Hunched over her sewing machine downstairs, Elle Wilson ’13 pushes the white muslin fabric under the needle and observes the line of its seam. The white muslin will soon become a dress, a mock-up of the red gown that Wilson will don on Saturday May 18 for her senior prom.
After taking a few sewing classes and observing her mother and grandmother, Wilson began to make some of her own clothing at 7 or 8-years-old. She began with simple skirts and tops before expanding to more complex designs. Her freshman and sophomore year, Wilson made her semiformal dress and this year made her Ring Ceremony dress.
“I think it’s a lot of fun to experiment so even though sometimes it won’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I like to push myself and see what I can make on my own,” Wilson said.
Refining an idea for a dress can take months, while the sketching can take a week or two. For Wilson, after making a muslin or cotton mock-up and fitting it to her shape, Wilson transfers the design onto the satin or lace from which the final dress will be made.
Wilson further explored her interest in fashion design during an internship last summer with designer Monique Lhuillier, a celebrity designer of bridal and red carpet gowns. The internship taught her about the delicate merge of business and art in the fashion industry, a facet she had never seen before and that intrigued her, Wilson said.
“I would definitely really love to keep making clothes,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if I necessarily see this as a career path for me, but it’s a hobby I’ve always loved my whole life.”
Hannah Kofman’s ’14 first word was not mama or dada, but rather shoes. Her interest in fashion has not waned since she has designed dresses and skirts, which she wears to school often.
“I can’t even decide yet if I like sewing or if I just like what it yields,” Kofman said.
Kofman has built her skills by taking sewing classes. Her most complicated piece to date is a denim bustier with hooks, eyes, cups and boning in the front. However, her favorite piece is a simpler, boatneck dress with zippers and ties in the back and a stormy Hawaiian print.
Her process begins with a search of the sale bin at a local fabric store. With no idea of what she will make next, Kofman picks up the pieces of fabric that no one else wanted and imagines the outfits she could make with it.
Kofman returns home with the fabric, rarely stumped on what to make but often stumped on how to make it. After a search of YouTube as well as sewing and design books, she chooses a pattern, a template from which a dress can be traced, and embarks on the process of sewing the dress.
Kofman’s next project will be her friend Avalon Nuovo’s ’13 prom dress as well as a dress to give to a different friend for an upcoming birthday.
At the Parsons New School of Design Summer Intensive Studies in New York City last summer, Eugénie Lund-Simon ’14 watched her project culminate in a photo-shoot at the Strand Bookstore. A model walked around the store wearing a dress Lund-Simon had designed and sewed with a bodice made of book covers and a skirt made of curtains from the store.
After a fashion show at Parsons displayed a men’s shirt she had made out of body chains, Lund-Simon began to sell the shirt among other designs. She has since sold around 40 simple pieces as well as 20 more expensive ones in the $200 to $300 range.
Lund-Simon continued her work with chains for her Advanced Dance Seminar project this year, an exploration of the way Dadaism would have affected a traditional ballet costume. Her final work was a tutu but with chain sleeves, a chained back and chains replacing ribbons on the pointe shoes.
“I absolutely love it,” Lund-Simon said. “It was so much fun when I did it at Parsons, and I hope that I have the time to keep doing it.”
Lund-Simon rarely makes clothes for herself to wear regularly, instead choosing to focus on the intellectual or social aspect of fashion. After her father, a supply chain manager at Disney, visited factories in China and told her the stories of many women with severe back problems as a result of bad bras, Lund-Simon has started developing a solution. Through cooperation with Parsons and possibly with a corporate partner, she would design a bra, and a percentage of its proceeds would go towards these women.
“Parsons is a fashion school, but we learn a lot about social problems which was really cool,” Lund-Simon said.
Inspired by her mother, a fashion designer who makes her own samples, Krista Knighton ’14 enrolled in a few sewing classes three summers ago and immediately became interested in learning more. Knighton has since expanded her skill set and has begun making skirts, shirts and dresses.
Her most recent piece, a lace maxi skirt, was an item of clothing she had wanted for a while but had not been able to find in stores for a reasonable price. Knighton wore the skirt in a post on her blog, So Fetch Fashion.
“Sometimes I sew things because I want to wear them, but sometimes I just want to make something so I just go for it,” Knighton said.
Knighton has never made anything for anyone else, preferring to design pieces for herself. The outfit often centers around a fabric her mother had left over, and depending on how much she has at her disposal, Knighton can make many pieces from the same swatch of fabric. She once made four skirts and five shirts from the same material.
“I’ve made a lot of stuff that I will never wear in my life, but I think they’re just really fun to make,” Knighton said. “I think, for me, it is a very rewarding way to express myself creatively.”