On my first day of R100 (the introductory apparel merchandising class) I sat in my seat anxiously awaiting the arrival of my professor. I could not wait to meet the woman who would finally teach me about things I was truly passionate about. I would no longer have to sit and listen to boring lectures on human cells, elements, and Lewis Dot diagrams. Instead my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons would be spent learning about the rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior’s “New Look,” and Madame de Pompadour. Just as the Hallelujah chorus began singing in the background, I was startled from my reverie by the sound of the classroom doors openly loudly. In walked a tall, blonde woman dressed in an impeccable outfit. No it wasn’t, Heidi Klum, it was my professor, Dr. Deb Christiansen.
Dr. Deb (as students call her) is an instructor here at Indiana University. The Valparaiso native attended Indiana University after high school. It wasn’t until Christiansen decided taking exploratory apparel and art courses that she decided to pursue a career in fashion. Through the Individualized Major Program she received her bachelor’s degree in fashion design and also obtained an associate’s degree in costuming from IU’s Jacob School of Music. She continued her studies at Florida State University where she received her master’s degree.
Christiansen was not always a professor. She was successful in the fashion industry and worked for several apparel companies. She has also worked with several opera, theater and film production companies nationwide as a costumer and designer. When asked what was the most exciting project she was ever a part of, Christiansen said, “Assisting with the set-up for the trend direction/room rigging of the first RLX collection at Polo/Ralph Lauren in New York City.”
See I told you she was fabulous!
Christiansen left the fast-paced fashion industry to become a professor. In high school she taught at the elementary level, and in college she was an undergraduate assistant. She was always drawn toward continued education and teaching others. Even before college she had considered teaching.
For Christiansen, the most rewarding thing about being a professor is seeing her student’s succeed in the classroom and even after college. Speaking of success, many of Christiansen’s students have attained high levels of achievement. Past students are currently working in the industry as assistant designers, creative directors, famous fashion bloggers, etc. She believes it’s only a matter of time before one of her students will have their own national or international label!
They better send her some free clothes and an invite to fashion week!
When asked what advice she had for young men and women who want to be a part of the fashion industry, Christiansen had a lot of advice to give. First, the competition is fierce! She advises students to take advantage of any and every opportunity they have, even if they don’t think it’s worth their time.
“Branch out—don’t stick to organizations only focused on your discipline,” she says.
“Some employers want to see people that understand and appreciate a wider variety of perspectives and have a multi-disciplinary viewpoint in analyzing problems and approaching issues.”
She says, “it isn’t just about GPA or a single work experience—you must have a strong balance of skills…”
She mentions skills like service/philanthropy, good leadership roles, solid professional development (work/internship experience), advanced communication skills (written and face-to-face), and even good cultural expansion experiences (study/internship abroad or even service/philanthropy with a cultural twist). According to Christiansen it is important to be able to demonstrate and discuss these particular skills.
In other words, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Outside of teaching and fashion Dr. Deb loves to spend time with her family. I asked if her little boy was always dressed in the cutest outfits, to which she responded, “Not exactly… he loves sweats and t-shirts and can be very opinionated (and obstinate) about wearing them!”
I bet he’s still the most fashionable on the playground!
If you’re interested in taking classes with Dr. Deb Christiansen, or learning more about fashion, check out Indiana University’s Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design.
I promise you won’t regret it!