even legal.”
#b#Sew buttons, that’s what#/b#. Molino’s course delves into design, illustration, and garment making. This last one is an oft-overlooked aspect of the fashion industry. “You can design beautiful garments until the cows come home, but if you don’t know how to sew you can’t make garments,” she says.
Fashion schools have largely removed the sewing curriculum, she says. Her job is to put it back. Sewing is not something you just sit down and do. It is involved and takes practice, like learning the piano. Many of her students do not realize quite how important sewing skills are to a budding fashion designer.
One — her only male student, in fact — was a terrific illustrator. He designed gowns inspired by the silks worn by jockeys. They were beautiful, she says. But when he stitched them up, Molino had to ask, “How do you get into it?”
“There was no way in,” she says. “No zipper or anything. And he looked at me like I was speaking another language. He didn’t seem to get it.”
That’s common in her adult students, she says. Less so in the occasional younger ones, even a few of high school age, who are showing a renewed interest in the grunt work. Molino attributes this to the scores of design and fashion reality shows, and she expects the trend to continue.
#b#Big Apple-bound#/b#. While there are a few designers left in Philadelphia and Baltimore, the bottom line is that if you want to get serious about your fashion career, you will have to be in New York City, Molino says.
And if you’re going to do it, Molino says, do it the old-fashioned way — start pounding the pavement. First thing, of course, is to decide what area of design you want to be in, men, women, or children. Then figure out which sub-area you like best: sportswear, lingerie, casual, etc.
From here you build the all-important portfolio. Like any artistic endeavor, Molino says, a degree helps, but talent is the ultimate arbiter for anyone looking to hire a designer. The advantage of taking a course like hers, she says, is to steer aspiring designers around certain pitfalls (like making silk gowns with no way to get into them) and help them build their portfolios.
Throughout the certificate course, Molino says, students design to enhance their own portfolios. “The students come out a little above entry level.”
Molino no longer designs for money, though she does still make clothes at home. These days she’s a teacher and a consultant, operating her Yardley-based firm Fashion Fix (www.fashinofix.com). She jokes, “You know all those shows about what not to wear? I’m the local version of what not to wear.”
Teaching, she says, keeps her fresh and enthused. “They ask me questions and I think, ‘I never saw it like that,’” she says. “A lot of times you forget the fundamental things. I have to remind myself that I need to go back.”