Andrew Van Sant

William Shakespeare once wrote, “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” That certainly rings true April 30 as students at Philadelphia University gear up for their annual fashion design show, “Fashion Fantasy,” at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. It’s an amazing showcase that is completely run by the students and introduces the best and the brightest of the future world of fashion. PGN took time to speak to Andrew Van Sant, co-producer of the event.

PGN: It’s almost show time and I know it’s bad luck to say good luck, so I’ll say “break a leg.” Do you have any superstitions? AVS: If I spill salt, I have to throw it over my left shoulder. My whole family does it, so if we’re together, you don’t want to be behind us or you might get pelted. I know we have at least a few disgruntled waitresses in my hometown.

PGN: Where would your hometown be? AVS: I’m from Hanover. Home of Snyder’s of Hanover potato chips and pretzels. It’s near Gettysburg too, so we had a Civil War influence going on as well. It’s a very small town, so growing up was an interesting experience. I was definitely different than most of the people there. Everyone knew it and some people were OK with it, but others weren’t so open. It could be hard.

PGN: When did things change? AVS: Not until I came to Philadelphia University. It used to be called Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and they’re well known for their design school. I feel a lot more comfortable here and have met a lot of good friends.

PGN: Do you have any siblings? AVS: I have an older sister, Caitlin, and a younger brother, Matthew. He’ll be going to Drexel next fall, so there’ll be two of us in Philadelphia. My sister goes to James Madison University in Virginia.

PGN: What do your parents do? AVS: My dad is a CPA and controller for a manufacturing plant and he also adjuncts at York College as an accounting professor, and my mother is practice manager at a pediatrician’s office. PGN: What does your dad’s company manufacture? AVS: They make machines that work with non-woven textile things like baby wipes or paper towels or gift wrap; it’s hard to explain.

PGN: Did you prefer G.I. Joes or Barbies? AVS: [Laughs.] Barbies. And my sister is probably still pissed at me because I used to cut off the hair on her dolls and change their clothes.

PGN: What else did you like to do as a kid? AVS: I was obsessed with computers. We had a really old, slow computer but I would stay on it for hours. For some reason, I was also obsessed with the Weather Channel. Looking back, I can’t believe I was so weird, but that was my thing. My parents would ask me what the weather was and I’d give them an update, ‘There’s a storm coming in two hours and it’s moving at 6 miles per hour!” I have no idea why I cared. Luckily, my sister started taking art lessons, so I asked to take them too. I started doing art at about 8 and then also began taking piano lessons, which got me into music. By the time I got to high school, if there was a musical group or an acting club or audition, or an art showing, I was involved. From there, I started getting into fashion.

PGN: What was the first piece of art that you brought home? AVS: The first big project we had to do was a drawing of a flower. My parents had hung the flower my sister had drawn in the powder room, so I decided to draw the exact same one. I got yelled at by my teacher for plagiarizing! I had to pick another flower and I guess it wasn’t as good because it never got hung up in the house … I did go on to be the president of our chapter of the National Art Honor Society my senior year, so I guess I got better.

PGN: Who did you play with as a kid? AVS: I mostly stuck to myself, but when I did play with other kids, it was usually with the girls. [Laughs.] No surprise there! It was a bit of a traumatic childhood. Hanover is very conservative and, in high school, I got picked on a lot and was always being called gay or fag. I wasn’t out then, and am actually slowly in the process of coming out now. When I first came to Philly, I would lie to people about being gay because I still had the mindset of a small town. I wasn’t very convincing and, now, being in such a supportive environment, I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing wrong with me and that this is normal. I’m a lot happier now. It’s not a big deal anymore, it’s just what it is.

PGN: Low point? AVS: I remember one night after a school dance or something, I was crying and thinking that nobody liked me and that I didn’t have any friends. My sister was with me and she started to cry too. It was a rough time and that night the frustration just got to me. I couldn’t see things getting better, because I was at such a low point. I never did anything stupid or hurt myself, but I had a hard time day to day.

PGN: That’s interesting, because we tend to think things are so much easier for your generation. How about a good childhood memory? AVS: All my good memories were with my family. When I was in fifth grade we went to San Diego and visited Lego Land. Oh my God! I don’t care how old you are, Lego Land is the most amazing place.

PGN: Your sister was older; were you close? AVS: Yes, I really looked up to her. Anything she did, I wanted to do. She joined band, I joined band. She played the violin, I played viola. Piano lessons, art lessons, she did all of these first and I followed. The only time she got mad was in sixth grade. There was an airport near our school where they gave lessons to students from our school. Caitlin heard about it and wanted to take flying lessons, so of course I did too. My parents didn’t let her, but they let me do it since I was a boy, even though I was younger than her. I still tease her about it.

PGN: What instruments did you play? AVS: I played the viola and the piano and I played drums and xylophone in band. My biggest regret is that I quit piano.

PGN: What are you studying now? AVS: I take fashion merchandising, which is a business degree. It’s a combination of marketing and retailing. There are a lot of things you can do, from buying for stores or lines where you decide what you want in the stores and at what prices, or creating store displays and the themes for the store’s marketing. I’m the only guy in my class. It’s cool: I have an internship this summer with a fashion PR company and then I go to study abroad in London. My parents always instilled a strong work ethic in us.

PGN: So tell me about the fashion show. AVS: There’s a lot that goes into it. The Annual Fashion Show is a production of Philadelphia University’s Fashion Industries Association, our student group composed of fashion design, fashion industry management and fashion merchandising students. I’m on the board. We coordinate with the Academy of Music, which is where the show is held. It is the largest fashion event in the Philadelphia area and we get an audience of nearly 2,300 people. This year, we chose Fashion Fantasy as our theme. Things are so difficult in society right now with the economy tanking and two ongoing wars, we thought people needed an escape. It’s very whimsical, flirty and fantastical. What’s amazing is that it is completely student run. The sets are designed by the architectural students, the furniture by the industrial students, etc. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

PGN: What was the most outrageous outfit from last year? AVS: There was a set of three garments inspired by American ideology. I looked at them and they were made of faded army-green canvas with draping. Underneath it had all these controversial slogans like “Saddam in ’08,” “All fags should go to hell” and, on one dress, there was a big McDonald’s logo in blood red. Things that are still a part of our society whether we want to acknowledge it or not. There was another outfit in that collection with a hat made to look like a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb. When that came on stage they played “Paper Planes” by MIA. It really made you think. This year we have some really wow pieces as well. PGN: I read a quote from Clara Henry, director of the Fashion Design Program: “The event celebrates the best of this year’s student designs, and we are pleased by the number of designers and fashion-industry representatives who attend the fun, exciting night to scout for the design talent of the future.” AVS: Yeah, last year the student who won best of show got written up in “Women’s Wear Daily,” which is a huge deal: It’s read by everyone in the fashion industry. We’ve had numerous guest celebrities in the fashion world including Jay McCarroll, who won “Project Runway” and was a student here. He comes every year. Last year, we had Francisco Costa, who is Calvin Klein’s creative director. It’s always exciting to see people who have made it big in the fashion industry. We also get a lot of press coverage at the event. PGN: Hobbies? AVS: I’m really into music. I love to see what’s new and who’s doing what. I’m helping with the music for the fashion show. We try to choose music to emphasize the emotions of each collection.

PGN: Worst clothing disaster? AVS: Every school picture I ever took!

PGN: What actress would you like to be? AVS: Tilda Swinton. She’s so powerful and feminine at the same time. She’s very outspoken and doesn’t follow the pack. She makes interesting artistic choices.

PGN: Brush with fame? AVS: My freshman-year roommate’s cousin got me my internship for this summer. In February, I got to go up to New York and help them out at Fashion Week. I got to meet Anna Wintour from Vogue and Rachel Zoe, who is stylist to the stars; Jimmy Fallon, Elijah Wood and a whole lot of style celebrities. It was really cool to meet them in person.

PGN: Contest or award you’ve won? AVS: I actually got Most Valuable Player on our track team. It’s funny, because I was never an athletic type. In ninth grade, I was 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds. I started running track and did well. At first I was like, “Oh my God, physical activity hurts!” But then I got into it and ran for all four years in school. By the end, I could run a mile in under four minutes. It gave me a chance to show the jocks I could do something athletic too.

PGN: Speaking of showing off, how can people find out more about the fashion show? AVS: The fashion show is on Thursday, April 30 at the Academy of Music. The fashion show starts at 7:30 but there’s a pre-show at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $10-$45 and you can get them at the Kimmel Center box office at Broad and Spruce or by calling (215) 893-1999. You can also purchase tickets online at www.ticketphiladelphia.org.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].