Anyone who watches "Project Runway" knows contestants on the fashion competition tend to be afraid of the infamous unconventional materials challenge, where they are forced to work with something besides fabric. At Bakersfield High School, students took on the task and made it work.

For a month, BHS fashion students have been hard at work on their Newspaper Runway project, which culminated in a fashion show Thursday morning in a packed Harvey Auditorium. Students from other classes cheered and applauded as each of the seven looks took its turn on the runway.

Working in groups, students in Sarah Claborn's fashion class took inspiration from famous design houses such as Chanel, Dior, Betsey Johnson, Louboutin, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Everything they made had to be 80 percent newspaper or recycled paper, with 20 percent allowed for non-paper materials like zippers, glitter or paint. Holding it all together is sewing, rubber cement and Mod Podge.

Pages of The Californian were among the materials used, though it was sometimes hard to tell, so transformed were they by the students' efforts.

The winning team was a group of students inspired by Louis Vuitton's "Masters" collection, where the designer made handbags featuring the work of famous artists. The students decided to choose their own artist to take further inspiration from: Picasso, channeling both his blue period and his cubism into their layered A-line dress with tiered skirts. 

"I was just really proud of our entire group," said senior Kate Kelly, 17. "You could tell we all worked really hard and were eager to see the final product."

Kelly explained that her group worked hard to overcome the challenges the newspaper and magazines presented. Everyone in her group also had to work around different schedules that included time away from the project for sports. 

But the teamwork, innovation and dedication will serve Kelly well, as she plans for a career in the fashion industry after studying marketing at Mercy College and construction at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York next year. Before that, though, she'll make her own formal dress.

Two groups chose Chanel for their inspiration. One created a black dress with red roses and a long skirt, which the model swiftly detached at the end of the runway to reveal a shorter skirt. The other Chanel garment was a two-piece lavender look, featuring a high-low skirt. All of it was painted in the light purple hue, except the inside of the long skirt, which showed a peek of the material's true form.

Breana Renteria and Dulce Zenteno, who designed the lavender piece, said they were drawn to Chanel for its fancy, but flirty style. The girls, both 16 and juniors, said this was the first time they've participated in the Newspaper Runway and plan to do it again next year.

"At first, it was a struggle," Zenteno said of working with newspaper. "Then we all agreed (on what to do), and it turned out better than what we had thought."

The girls found that working together as a group made it easier to accomplish tricky things like pleating. Both said they had only made simple things like tops and makeup pouches with real fabric, so when it came to newspaper, it was a serious challenge. Through the course of making the dress, they learned what worked and what didn't when it comes to constructing with newspaper, and they think they'll be in even better shape next year.

"I'm really proud," Renteria said, adding that she was thrilled to see other people liked their creation.

Thanks to a change in venue, a lot more of the students' BHS peers saw their garments on the runway. Held in a school hallway for the last few years, Claborn wanted to go a little bigger this year, first asking if she could use the school's Little Harvey auditorium. But theater tech director Dale Olvera told her since this was BHS, the show should happen in the Harvey Auditorium. Olvera put together a production worthy of New York catwalk for the students.

"This was a lot more exciting," Kelly said of the new venue. "I know our whole group was really eager to have a bigger stage."

Claborn recently took over the fashion program from her predecessor and mentor, Terri Pederson, who was Claborn's teacher when she took the class as a BHS student.

"This job is a dream," she said in an email the day before the show. "I get to work with students who are motivated, creative, passionate and amazing. They come into my room ready to learn and work every single day."

In the program, students get to flex their creative muscles while learning everything from garment construction and color theory to the history of fashion and the business side of the industry.

"They get to have a relaxing environment in which to use all of the skills that their core classes provide, but with construction of things that they will use for life," Claborn said. "I am so thankful that our administration sees the value in this type of program."

With arts programs dwindling in public schools, the fashion students know they have something special.

"We really love Mrs. Claborn," Renteria said. "She gives us a lot of opportunities and helps us (accomplish) what we want to do."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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