Fashion Collaboration Has All the Right Moves

Students design costumes for Pennsylvania Ballet dancers.

Obvious energy filled the room as a dozen dancers glided into Hayward Hall for their final fitting with Jefferson fashion design students. Twisting, stretching and jumping in their outfits, the performers shared pointed and honest feedback with the students on what will and won’t work on stage.

This late-summer studio meeting represented a crucial moment to finalize the pieces in a unique collaboration. For the first time, our students partnered with the Pennsylvania Ballet to design costumes for its production of “Celtic Fire” and the corresponding Dress the Dance Costume Competition.

After watching their designs gracefully debut on Sept. 24, the six students took turns discussing their design process with the notable panel of judges, including Elissa Bloom, Philadelphia Fashion Incubator executive director; Sheila Connelly, Jefferson fashion design program director; Angel Corella, Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director; Kathleen Greene, Barnes Foundation curator of public programs; Eddy Tovar, Pennsylvania Ballet director; and Colleen Wyse, Philadelphia Trunk Show founder.

The experts offered praise and constructive criticism, quizzed the students on their biggest challenges and inspirations, and asked what they gained from the unique experience.

Ballet dancers perform on stage
Wearing Jefferson fashion students' designs, Pennsylvania Ballet dancers perform "Celtic Fire."

The process helped Jillian Smith, who earned second place in the competition, to expand her skill set, she says. The fashion design senior normally works with more structured garments, so this project allowed her to create something softer with greater movement.

“Watching her do her spins tonight made it totally come to life,” shares Smith moments after watching the energetic 15-minute performance.

“Everything was so beautiful on stage,” agrees first-place and people’s choice winner Robin Skodi. “It was completely different than just seeing my design on the form or on them in the studio. It just changed everything.”

The senior began the project in the spring by watching videos of the dance routine and doing some initial brainstorming. Over the summer, Skodi discussed the concepts with Jefferson faculty—led by fashion design professor Darcy Marcantonio—and other students involved with the competition. As the fall semester kicked off, she created the costumes and twice met with dancers Denis Maciel and Jake Roxander to fine-tune the look and feel.

Maciel, in his second season with the Pennsylvania Ballet, complimented Skodi for her attention to detail (he loved the outfit’s sparkles) and incorporating his thoughts. For example, she removed the sleeves out of his concerns that it would impede the routine.

Roxander also thanked Skodi for her laidback approach and leaving any ego out of the room with the design and his feedback. After initial minor issues with performing lifts with the sleeve on the right arm, she switched it to the other side. “It was so easy to dance in,” gushes the 17-year-old from Oregon.

Two dancers pose with a Jefferson fashion student
Dancers Jake Roxander and Denis Maciel pose backstage at the Performance Garage with Robin Skodi.

Students benefited from the project by stretching beyond their comfort zone, explains Anne Hand, Jefferson fashion design professor. They worked with unfamiliar fabrics and embellishments and stayed within a prescribed color palette to fully cater to the client.

“Having that overarching idea of a specific ballet that they have to design to is a lot different than the process of designing a collection,” she says. “You have to understand the story behind the ballet. I think they learned a lot.”

Sarah Cooper, director of community engagement for the Philadelphia Ballet, praised the students for looking beyond aesthetics in developing the pieces for the show.

“Designing for dance needs to take into consideration the ultimate function of the costume,” she says. “The Jefferson students were thoughtful in the execution and approach.”

On Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the Barnes, the Pennsylvania Ballet will hold two additional performances featuring Jefferson fashion student designs. The 15-minute shows will be in the Annenberg Court and Terrace. A “Design and Dance” panel discussion will follow in the Learning Annex. Admission is free to the museum with your Jefferson ID.

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Design and Style