Trendsetters: Fashion Camp OC Founder Erin Bianchi

The inaugural group of Fashion Camp OC members

If Michael Kors, Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum took Project Runway to summer camp, it might look a bit like Fashion Camp OC.

The inaugural group of Fashion Camp OC members

Smores would give way to lattes with a dusting of chocolate, woodsy cabins would be traded for design school cutting rooms and halter tops and cut-off Levi’s would become Michael Kors chic tie-dye tops paired with Current Elliot’s fashionably distressed denim shorts. Snogging in the canoe? Double air kisses now.

The brainchild of Erin Bianchi, a 15-year fashion industry veteran and the Public Relations Manager for Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Fashion Camp OC is a fashion industry incubator aimed at mavens age 16 and up. This past April’s camp included campers who ranged from 17 years old to 31 years old. And you thought camp was just for kiddies!

Bianchi, who also teaches two courses in fashion at Orange Coast College and developed Lady Mardo’s Fashion Trivia iPhone application, brings some solid industry know-how to Fashion Camp OC. In addition to her work at high-profile PR agencies, Bianchi headed up marketing for San Francisco-based Karen Neuburger Ltd., a $60 million sleepwear company made famous by its multiple Oprah Winfrey Show appearances. She’s been at Bloomingdales since 2002, where she hosts over 200 events per year, including charity functions, fashion shows and designer personal appearances.

The first Fashion Camp OC debuted this past April as a bit of test concept. It launched on a Friday night, went all day Saturday and was, in short, an instant success. With a beefed up program and additional days, camp is now in full swing. This summer session, which begins on July 13, will give campers five days of sartorial summer bliss that will include:

• A trip to L.A. to visit LA Models

• A visit to Courtney Skiba Productions, where Skiba will share her experiences at Details and InStyle Magazines, and her work in event production, styling and fashion shows. She will also guide campers through a surprise project

• A trip to Downtown L.A.’s Cooper Building (in the Garment District) to attend an industry-only fashion show

• Projects led by industry professionals on subjects such as blogging and magazine layouts

• A hands-on tutorial on producing a runway show

Fashion Camp OC 'camper'

We want to go to camp! But, alas, we have other fashion work to do. If you think you might want to give up the canoe and capture the flag for a little fashion fun, read on for Fashion Trends Daily’s one-on-one with Bianchi….

FTD: We’ve got to ask the cliché starter question: What spurred the idea to launch a fashion camp?

EB: My aim is not to replace the fashion schools, but to offer an additional “alternative education.” For a few years, I had been noticing that the fashion programs at the high school and college level focused mostly on design and merchandising. Although they are a big part of the business, there is so much more. Not much had changed since I was in college wishing and wondering if there was more to the industry than just sewing. A friend actually suggested it, and her comment was like a light going off in my head. I started working on the concept that very night.

FTD: How did the age range work out last year?

EB: I was extremely nervous about the age spread, but when you bring people together with a common interest, it just works. It was incredible how passionate and professional they all were. The 31-year old was working alongside the high schoolers, and neither had any idea of each other’s age.

FTD: How fashion savvy are the ‘campers’ ?

EB: It was intriguing to see the levels of experience and interest. I was shocked at the talent level. At camp in April, one of the high school students hopped on the sewing machine during a quick-timed T-shirt re-design project (the rest of the students used scissors and imagination). When the buzzer went off, he presented a completely re-constructed tee with intricate design details and we all wanted to purchase one!

I should mention that on the flip side, I had some very green students, too. And that’s the way it should be. Not everyone has the same strengths, and the ones who couldn’t design were able to show their prowess during the blog sessions and styling experiments. It’s not a competition; it’s a learning experience.

FTD: What are they reading and are they involved with fashion?

EB: I asked if they were reading blogs and a few of the students read them: BleachBlack, Fashionista and New York Magazine’s The Cut, to name a few. (Note to Ms. Bianchi: We better see – ahem — a new blog on their summer reading list!) Most read magazines, the majority worked in retail, and a few had done some internships and backstage fashion show volunteering.

FTD: What’s new this year?

EB: Well, mostly the fact that we’ll have more time. This year there are five whole days that are packed with activity. The time will allow us to meet more people, work on more projects and more.

FTD: Do the campers want careers in fashion or just want to be a part of it?       Fashion Camp OC in full swing

EB: Yes, most do come wanting a career in fashion. However, last season I had two that were purely there to just feel out their interest in fashion. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from one of those girls and she’s pulled out of her college and has re-enrolled at a school that offers a fashion program!

It’s great to think we can help open doors and provide inspiration. When I was in school, I thought I would have to learn to sew or I’d never make it in fashion. I want to be sure these students know of the thousands of opportunities that are in front of them.

FTD: What do you want them to walk away from camp having experienced?


Fashion Camp OC 'camper'

EB: A more realistic view of the fashion industry. To know what’s out there, and that it’s accessible, and achievable. I also want them to know it’s not all easy, and it takes hard work to make it. Most of all, I want them to make connections — not only with the industry guests, but with one another.

At the last camp, I brought in the Merchandise Director for Swim at Volcom, who oversees a multi-million dollar business. After she spoke to the students, I told them that I was able to have her come in on a Saturday to work with them, because she’s my friend, and that 17 years ago we sat next to each other in our first fashion class in college. The students sitting next to them right now might be great connections for them in five 10, or 15 years.

FTD: Any chance Tim or Heidi will make an appearance?

EB: You never know…

To sign up for Fashion Camp OC, or for more information, visit

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Author:Michelle Dalton Tyree

Fashion Trends Daily is the brainchild of Michelle Dalton Tyree. She is the former West Coast Retail Editor for Women’s Wear Daily, Fashion Editor for The Japan Times, and founder of former L.A. luxury boutique Iconology. Michelle is frequently quoted about fashion retail trends in major media outlets such as NPR, KPCC, The Inside Source and the New York Times. She has developed content for many luxury brands and retailers and has written for Allure, Worth Global Style Network, Footwear News and other media outlets.