Behind the Scenes of the Red Dress Project
Students traditionally show their work as part of the annual Rock the Red Dress Fashion Show. While the pandemic canceled the in-person event this year, the students continued with the important project, which strengthens their draping skills, builds experience with eveningwear and raises awareness for women’s heart health.
As part of the pattern development II course, fashion design professor Anne Hand prompted students to create a two-piece dress ensemble. Each “dress” is comprised of a separate bodice and skirt, which coordinate seamlessly for a perfectly styled look. With few other guidelines—except that the dress must be made mostly of fabric in shades of red or red prints—students looked to all avenues of inspiration.
Learn more about the design process and the students’ visions as they describe the construction of their pieces (and see all their looks in a slideshow below):
The best way to develop a well-focused design is to start with a concept. Concept development happens through a process of research and iteration. The most interesting ideas pull inspiration from many different places, finding similarities and associations between those elements to create something wholly new and unique. For example, student Michaela Day’s dress draws inspiration from three sources to create the visually striking look called “Death of the Maiden.”
“My main goal was to stay true to the customer, the American Heart Association,” Day explains. “To do this, my inspiration focused on three parts. One was the connection between science and art. Scientific imagery from anatomy and histology has intricate beauty that makes life possible, which truly fascinated me. The second was my mother. She has heart disease that often affects her daily life in ways that I could never imagine. The third part ties these connections together by looking at the cycle of life. Too often, heart disease takes away the quality of life for women. I wanted a dress that represented the themes of life is good and life is suffering.”
Day juxtaposed visual references of human anatomy to sculptural installation art by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. By incorporating graphic, structural visual references into research of human anatomy, she created a multifaceted concept, which is reflected in the surprising use of surface texture.
Draping and Patternmaking
Once students have developed fully formed concepts and conveyed their inspiration through multiple silhouette sketch iterations, it’s time to bring the ideas to life with fabric and form. Students hone their draping skills to manipulate muslin (a lightweight cotton material used for garment prototyping) on a dress form to simulate shape and dimension. Working hands-on with the fabric on a form allows for exploration and helps the designer envision how each piece will fit to the body.
“It was challenging to perfect my design through many iterations, but I’m very proud of the final result,” shares designer Alexis Doan, who used the word “virago” for inspiration.
The word means female warrior, but it has taken on more negative connotations by men throughout history. Doan wanted to create a strong silhouette that still felt feminine for the “Rebirth of Virago” look.
“I aimed to express masculine and feminine shapes in my design and experienced great success experimenting with sharp lines in traditionally feminine fabrics within the skirt,” Doan says.
After designers are happy with their draped muslins, each piece used to create the drape must be translated into a paper pattern for replication. Patterns are meticulously traced and measured to ensure each fabric piece will fit together perfectly. For this project, students must cut and sew a sample of their dress to make sure their patterns are correct before moving into final fabric and garment construction.
For many students, the red dress marked their first real experience sewing eveningwear, which comes with its own set of challenges. For example, Lon’yea Ellis used a fabric-backed poly-latex on her piece, “Off With Her Head.”
“It was super slippery to sew and could easily melt,” Ellis says. “However, I’ve never seen someone use such a fabric for the red dress project before, so it stands out.”
Other students chose more traditional eveningwear fabrics to construct their garments, such as red satin, delicate laces, brocades and jacquards.
Students also must pay close attention to the details, sometimes using couture sewing techniques to attach ruffles, trims and embellishment. Garments should be as impeccably beautiful inside as they look from the outside, so students plan their internal finishing techniques in the beginning stages to have the best outcome.
Showcasing their other unique artistic talents, all students also provide a fashion illustration of their look to further display the beauty of each dress. Illustrations can be completed by hand with traditional artistic mediums, such as paint, ink, colored pencil and markers, or digitally rendered.
Using digital renderings, students can further manipulate their designs and test multiple color and print iterations. Illustrations also convey the mood and feeling of a dress to someone not physically near it. Often, these illustrations show the designer’s personality and offer an exciting look into how they envision the dress being worn.
Nicole Murphy ’15 is a Jefferson fashion design alumna and program coordinator for the fashion design program.
See a slideshow of all the red dress looks below: