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Design on Demand: Fashion for the Occasion

by Laurie Callahan

Anyone who has been following Marymount’s annual Portfolio in Motion fashion show knows that the work of the University’s Fashion Design majors just keeps getting better and more exciting, year after year. And word about the quality of Marymount’s program and the talents of its students has clearly begun to spread, as evidenced by outside organizations turning to the University with exciting design projects. This year, MU Fashion Design students benefited from three such opportunities – design projects with a national reach that seemingly “dropped out of the sky” and into their laps.

Professor Janice Ellinwood, chair of the Department of Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising, says, “The best part is, our students jumped right on those opportunities. No matter how busy they already were, they recognized that when you are asked to design garments by a prestigious organization like USA Today, Madame Tussauds, or the Folger Shakespeare Library, it’s an opportunity you don’t pass up!”

She adds, “I personally am so proud of our students – of their work ethic and of their work, which is excellent. And I am grateful to the organizations that thought of Marymount and offered our students these world-class opportunities to shine.”

Inaugural Fashions

In early December 2008, USA Today contacted Marymount to ask whether the University’s Fashion Design majors would be interested in proposing Inaugural daywear and eveningwear designs for First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia. Fashion stylist Tim Gunn of TV’s Project Runway would judge the sketches. In the busy period before final exams and with just three weeks to prepare their designs for national publication, eight Marymount students responded with an enthusiastic yes!

(l to r): Silvia Huezo ’09, Kathryn (Kadie) Sich ’10, Iwona Kapcia-Paila ’09
The students’ work was featured in a two-page color spread in USA Today on December 31. Their approaches varied from conservative to more avante garde; while several of the proposed outfits featured patriotic red, white, and blue tones, golden, yellow, and purple themes were also presented.

Mr. Gunn’s top picks for the new first lady were a stunning camel-colored wool coat with matte red belt and high mandarin collar by senior Silvia Huezo, and an elegant goldenrod ball gown with gold, silver, and pearl beading by junior Kathryn “Kadie” Sich. Silvia noted Mrs. Obama’s fondness for brooches and added one on the collar of her coat. Kadie, drawing inspiration from the 1960s and 70s, chose a simple silhouette for the first lady.

Making his selection for the Obamas’ daughters, Tim Gunn turned to the stylish, age-appropriate designs (pale red for Malia and white for Sasha) of senior Iwona Kapcia-Paila. Using layered silk and an understructure, Iwona subtly recreated the billowing of the U.S. flag, which is screened in the background of her illustration.

The excitement around this project didn’t end with the publication of the designs and Mr. Gunn’s verdicts. A producer at MSNBC saw the USA Today article and contacted Marymount to invite the winning designers to discuss the project on television. Two days later, Silvia and Kadie were interviewed live on MSNBC-TV. Both stated that Mrs. Obama was their inspiration. “She has an amazing figure,” said Kadie. “You couldn’t ask for more as a designer.” Silvia also pointed to the Washington, DC, weather as a factor in her decision to propose a chic, classic coat for the first lady to wear to the swearing-in ceremony.

The other MU participants in the USA Today Inaugural fashions project were junior Jessica Gray and seniors Lindsey Bhadra, Maria Bowyer, Roxelena Butler, and Amy Huyen Le. Professor Ellinwood notes, “President Obama’s Inauguration was an exciting and historic moment in America’s history. It’s important for people to feel involved in such a moment. This project offered our students a way to connect their passion for fashion with the thrill of history in the making. This is something they will always remember.”
View the USA Today article online here.

Visions of Cherry Blossoms

At the end of January, Madame Tussauds Washington, DC, a sponsor of the 2009 National Cherry Blossom Festival, contacted Marymount to invite a Fashion Design student to create the gown that would be worn by their Tyra Banks wax figure in the parade. Professor Ellinwood offered the project to junior Kadie Sich.

Kadie explains, “This was a big project, because Madame Tussauds wanted me to come up with the design and then actually create the gown. They asked me to use the Cherry Blossom Festival logo and poster for inspiration.”

She continues, “I was inspired by the Japanese
aspects of the logo and used origami-like folds and pleats along with bunching to create a texture that mirrored the cherry blossoms.”
Kadie’s use of color and fabrics – a pastel print silk that
mirrors the Festival logo’s palette, blush pink satin, and pale pink chiffon – recreated the soft, frothy beauty of the cherry blossoms on a bright spring day. Ruching and layering
added dimension. Kadie encountered one unanticipated factor; she laughs, “I found that a wax figure is different from
a real person and had to modify the design, adding straps
that weren’t originally planned!”
Kadie adjusts a dress detail before the big day.

The day of the nationally televised parade dawned cool but sunny. Madame Tussauds’ marketing manager, Shameka Lloyd, says, “Tyra looked beautiful! Her dress complimented the parade float perfectly! We were delighted with Kadie’s design and so lucky to have partnered on this with Marymount University.”

Bringing 16th Century Design into the 21st Century

In February, Marymount got a call from The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, asking whether the University’s Fashion Design students might be interested in creating 21st-century designs based on 16th-century dress, for display at an event honoring William Shakespeare’s 445th birthday and the Library’s 77th anniversary. Niki Torres, the Folger’s education outreach coordinator, explains, “Celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday each April is a long-standing Folger tradition, and we’re always looking for creative ways to explore connections between Shakespeare’s world and our own. This year, we thought that adding fashion-themed activities would be fun and bring a new twist to the festivities!”

Professor Ellinwood gave the assignment to her Fashion Illustration II class. As the students pored over pictures of Elizabethan attire, they noted the use of opulent fabrics and rich colors, as well as such interesting – and unfamiliar – structural elements as corsets, bumrolls, and farthingales.

Allison Jordan ’09 and Basmah Alomar ’09 show their illustrations at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s anniversary celebration.
Professor Ellinwood was delighted to see the students become absorbed in their research. She pointed out the connection between fashion and other lifestyle elements, telling them, “When the width of skirts was huge, doorways and chairs had to be bigger! So you should think about how your updated designs fit a modern lifestyle, while having an Elizabethan flair.” She also made sure that the students had appropriate fabric samples at hand to facilitate their design thinking. Professor Ellinwood explains, “Working with fabric helps designers think through what will work structurally.”

As senior Maria Bowyer sketched, she explained the design for her evening gown: “I’m creating structure using fabric layers, rather than internal structural support. Sheer fabric will provide a softer line.” Professor Ellinwood asked her, “Might you add a lining to make a pouf at the bottom?” She also advised, “Think about whether the dress will be comfortable to sit down in.”

Junior Olga Bonilla said, “I’m thinking of a trench coat and leggings, but I still want fullness. I like bell sleeves, too, but I’ll just do one sleeve to update the look.” Olga also decided to use jewel tones to reflect the tastes of the Elizabethan period.

Frederica “Freddie” Pagani planned to use buttons, overlays, and a high neck, but with modern details. She said, “It will be shorter, floatier, sleeveless, and not as stiff as the clothing of that era.” Freddie also chose a lighter color palette. She originally considered lilac and yellow, but ultimately settled on blue, tan, and brown.

Sophomore Dana Doughten said, “I’m reinterpreting the deep ‘V’ and planning a shorter garment with more volume, like a bubble skirt. I’ll use pastels with a bright waistband for contrast.” Junior Jessica Gray also modernized by shortening her garment but, she noted, “I’m picking up on the ornateness of the period and will keep the high neckline and corset element in front.” She combined lace and brocade period references with softer, more modern colors.

Junior Asia Little decided to update her garment by making it form-fitting. Her classmate Noor Alkhalifa designed a tunic over skinny pants, but incorporated a stand-up collar and bishop’s sleeve. Junior Allison Jordan also did slacks, but used a corset top, sleeve accents, and farthingales in the jacket. Junior Nicole Travers moved a big ruff from its usual Elizabethan position at the neckline to the bottom of her full-length gown. She points out, “I kept the bodice simple to focus the attention on the bottom detail.”

Sophomore Dana Conlon designed a jumpsuit in jewel tones. “I tried to take what’s coming up in fashion and add Shakespearean elements,” she explains.

Soon, the students’ illustrations were completed and mounted around the classroom for viewing before being sent over to the Folger. Some concepts had changed as the design process progressed. For example, Noor Alkhalifa noted, “I changed from jewel tones to black and white to be more modern and simple.”

Dana Conlon admits that she was apprehensive when she first learned about the project. “I initially thought, ‘Oh, Shakespeare!’” she says with a laugh. “But this turned out to be exciting. It made Shakespeare more relevant for me.” That’s just what the Folger Library’s Niki Torres loves to hear. Making Shakespeare accessible and relevant to more people is her passion.

April 26 dawned bright and hot, as hundreds of people of all ages flocked to the Folger to celebrate Shakespeare through readings, musical performances, combat demonstrations, and exhibits. The Marymount students’ designs were featured prominently in one of the library’s reading rooms. Elizabethan lords and ladies looked down from the paintings on the walls, perhaps a bit taken aback at seeing their familiar attire given such a modern spin.

Niki Torres says that the sketches “helped give our visitors a better understanding of the relationship between fashion and society through time.” She adds, “We’re so excited that the Marymount students were able to take this project on. And we are proud that the guests at our anniversary celebration were able to see such innovative and creative work during their visit to the Folger.”