Barbies, Spice Girls and crop tops: Monica Arana’s route to fashion


Monica Arana, senior, drapes cloth on a mannequin for one of her designs Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The clothes will be modeled at the Provoke Spring Fashion Show May 1. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress Monica Arana, senior, drapes cloth on a mannequin for one of her designs Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The clothes will be modeled at the Provoke Spring Fashion Show May 1. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

As children of the ’90s, we were all awe-inspired by the bright crop tops, pleather bell bottoms and platform shoes worn by pop icons like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. But for Monica Arana, who is studying Apparel Design and Merchandising at SF State, it was how she knew that she would one day become a fashion designer.

In high school, Arana, would go to her local thrift shop to buy clothes and alter them to make them her own. She made her first dress when she was just 16.

Five years later Arana, now 21, is in the design lab at SF State, located in room 410 of Burk Hall. It resembles the design room on Project Runway — cluttered with large, wooden tables full of fabric and mannequins adorned with half-finished garments.

This is where Arana’s advanced apparel design problems class is held, which she describes as the “cherry on top” of the ADM major. Each student in the class of about 25 will produce a line of four to six looks to be showcased in the spring fashion show.

“Monica is a very dedicated student,” said her design problems professor, Kelly Reddy-Best. “She always shows me what’s happening and keeps me updated — the dedication she has is inspiring to me. She also has a great vision. When I see a garment in the studio, I know exactly when it is something Monica is working on.”

For her line, Arana aims to incorporate equestrian and fetish wear with a polished 1940s pinup look, developing a perfect blend of edgy and classy.

“It’s going to have a really cohesive color palette,” she said. “I’m using a lot of white, black and a touch of red. And there’s going to be a lot of pleather…and opera length gloves and black stockings.”

Arana says she has a really strong aesthetic, but her garments don’t always turn out exactly how she imagined them.

“That’s the hardest thing for me,” she said. “We’re all still learning, and we want it to be what we see in our head, and that’s not always how it turns out. You kind of just have to work with what you got.”

Arana is inspired by everything from 1970s punk and goth subculture to 1980s synth bands like The Cure and Suzie and the Banshees.

“I think there’s a lot of depth in the music and when I listen to a song that’s really atmospheric, I can imagine the collection that would be going down the runway to that song,” said the designer. “Music totally inspires me, definitely in a more abstract way, but if someone told me to put a song to an outfit, I would be able to do it.”

Arana is graduating in May and has big plans for the future. Her dream job would be to design for Alexander McQueen, and ultimately produce her own fashion label.

“I feel hopeful,” she said about graduating. “I really feel like there’s room for me in the industry, and I feel like there’s no other industry for me to be in.”

Arana’s passion, charisma, confidence and bold aesthetic are just what the fashion industry needs. This summer, she is traveling to New York to prove it.

Arana explains that as her designs have become more sophisticated, so too has her personal style. This means paying more attention to detail — like polishing off an outfit with the perfect accessories or pulling a look together with the right makeup.

“She has a very distinct aesthetic — she frequently incorporates a 1970s punk aesthetic into an updated modern, yet alternative style,”says Reddy-Best. “She often utilizes simple silhouettes with structured fabrics  and adds unique embellishments such as studs, or other similar adornments.  I see her as a combination of Alexander McQueen and Elsa Schiaparelli in an updated 2014, Bay Area style.”

Much like the fashion industry itself, Arana’s style is constantly in flux. However, at the end of the day, she’s still a college student.

“When I’m really busy, I’m gonna wear my pajamas to class,” she said.

Arana says her knowledge about fashion has “grown exponentially” since she started studying apparel design at SF State.

“Monica is a young woman driven by her desire to learn design skills and techniques, always interested in learning more and appreciative of suggestions and opportunities,” said visual merchandising and promotion professor Connie Ulasewicz.

“Whenever I dress my friends or family, their confidence goes way up,” Arana said. “I just love how fashion can change that for someone, how it makes women feel about themselves and carry themselves differently, bringing all the beauty from the inside to the outside.”

Arana explains that fashion has been a part of her life since birth, and that it requires a great amount of passion.

“Some people are just born to do it,” she said. “If that’s your calling, you gotta get on that and don’t let it go.”