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CFC FASHION SHOW 2017

Jacob Swaim

At seven o'clock in the evening on Saturday, March 11 of this year, Barton Hall, a monstrous gothic arena, was repurposed from its day-to-day duty as an athletic stage to accomodate a slightly edgier crowd: the attendees of the 33rd Annual Cornell Fashion Collective runway show. While the designers fitted their models and the models reassured their designers, spectators, professors, and fashion enthusiasts alike snapped pictures of their bold attires and imbibed the rejuvenating ambience of the cultural scene before securing their seats---reserved or general---in front of the runway.  Starting fashionably late of course, the show was introduced by Dana Lee and Tucker Shea, the President and Vice President of the Cornell Fashion Collective. The fluorescent lights dimmed to an eerie blackness and the cacophonous chatter settled to a gentle hush, and the third level of designers presented their collections: Claire Bowie-”Thunderbird”; Tory Lynch-”Efferescence”; Fsad Boyz-”COM=MU=NI=TY”.

In its own unique way, each collection documented the gruelling and deliberate nature of the design process and reinterpreted the linear evolution of fashion to embrace a more cyclical one. Each designer grappled with and successfully emphasized the human aspects of the design process. With hand-me-downs and recycled patterns, Bowie’s “Thunderbird” collection interpreted ownership as a progression of stages including re-ownership, reinvention, and readaptation. Lynch evoked nostalgic memories of childhood trips to the Magic Kingdom with her fantastical collection “Efferescence”. The collective of designers known as the FSAD BOYZ, and comprised of Mark Colbran, Aidan Shiller, and David Wild, pulled inspiration from their lives and relationships to produce a collection that constantly evolves and conforms to “satisfy” its wearer. Notably, the presentation of their collection “COM=MU=NI=TY” was fast-paced and exciting; their masterful balance of flashy prints and sleek minimalism intrigued the audience without overwhelming them. Overall, the work of the level three designers, while critical of the vicious nature of the fashion cycle, promised good things for its future.

After the last look in the FSAD BOYZ collection strutted across the stage, the level two designers sent out their models. Their prompt: Glacial Reprise---a response to the escalating issue of climate change “through an exploration of structure and color.” Their response was a collaborative and cohesive collection of airy compositions and heavenly fabrics that managed to maintain a certain effervescence while also driving home feelings of outrage and concern. To achieve this effect, the looks progressed from flowing and white to tight-fitting and black.

Next, the level one designers presented their models. Their prompt: Circus---a coagulation of the obscure, mystical, and decadent. Their response was a collection of representative looks that both literally and conceptually incorporated what makes a circus simultaneously freaky and beautiful.

Once the last look for the level one designers exited stage right, the show had reached its climax. The music stopped, the lights dimmed, and the first of the level four designers sent their looks down the runway.

The senior designers, under the guidance of their wise and supportive Professor Van Dyk Lewis, grappled with identity and its implications for fashion and fashion’s implications on self-representation. Jackie Wu incorporated her love for garlic into her designs to speak about the balanced imbalance of fashion and self-expression. “Who you are and what you like and dislike is reflected through how you dress and what you wear”, Wu wrote in the accompanying notes on her show. “It is all encompassing: how you feel is reflected in how you dress. Fashion can be whatever you want it to be. How you choose to dress and design or express yourself is your take on fashion.”

One of her fellow senior designers Rachel Kwong commented on the importance of wearing clothes and wearing them well; she defined “well” as any way that effortlessly suits the wearer. “Fashion and style is important,” Kwong wrote, “but what is important is using that as an expression of you.” Her runway was slow-paced and deliberate; the music was intense and alternative. In her collection “Spine,” the textiles she designed started off as dark enveloping masses of callus fibers and deteriorated to assume more freeing and loose forms. This effect took the audience on “an experimental journey... from the outside of the body to the inside, peeling back layers of a shell to reveal what's underneath, juxtaposing and balancing outer skins and inner body structures.” She and her collection urged the wearer to embrace themselves and find their spine.

Rachel Powell and Molly Kestenbaum’s collections “Roots” and “The F Word”, respectively, definitely had spines of their own. Both upheld the rights of women and loudly rejected the rampant stereotyping and oppression that has restrained the fairer sex for generations. Powell drew inspiration from the African diaspora and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to explore the intersectionality of black women in America, the unique double discrimination that they experience based on their race and gender, and the consequent omission of the black female voice from American history. She says, “It is hard to wholeheartedly love something that does not seem to love you back. The industry has historically challenged the beauty of black women by either masculinizing black women and stripping away our femininity, appropriating our culture, or outright omitting the image of the black women. As a result, I have tried to use my work as a way of sharing the black woman’s narrative.” She concluded her collection with a spoken-word statement that evoked tears from many in the audience, and a standing ovation from nearly all.

Similarly, her classmate Molly Kestenbaum delivered a bold performance with clothes that redefined not only THE f word but many f words that have come to define the feminist movement. Her collection---brilliant, bold, and beautiful--- avoided polarizing the audience by assigning the “feminist” look to a male model; this way, rather than blaming men, she offered a study in the strength that comes with being a woman .

Almost all of the senior designers interpreted the runway as a stage on which to speak about, through their designs, what they consider to be important. AJ Saunders, “agitated by the phenomenon of body diaspora,” sought to address the struggle transgender, gender fluid, and non-binary people have when it comes to clothing. Samantha Stern and Kennedy Rauh focused on their heritages and pulled inspiration from their pasts to present designs for their futures.

Overall, the collections shocked and amazed the audience by revitalizing a dusty old athletic arena for an event of concert-level magnitude and excitement. The music was on point. It was very apparent that the models trained tirelessly to best represent their designers. In the accompanying pamphlet explaining the collection, the level four designers thanked their esteemed professor and mentor Professor Van Dyk Lewis, and I would like to thank and congratulate them and the other three levels of designers for a superb performance. 

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