Marist Italy

Front Row and Backstage at the World’s Most Exclusive Fashion Show

Daryl Richard, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
Marist students (seated far left) at Francesca Liberatore’s fashion show in Milan, Italy (photo by Jodi Hartmann, School of Communication and the Arts).

October 2, 2023 — Marist students got a front-row seat and backstage access to one of the most exclusive fashion events in the world — Milan Fashion Week.

Through the College’s partnership with Italian designer Francesca Liberatore, who has been working with Marist since 2016, nearly two dozen students studying fashion design, fashion merchandising, and global marketing communications were immersed in what’s considered one of the "big four" global fashion events. Milan Fashion Week was held Sept. 19 – 25 and in addition to Liberatore, included exhibits from brand name labels such as Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Fendi.

Liberatore is an award-winning designer who regularly shows at New York and Milan Fashion Week and has worked for some of the world’s most celebrated design houses.

"Never in a million years"

Students hopped on a high-speed train that took them from Marist’s Florence campus north to Milan in just under two hours. Part of what makes this experience so unique is that students got to work alongside Liberatore and her team the week leading up to the show and play an active role in preparing her exhibit. This type of access to hands-on learning at premiere industry events with top professionals in their field has helped launch Marist’s Fashion Program to be among the top in higher education.

“I would never have thought in a million years I’d be here at Milan Fashion Week,” said Gabrielle Brosnan '25, a fashion merchandising major studying this semester in Florence. “Experiences like this help you build many skills you would not get in the classroom, like communication and learning how to build relationships with people that will last a lifetime and really help us get into the industry.”

Image of Marist students with designer Liberatore.
LEFT IMAGE: Gabrielle Brosnan '25 (left) and Claudia Taracido '25 (center) discuss social media content with designer Francesca Liberatore (right). RIGHT IMAGE: (left to right) Liberatore, Brosnan, and Taracido review accessories on a model (photos by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College).

In preparation for the show, students helped “match each model to a look, and made sure each model complemented each look through color, shape, and movement,” said Claudia Taracido ‘25, a fashion design and fashion merchandising dual major also studying in Florence this semester. “We helped dress the models, guide the models, make them feel comfortable, accessorize them, style them.”

Students also assisted with the casting call process to select models who would wear pieces from Liberatore’s collection and produced social media content to help promote the exhibit during the days leading up to Milan Fashion Week.

More than 100 models stopped by the downtown Milan studio that was set up for the casting call. Some traveled over an hour by train for what can be a five-to-10-minute process in hopes they’d make the cut.

Image of model casting.
Sam Riviezzo '24 (far left) and Sophia Garcia '26 (second from left) assist Liberatore (standing far right) with model casting (photo by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College).

Two Marist students and two of Liberatore’s staff sat at a table at the front of the room as each model first practiced their runway walk, with Liberatore observing from the back. If they were a potential fit, the model then quickly moved to a makeshift dressing room where other students and staff helped pick an outfit and dress the model.

Once the cast of models was finalized, students helped create a card on each that would detail the outfit and accessories they’d wear during the show. This would be critical to a smooth backstage operation the day of the show.

Being Part of the Buzz

Perhaps most rewarding for students was the opportunity to see all the hard work and preparation come to life on the runway. The day of the show, 11 Marist students got to work backstage with Liberatore’s team and the models, including mastering the art of dressing and undressing models within 60 to 120 seconds to give the audience a perfectly synchronized show.

Seventeen students had front-row seats along the runway to witness the grandeur of Milan Fashion Week alongside other fashion industry leaders and influencers. Liberatore’s show was held around a big sand pit and the runway was built as a large square, giving attendees an up-close experience with the models.

Marist students await the start of Liberatore's fashion show.
Isabella Conforti '25 (far left) and Sarah DiCosmo '25 (second from left) with other Marist students before the start of Liberatore’s show at Milan Fashion Week (photo by Jodi Hartmann, School of Communication and the Arts).

“The show was awesome,” said Sarah DiCosmo ‘25, a fashion merchandising major studying abroad in Florence for the semester. “It was really cool to see behind the scenes what goes into Milan Fashion Week. There is a lot more that goes into it than I originally thought. I didn’t realize how much actually went into getting the right outfit on the right model, and how they walked in [the outfit] changed the story they told.”

Designer, Teacher, and Mentor

Liberatore is not only a fashion designer, but she’s also a teacher. In addition to her work with Marist students, she teaches graduate classes in fashion design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, one of the oldest public universities in Italy. The university dates back to 1776 and is renowned for its focus on the history of art and teaching. That combination is what makes this such a rich and rewarding experience for Marist students.

“Francesca is an amazing Italian fashion designer,” said Isabella Conforti '25, a fashion merchandising major studying in Florence for the fall semester. “She was so nice and kind to work with during Fashion Week, and she would explain what she was doing if we were not helping her at that moment” to ensure we learned about every step in the process.

Image of Liberatore sharing career advice with Marist students.
Liberatore (standing, far right) discussing her collection and sharing career advice with Marist students during a show preparation day in Milan (photo by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College).

Liberatore worked for some of the most well-known design houses around the world early in her career, including Viktor & Rolf and Jean Paul Gaultier, before launching her own label in 2009. After winning Italy’s prestigious Next Generation competition the same year, she went on to have her designs shown in renowned fashion centers such as Paris, New York City, Milan, and London.

Working with Marist is a ‘life coming full circle’ moment for Liberatore.

“When I was young, so many people gave to me great opportunity, and this is what I want to provide to students, to the new generation. I want to make them think about the whole process behind a show and how important it is to work as a group.”

On working with Marist students, she noted: “I’m impressed to see them growing. When they first arrive here, they are young and often very shy. But they are very open to their experience, very passionate, and they’re really fast in understanding things. When I go back to [visit] Marist and see how they organize their own show [Silver Needle Runway], it’s incredibly impressive to see how each one of them decides what they want to do and the role they play in producing the show.”

Reflecting on the experiences she’s had access to in just the first month of her semester in Italy, Conforti said: “I’m so fortunate I go to Marist because I would not have been able to experience this without the Marist Fashion Program and their connections in the industry.”





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