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Students Design Dresses for AHA’s Go Red for Women Fundraiser on Wednesday
The entire fashion design program has gone all in for the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Go Red for Women campaign. In collaboration with AHA and the Office of Community Engagement, the program is hosting “A Red Dress Affair” on Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, 350 W. Fayette St., Syracuse.
The event benefits Go Red for Women–AHA and has a suggested donation price of $50. All donations include entrance to the event, spirits, light hors d’oeuvres and a tour of the fashion design program and the Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection. In the entryway of the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, attendees will see red paper dresses made by first-year students. Second-year students will be scattered throughout the building to answer questions and act as tour guides.
As the feature piece of the event, juniors in the fashion design program created 24 red pieces for display. Jeffrey Mayer, professor and program coordinator of fashion design and the Maurice E. and Dorothea I. Shaffer Art Professor in the School of Design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, illustrated 10 of those dresses; the illustrations will be auctioned off at the event.
“People in the community are excited to see how a designer gets from an illustration to an actual dress. Often, people who are not in an industry as ‘fashion design’ may not know the planning, time and extraordinary detail that goes into the initial creation. This event provides an insider’s look, as well as a great way to bring the community and Syracuse University together to spread heart health awareness,” says Barbara Huntress Tresness, Go Red for Women executive leadership team member and Open Your Heart chairperson for the campaign.
What community members will see on Wednesday is a small glimpse into the work from faculty, students and staff that has led to this event.
One day in early fall, Mayer was walking through the halls of the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, where the fashion design program resides, when he bumped into Trina Tardone, director of Go Red for Women. She was leaving a meeting with Bea González, vice president of community engagement, special assistant to the Chancellor and co-chair of the Syracuse Go Red for Women campaign this year. This encounter in the stairwell blossomed into an important collaboration between AHA and the fashion design program.
“As chair of the Syracuse Go Red for Women campaign, I found it my responsibility to bridge the community efforts to campus and develop mutually beneficial relationships that build awareness around heart health, says González. “A Red Dress Affair, variations of which have been done across the country for years, epitomizes the goal in enhancing the student experience, engaging faculty and having community impact.”
Leading the charge from the fashion design program is Kirsten Schoonmaker, assistant teaching professor for fashion design. For her fall semester course, Fashion Design Studio III, all designs turned red for A Red Dress Affair.
“This project opened the door to the idea that our work exists outside of these walls for the students. They learned that it can have impact on someone other than you,” says Schoonmaker.
Not only were these dresses created for an important cause, they challenged students in ways they hadn’t been challenged before. This was the first time their dresses would be on display, viewed by the public.
The students had 12 days to design and create their first dress. Sheila Xu ’20 and Kalthom Aljiboury ’20, both students in Schoonmaker’s course, welcomed the quick, albeit daunting, challenge and viewed it as preparation for the “real-world.”
The process of fabric to prototype has many steps. Xu drew inspiration from Audrey Hepburn and thought of elegant women when sketching the designs of her dress. Aljiboury thought of a strong woman in her late twenties.
The second dress presented the students with another “first:” create a plus-size piece. The project was part of the Fashion Without Limits program, a design initiative that promotes the creation of size 12+ designs in the junior year. Creating these pieces is an important skill for students to have coming out of the fashion design program; 12+ represents the size range that the majority of American women wear, but the fashion industry doesn’t adequately reflect that.
Even though this was the first time students designed for the 12+ size, the plus-size pieces still had a demanding timeline. The day the first dress prototype was due, the concepts for the plus-size dress were due. Tracy Reese, prominent fashion designer, critiqued the student illustrations and offered suggestions to the designers. The students began making the look on Nov. 26 and presented their final work on Dec. 5.
For this piece, Aljiboury drew her inspiration from her mom, as well as supermodel Emme ’85, creator and supporter of Fashion Without Limits. Xu was inspired to make a day-to-night piece for a late-twenties big city lawyer.
For the final review, Tardone and Huntress Tresness joined the class to ask questions and provide suggestions about the dresses. It was an opportunity for the students to learn about heart health and also, for the first time, have their products reviewed by consumers.
“This process was really helpful because we were not designing in our own bubble. Connecting the design to the community and learning what they wanted to feel made the assignment more exciting because we were doing something for the community and saw our pieces on somebody. The difference we were making to increase heart health awareness was the inspiration,” says Xu.