PHOTOS: Red Dress Project Highlights Heart Health in Women

Fashion students learn valuable design skills and research how cardiovascular disease impacts underserved communities.
Student posing with red dress
Assim De Gabriel designed this dress, “Emotions and Heart,” in the “Pattern Development II” course. The red dress is a symbol of efforts to raise awareness about heart health in women. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

For 17 straight years, Jefferson fashion design students have used their design and technical skills to support the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign.

Juniors in the “Pattern Development II” course designed dresses made of fabric in shades of red or red prints. With cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 killer of women, the red dress has become a symbol of efforts to raise awareness about heart health.

The project also strengthens draping skills and builds experience in eveningwear, say course professors Anne Hand and Amy Copeland. In addition, it teaches students about planning, problem-solving, fabric and notion selection, fit and presentation.

Student posing with her red dress
Inspired by the Egyptian goddess Isis, Kierra Lee says the red dress project allowed her to use fashion as an outlet to bring awareness to health issues women face.

“They learn how to design within certain parameters,” Copeland says. “This is beneficial because in industry, they might be given a theme to inspire their designs. The project shows them how to take an inspiration and go through the design process to develop their final look.”

New this year, students researched the role race and ethnicity play in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in women and how the lack of affordable health care affects treatment and recovery.

“The hope is to engender empathy and raise awareness of the impact of heart disease in women, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities,” Hand says.

Student posing with her red dress
Adriana Soto used sheer and textured fabrics to create feelings of confidence, sophistication and joy for her look, “The Beauty of Femininity.” All the red dresses are currently on display in Hayward Hall.

Inspiration for their looks came from numerous places, including Eastern Asian flowers and Chinese culture, arrhythmias and the scarlet peacock butterfly, and the Romantic Era. They also gained insights through their research and became stronger designers, the students shared.

Junior Dwayne Smith created the dress “Blood Diamonds” to honor the lives lost in conflicts surrounding diamonds mined in Africa during the ’90s. He took inspiration from basket weaving in Sierra Leone for the bodice and uncut diamonds for the big puff sleeves.

“Throughout the red dress experience, I learned more about heart disease and how it specifically impacts women of color,” Smith says. “I also refined my draping, pattern-making and construction skills and learned the technique of bias weaving over a bodice. This will be a strong portfolio piece to show my abilities as a fashion designer.”

Student posing with red dress
Junior Dwayne Smith learned how heart disease specifically impacts women of color while designing his look, “Blood Diamonds,” which honors the lives lost in conflicts surrounding diamonds mined in Africa.

Student Kierra Lee says the project helped her to become a better designer, but most importantly, crafting the dress allowed her to use fashion as an outlet to bring awareness to health issues women face.

Black and Hispanic women are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to white women,” she notes. “When looking at these statistics, I was in shock and decided to focus on Isis, the goddess of health in Egyptian mythology. I wanted to use her imagery to uplift minority women while also shining a light on the dangers of heart disease to populations that suffer at alarming rates from it.”

Student posing next to red dress
The project taught Maisy Ingalls how to drape and manipulate fabric. Her dress focuses on the lost art of love letters. “I’m excited to see how far I will go and all the pieces I will make in the future,” she says.

In making his look, “Emotions and Heart,” student Assim De Gabriel gained valuable experience working with high-end garments and improved his problem-solving skills by designing and executing the dress.

“This project will help people and potential employers understand my aesthetic as a fashion designer,” De Gabriel says.

The red dress project “completely turned around the way” Maisy Ingalls works and designs, she says, noting she struggled with pattern making at first.

Fashion faculty and staff outside Hayward
The red dress project supports the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. Fashion design students and faculty involved in this effort include (l-r) Dwayne Smith, Maisy Ingalls, Terrence Bridges, Anne Hand, Amy Copeland, Kierra Lee, Adriana Soto and Assim De Gabriel.

“Being taught how to drape and manipulate fabric changed my life,” she says. “I never realized how much fun the challenge of draping could be, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I will be forever grateful to the faculty, this class and this project because it’s the first thing I’ve ever really made. I’m excited to see how far I will go and all the pieces I will make in the future.”

See below for a slideshow of all the fashion design students’ dresses and their inspirations:

Anna Sheller, Untitled This collection is inspired by “The Handmaids Tale,” women’s rights protests and power suits. Red is used throughout to represent the American Heart Association. Through the shapes and silhouettes used, this dress creates the feeling of female empowerment, mixing menswear and womenswear elements together to create new ideas. Luscious fabrics, such as silk moiré and red velvet, are used to create texture and depth. Erin Fagan, “Flutter” This red dress is inspired by the power that red holds. Red on a butterfly is believed to be a powerful sight, soul or spirit. The silhouette of this dress is inspired by the appearance of red in nature and the manmade world. Red in nature occurs on butterflies and is an asset to many animals through camouflage. Manmade red is seen in stained glass. This dress combines the fluidity and sharpness of the natural and manmade reds. Rwan Osman, “Walk Femininely” This spring/summer eveningwear look is inspired by Eastern Asian flowers and Chinese culture. Red in Chinese culture is a powerful symbol of luck, joy and happiness. The print featured illustrates nature through a floral print and revivification with metallic thread. The solid red satin represents femininity and power. The target customer is a young adult, ages 25-32, who wants to showcase the floral design and Eastern Asian influences in a modernized way but is still brave enough for the asymmetry of this dress. Lyla Duffy, “Atrium” Inspired by the structures of the heart, “Atrium” has a focused influence from contemporary and post-modern architecture. Frank Gehry’s planar designs heavily inform shape and form. Aspects of structure relate to architecture while soft fabrics relate to the smooth muscles of the heart. Assim De Gabriel, “Emotions and Heart” This red dress for fall/winter 2022 tells the story of humanity as defined by trueness, lust and desire. This dress project is a great opportunity for me to show support for all women through my creativity as a fashion designer and creative artist. I hope my story conveys love and challenges. This dress was created to raise awareness for heart health in both women and men. This fashionable dress is for every woman who likes to be elegant and to enjoy social events for great causes in the community. Erica Akin Emelia McKenzie, “Judith: Queen of Hearts” This collection is inspired by the biblical story of Judith and how she inspired the original queen of hearts card. Judith is remembered for saving her village when everyone else had given up. She is an inspiration for taking charge in a story where women didn’t typically have the right to do so. This collection embodies Judith’s warrior spirit that all women who live with heart disease share and encapsulates the regal nature associated with the queen of hearts. McKenna Henry, “All of Me” This stunning red dress for spring/summer features a fitted top and voluminous skirt. It includes an elegant, beaded belt with a heart path on the front to commemorate a beautiful soul taken too soon. This dress was created in memory of a friend who passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition at age 15. Keeping heart disease and her condition in mind, I wanted to create a joyful silhouette to raise awareness for this disease, which is the No. 1 killer of women every year. Kierra Lee, “Aset” This fall/winter gown is inspired by Isis, the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage, fertility, magic and the moon. Fabrics such as silks, jacquard wovens and velvets are explored to convey the essential goddess appeal throughout the dress. Isis was a powerful healer and a sign of hope for the Egyptians, even through their darkest times. This is a pivotal aspect of the story, which is highlighted in the final dress design. Terrence Bridges, “The Strength Within” This dress represents the strength that women have and offers encouragement to those battling heart disease. Its solid yet sleek silhouette complements the soft design elements. The dress’ display of strength takes inspiration from elements of African warrior dress and the structured curves found in waveform architecture. The design elements within the dress come together to remind us of a woman’s ability to defend her kin and to comfort them. This strength to protect others can be used to protect one’s own mental and physical health. Stefauni Saldana, “Transformations Under Light” Our hearts are such an important organ for our physical bodies and emotional lives. Millions of women are harmed by angina and other forms of heart disease around the world. This dress is inspired by transformative aspects, such as emotional growth with close people in our lives. In the animated film “Akira,” a similar atmosphere of both the physical transformation and the emotional journey of the character’s process is represented. The fabrics chosen for this dress create bright highlights and shades as light reflects along its surface. The red-orange color is warm and supportive, and the addition of yellow stitching creates a “lightened” effect. The quilted texture is comfortable and shows the emotional burdens that grow as we carry our hardships. It’s a physical representation of how some women feel the need to protect others by not expressing their own pain. The large and tight veiny pattern creates suffocating imagery. Carly Vlachos, Untitled My concept focuses on how the human brain makes connections with people, especially loving someone. This collection has romantic silhouettes and includes intricate beading and fabric draping. Inspired by French paintings and the human heart and emotions, this collection honors the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. Noni Johnson, “Love Noire” Bias in the medical field is not new for Black people, let alone Black women. This dress is dedicated to the Black women who have lost their lives due to oversight when they seek medical assistance. Inspired by Louisiana Creole fashion (specifically New Orleans), this dress utilizes draping and corsets to depict the gentle and elegant yet powerful nature of Black women. Despite the discrimination that so many of them face, they still manage to rise above adversity and survive. Highlighting and educating people on the life-threatening realities of racism can save so many lives. Hailey Nicchi, “Golden Age” “Golden Age” is a fall/winter gown designed for women ages 30-45. It encapsulates the essence of confidence, glamour and power that women portrayed in cinema in the 1940s and ’50s. The overall concept looks at women’s influence during this era and how designer gowns were utilized in film to make a statement. Elements reminiscent of this era, such as charmeuse satin and damask jacquard, were incorporated, and the silhouette takes inspiration from fashion of that time. This gown is for women who want to feel confident and influential in what they wear, giving them the feeling of a movie star during the glamorous Golden Age of Hollywood. Gabrielle Ramos, “For Linda” My dress takes inspiration from red roses and my grandmother who passed away. Whenever my family or I smell red roses, we know she is around. I also took inspiration from her wedding gown, which was supposed to be passed down to me. I felt that designing a dress that can showcase my favorite parts of her wedding gown would make the dress a bit more personal. By adding the red roses, I am paying homage to my grandmother. She was a special person in my family and creating something for her honors her memory. Jamesether Koigbli, “Monrovia” In Liberia, women contribute so much to society. They’re mothers, weavers, farmers, dancers and even presidents; however, they don’t receive enough gratitude or admiration for what they do. Heart disease is the fifth-leading cause of death in Liberia, and women suffer from heart disease at a disproportionate rate. They’re the women who pave the red iron-infused roads in Liberia and harvest and cook the red palm oil used in almost every dish in Liberia. My dress takes inspiration from the modern day-to-day wear of Liberian women, which often consists of wrap skirts and cotton tank tops or T-shirts. The combination of satin and kente fabrics achieve a modern silhouette with traditional influences. The drape of the over-skirt directly references the wrap skirts worn by these women. Accents of blue represent oxygen constantly circulating through the heart and the blue of the Liberian flag. This dress serves as an acknowledgment of these women’s contributions and awareness of the devastating risk of heart disease. Maisy Ingalls, “Love Letters” The heart is vital to our existence. Millions of women are affected by heart disease each year. Taking inspiration from the symbol of the heart and romance, the concept for my dress focuses on the lost art of love letters. The Romantic Era, which was known for much more than just romance, was a time of creativity through fashion, music, art and literature. I wanted to choose fabrics that had a lot of drape and complemented each other. The drape of these fabrics translates to the sweet cursive writing and the delicacy of the art. Font prints are used as an obvious metaphor for the secrets shared between two lovers through writing. Intricate draping represents the shapes and petals that form roses, and the overall silhouette is inspired by women’s costumes during the Romantic Era. Ruiqi Chen, “The Pain Burning Heart” This design was inspired by the film “Sakuran,” where the heroine is a geisha who loses her love, freedom and eventually, her career. Her life from the outside looks like a goldfish, beautiful and dignified; while inside, she feels trapped and like she’s on display. I equated this suffering to the suffering some women with heart disease experience. My muse for this dress is actress and model Devon Aoki because I admire her sense of mystery. I took silhouette inspiration for this dress from the shapes of a goldfish. I chose organza, chiffon and embossed red fabrics with circular motifs to complete my dress. Dwayne Smith, “Blood Diamonds” This dress is inspired by the mining of diamonds, sometimes called “blood diamonds,” from Sierra Leone and other African nations. Diamond mines have been located throughout Africa since the 1860s, and by 1990, African mining was responsible for about 90% of the world’s production of rough diamonds. As a result, demand for these valuable diamonds skyrocketed throughout the world. A variety of art and craft styles prevalent in Sierra Leone also inspired this dress. Wood, ivory and stone carving have been prominent for centuries in this country. Inspiration is derived from the weaving techniques found in traditional baskets, and this is translated into the final design. Sam Stern, Untitled This dress is inspired by the strength and elegance female athletes like Serena Williams display on and off the court. This red dress is made to break boundaries in style and mobility when it comes to eveningwear. Inspiration is taken from silhouettes from the history of women’s sportswear and 1960s cutouts. I also looked to highlight the work of designers, such as Virgil Abloh and other fashion and architectural designers. This dress sets out to redefine function by combining sportswear and eveningwear themes. Kateryna Dippolito, Untitled Although it’s a common misconception that women are less likely to experience high blood pressure, data show that women are equally as likely to have high blood pressure as men. With women making up nearly 52% of deaths related to high blood pressure, it’s crucial to work toward raising awareness about this common misconception. This collection is meant to highlight womanhood and comprises silhouettes inspired by late 1920s designs that perfectly embody effortless femininity. Painter Georgia O’Keefe’s charcoal drawings and Red Canna series were beginning to gain popularity during the creation of these late 1920s gowns, and the expressive gestures seen within her work inspired much of the draping within my own design. My gown is created of knit micropleats, which drape over the body, accenting the wearer’s natural curves. They share a similar appearance to the pleats famously used by Mariano Fortuny during the late 1920s. Adriana Soto, “The Beauty of Femininity” This evening dress is made from different tones of red to represent love. Combining the fluidity and structure of a rose, this silhouette takes a flowing yet elegant approach to the beauty of femininity. Sheer and textured fabrics elevate the confident, sophisticated and joyous persona of the target customer. The beauty of vintage and rose-inspired aesthetics play an essential role in the development of this garment’s silhouette. The thoughtful nature of this elegant design confidently embodies the beauty of life while functioning seamlessly in a stylish form. Samuel Lie, “adDRESSING Heart Disease in Women” In Chinese philosophy, xin could refer to either one’s heart or mind. During the early decades of the Han Dynasty, the impact of the physiology of heart (xin) rhetoric during times of political discourse was extremely important in the long reign of the Han Dynasty. With millions of women in America affected by deadly heart diseases, this concept is dedicated to the personified glorification of the most important organ in our body. The rule of the Han Dynasty was a time of booming art and culture, opening the door for new inventions and creations, such as paper. I chose red floral brocade fabric, representing the art and culture of the Han Dynasty, along with a silhouette inspired by the hanfu, of the historical dress code of the Dynasty. Emily Fitzgerald, “Heart Beats Like a Drum” After researching heart disease in women, I was intrigued by how the heart beats, which connected me to my main inspiration: drums. My dress silhouette is inspired by the shape of the goblet drum. The glass beads and fringe featured in my dress mimic similar elements, which enhance the drum’s design. The beaded fringe was also added to create movement and sound when the garment is in motion. I created this dress in honor of Christina LoPresti, who passed away in 2006 after her battle with heart disease. The dress makes a statement, encouraging the women who wear it to beat, with their hearts, to their own drum. Arianna Duke, “Forever Resilient” “Forever Resilient” is a powerful oasis that embraces the beauty and strength within the forest. My initial research was on arrhythmias. One of the many symptoms of heart disease is described as a fluttering feeling in one’s chest. This branched off with research on the scarlet peacock butterfly, found in regions of South America. The scarlet peacock butterfly lives a free-flying life until it starts to rain. The butterfly overcomes and flies through the rain, reaching its next destination, which serves as a metaphor for this look. Details on the back of this dress accentuate the form and femininity of butterflies. This collection also takes inspiration from the Quechua people of Peru. The resilient culture of the Quechua people is celebrated with colorful textiles and patterns. The collection incorporates silhouettes inspired by Quechua headpieces, flowers and majestic animals found within Manú National Park. Lauren Schuler, “Powerful Queen Elizabeth” This red dress, designed for the fall/winter season, is a symbol of powerful and strong women. Queen Elizabeth I and Elizabethan fashion are the inspiration for this dress. A special focus was placed on ways the Queen specifically dressed to look more powerful than the men around her. A simple but rich satin is used as the primary fabric to allow for the focus of the dress to be on the seamlines and to create unique texture through pleating. Women should support one another when it comes to topics such as heart disease, and one of the biggest ways to support is to spread awareness. Tara Tobin, “Starlet” This look was inspired by 1950s cinema and fashion. In 1947, fashion trends and styles began to change due to the introduction of Christian Dior’s collection, “New Look.” This collection led to a more romantically feminine look with the introduction of fuller skirts along with a tighter-fitting bodice. The influence of the “New Look” collection brought about a change in silhouettes, which inspired Hollywood and the film industry. Costume designs were created for many movies and TV shows, which could be paralleled to Dior’s collection. “Funny Face” and “I Love Lucy” are examples of two features inspired by romantically feminine costume design. Also, sourced materials for this look were directly inspired by many of the materials and fabrics seen during the 1950s. Lena Blumberg, Untitled The lights dim, the first notes of the orchestra play, and she glides into view amidst clouds of tulle and trails of ribbon. This gown is a ballet of elegance and drama, romance and intrigue. It tells a story through movement that leaves one breathless for how the story will end.
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