“Designing a Look: Where Do Fashion Design Concepts Come From?” Showcase review
By: Kelly Mulligan
Can fashion be a poignant expression of cultural diversity? It was a question posed and answered by Leah Aronhime, Affiliate Professor and Studio Manager of the Fashion Design Program, and her students in the showcase: “Designing a Look: Where Do Fashion Design Concepts Come From?”
The exhibit ran on the second floor of the Manning Academic Center between December 2021 and February 4and2022.
The concept of the show was to “show non-fashion designers how we create our designs”, said Showcase Director Professor Aronhime. “There’s a ton of concept research and development that goes into it.”
“People consider fashion to be very trivial,” Aronhime said of the showcase’s purpose. “And they just don’t realize the engineering that goes into it, the thinking that goes into it, and the research. And [we] I really wanted to show that.
Students in the Concept Development course were given three concepts to consider: Texture, Motion, and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Designers were asked to consider their origins, cultures and community as inspiration for their sculptures and clothing. The students were also asked to produce 100 sketches of clothing and sculptures before starting their production process.
“Usually in fashion, you create a mood board, you get inspiration from other collections,” says Karli Banas, a fashion design student. “But in concept development, you have to create your own concept – your sculpture IS your inspiration, which makes for a tough class, but also creates really cool designs.”
As part of her project, Karli Banas described the diversity in our own minds. “Our theme was diversity, equity and inclusion, and I decided to focus on the diversity of our minds and ways of thinking,” Banas said. “For my sculpture, I wanted it to resemble the inner workings of our minds.”
“Daydream Dress”, a cotton fabric dress created by Banas, probably the shiniest piece in the collection, features a white and candy pink color block dress, with a pink bubble skirt and a matching pink belt on the high.
The extravagance of the dress was distinguished by the large number of sparkles presented. According to Banas, it was completely intentional. “I wanted my dress to be pretty and shiny because I wanted to show that people can be fine on the outside, but they can go through something tough mentally,” Banas said. Her garment fits perfectly with the concept she created in her sculpture, titled “Deep Thought.”
“For my sculpture, I wanted it to resemble the inner workings of our minds,” Banas said. “So I used the white pipe cleaners as a background, then I used the pink pipe cleaners as a pansy traveling through and connected all the pinks [together]. I wanted the pink to move slowly through the sculpture to show how people cling to certain thoughts due to overthinking.
Banas added: “Mental health is something that is really important to me. And I feel like even though we’re supposed to be the most mentally conscious generation, there are still a lot of people who have a hard time speaking up and asking for help, and I love that my sculpture and my dress can convey this message.
Fashion design student Arminee Bunting has created two very powerful and moving pieces that reflect the emotions and influences of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I wanted to show how limited we are in certain situations,” Bunting said. “I wanted to draw attention to police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people.”
“Restricted Body,” Bunting’s sculpture featured in the exhibit, is a cast of a woman’s bust and torso. The mold is constructed from newspaper clippings depicting the horrific murders and attacks of black men, women and children by police brutality. The words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” are painted on the body, covered with long silver chains that drape the sculpture. “Chains and wires represent the restriction of power in black people when we are put in certain situations,” Bunting said.
“Sometimes black people are put in situations that look like chains that are restricting them and they have to break through to get out of that situation,” Bunting said. “The chains also represent the emotions that come with being black and having to be careful because of what has happened and continues to happen in the world.”
Bunting’s garment, “Hidden Figures”, is a floor-length black evening dress made of velvet fabric, mesh lace, cotton fabric and boning. The dress covers the whole body, including the lace fabric that covers the face and head.
“I wanted to show how they don’t see black people as human beings sometimes,” Bunting said. “I wanted to represent how invisible or hidden we are to some by creating a piece that covers the face, arms and neck. I wanted to make a party dress to represent the innocence of a black person; they can be next target because violence against blacks has no appearance.
The message of Bunting’s sculpture and garment was the most important and supportive part of her exhibit. “No matter what I look like or what my level of education is, at the end of the day, I’m going to be black,” Bunting said. “There’s nothing I can change about that.”
Danielle Dean, a fashion design major, created the “Entwined Elements” and “Goddess Thaila” sculpture and clothing. Half of the sculpture is created from folded newspaper pages, while the other half displays white graph paper that encircles the body. The garment features a blend of cotton and polyester fabrics, cardboard to support beaded shoulder pads, delicate chains that drape the top of the garment, and an asymmetrical skirt, decorated with folded pieces of fabric in the shape of a bandana.
Dean describes the combination of sculpture and clothing as two separate parts that form a single piece. “The [sculpture] is [made of] newspaper, which is ideally meant to represent poverty, typical working-class norms, and the [garment] is more upper class – the elegant, the luxury,” Dean explained.
“But putting them together,” Dean said, “is about bringing the two together and realizing that anyone who is middle class can still have money and anyone who has money is also struggling in life, realizing there’s a lot of difference and also a lot of similarities between the two, and understanding that stereotypes are very real and very prevalent and you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Dean opened up and described the personal experiences that fueled his passion for his exhibit. “Growing up, I was judged,” Dean said. “[People would say] “Oh, you don’t have the best things.” My family was upper middle class, and just because I don’t act or dress like that doesn’t mean I’m not like that.
Dean promotes the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” ideology in his exhibits. “Because you don’t know where this person is from,” Dean said. “You don’t know what they’re going through. Always be kind and respectful and realize that everyone is different at the end of the day, but we are all people.
The designers and artists of this collection believe it was a very meaningful display of the artistic genius of Stevenson’s students, as well as the importance of sharing artistic messages. Each student had a different explanation as to why.
“Everyone has a different view of what diversity and inclusion means to them,” Bunting said. “We all come from different backgrounds, we’re all different people, different personalities, we all think differently.”
“I really want to highlight how difficult it is to come up with innovative and interesting designs,” Prof Aronhime said. “And [the students] have done an amazing job throughout the semester creating their own inspiration makes a huge difference in their level of work. Creating their own inspiration really pushes them to think outside the box.
Professor Aronhime and the Concept Development class hope this showcase will shine a light on the sides of fashion design that have missed out on attention.