Annette Medcalf ('12)
On July 19, 1996, Annette Medcalf sat fixated in front of her television set in New York City. She was waiting for the sea of navy and red to come marching around the track during the opening ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, tipping their white hats and waving the American flag.
As the senior designer at Champion, the athletic apparel company owned by Hanes Inc., Annette and her team were charged with creating both the United States’ 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics uniforms and the looks for the 1996 Summer Games. It was a daunting task for the lead designer, but one that she says is a lifetime highlight–with only a newspaper clipping to prove it.
“I couldn’t be in Atlanta because I was pregnant at the time, but it was awesome. Watching it, I was elated,” she says. “When these athletes go through the Olympics, if they don’t win a medal, the only thing they really have is the ensembles designed for them. The athletes are the only ones that have them; there are no extra pieces made. I have nothing but a clipping from USA Today, where athletes in the uniforms were on the cover.”
Annette spent two years working with the Olympics graphics department and regulations committee on the opening ceremony, warm-up and award ceremony outfits. She also led the program for licensed merchandising, helping the organization design the official five-ring embossed hats, sweatshirts and T-shirts that dominated the country that year.
“It was very prideful, to see that work come to fruition,” she says. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Though the Tennessee native didn’t start at the top of the totem pole when she finished O’More’s two-year fashion design program in 1986, this wasn’t the first time she’d seen her designs walking around.
After working as an assistant designer at two sportswear companies–sketching collections, coordinating catalogue photo shoots and selecting sample orders–Annette dove into a lead designer role at Regent Manufacturing in Middle Tennessee, fabricating men’s lines of dress shirts, Western tops and casual pullovers.
But it was when she moved to Colonial Corp., a private label company that created lines for the likes of Montgomery Ward and Banana Republic, that she really got a taste of her design passion.
Because the buyers of big-name brands would work with the firm to produce exclusive collections, Annette’s designs could be seen on bodies across the country: a tourist on a ferry ride in New York or a girl eating in a restaurant in Idaho.
“It was exciting. The first thing I ever saw of mine was someone in the mall with a Gap shirt on,” she says. “It was pretty amazing to be walking around and see the stuff you designed.”
Annette worked in the knits program, meeting with the buyers to discuss needed areas of growth and the psyche behind their consumer base. Illustrations, fabrics, and sample pieces would be laid on the table, with the possibility of hanging on the racks come a couple seasons.
“It was a combination of design freedom and specific needs. We would build the entire programs, or someone like Gap would come to us with a specification package to develop. They [Gap] had all these guidelines, and were very detailed about the qualities of fabrics,” she says. “What I loved about it was working with the buyers, coming up with concepts and seeing it come to fruition.”
Annette spread her wings a couple years later to the Big Apple, and spent a year at Izod Lacoste as a technical designer for the company. It was a headhunter who sought the businesswoman out, directing her to Champion–the place where she would craft collections, oversee the licensing program and eventually create the country’s outfits for one of the world’s biggest events.
“Champion was the highlight of my career, that was the top of the ladder. I worked my way up,” she says. “I got a lot of awesome experience in my career. From licensing product to importing to private labels and collections, I was able to experience a whole realm of fashion in men’s, women’s and children’s.”
Now, after several exciting years of overseas trips and leading design campaigns, Annette is back in Nashville. As a fashion design instructor at her alma mater, she’s back to where she always knew she would be: helping O’More students forge a path in the industry.
“One thing I have done throughout my career is mentor students. I would connect with a student at O’More and help them move forward,” she says. “I’ve always had something in me that wanted to teach.”
After finishing her BFA degree at O’More this spring, Annette has joined the faculty as a fashion design instructor. She says she plans to use her sweeping experiences and her love for teaching to help guide the fledgling designers.
“You can talk about the industry differently when you’ve been in it. I get to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve been through,” she says. “I love working with the students, seeing their passion and their excitement and their motivation.
“I’m a big cheerleader for O’More students.”
For more information on Annette, email her here.