Shining Through Identities
Student-led fashion production brings diversity to the stage of today’s social discourse
By ANA LUIZA NICOLAE
This past Sunday, March 31st, 62 Harvard undergraduates strolled in front of friends and fans sporting world-renowned brands and designers such as Off White by Virgil Abloh, Monique Lhuillier, Zac Posen, Prabal Gurung, Tony Ward, and Randy Fenoli. The raptured audience was delightfully surprised at lingerie, wedding dresses and casual wear within one of the most technically advanced shows on campus. The high level of technicality, professionalism, design, deployed by the five organizational teams of Identities was very apparent. The creative, production, publicity, financial and design teams and their combined efforts over the past months culminated at Northwest Labs Sunday afternoon.
The rationale behind the show lay in its representational aspect of “diversity among student body and society as a whole’’ says Grace Tworek ‘21, a model in the show. This diversity was first and foremost represented in the ethnic backgrounds of the models, their personalities and gender identifications. The participants had a chance to get acquainted with undergraduates whom they otherwise “never would have met.” The show was interdisciplinary in its production, drawing upon a diverse range of fields, including “the world of modelling, the world of design, even that of advertisement,” mentions Tworek. Through this diversity of means, Identities could pursue its scope of providing a platform for the expression of issues prevalent in society. She mentions that in a socially evolving world, fashion itself must evolve in tandem, to mirror the fluctuations of society. Fashion as such has historically always been indicative of both individual proclivities and societal values. For example, as much as a 19th century dandy was a special type of clothes-wearing man, he was made into a trope for English society. The clothes worn by a dandy revealed his eccentricities, social class, and the fact that English society provided the means for such an appearance. In today’s social context, members of Identities were interested by other phenomena: gender-neutrality and equality.
Being offered the possibility of wearing gender-neutral clothes and swapping gender-infused accessories from their stereotypical attributions, models had to adapt to new realities. Tout Tut Lin ‘21 had to learn “how to walk in heels the day of the show’’ and Claudio Reck ’21 was thankful for an organizational team whose members were “incredibly open minded about who could wear what, challenging social norms regarding who tends to wear heels and colorful prints in the fashion industry.’’ These novel elements of clothing were attributed to the designers who worked for the show and met with the models to talk about their pieces.
During the production of Identities, the confluence of design, verve, and conviction led to profound learning moments for the models. Lin reflects, “I was quite scared to walk the runway with the clothes that the creative board suggested for me. But then I realized that I was with my gender and sexual identity, and wearing genderless clothing shouldn’t change that fact unless I let it.” This process of adaptation led some students to feel an electrifying connection to the show and the Identities team. Within this family, Lin felt as a “part of something bigger.” Reck mentions that the group made him feel “incredibly special for the brief duration of the show,’’ and Tworek recollects the excitement of walking down the runway even after having doubted her comfort in doing so.
The show thus proved an educational opportunity for all participants involved, from training, to meeting designers, to learning about the time and effort required by the process of producing the fashion pieces they wore. The encounter with the designers supplemented well the experience of the student-models, who had not been in the loop of the whole production process until late in the show’s conception. Indeed, the models were selected less than two months ago, after the February 22-24 auditions, and submitted to a streamlined process: sizes, headshots, photoshoots, and then training, conducted by none other than top model and special guest Coco Rocha. The Canadian model has achieved enough in her 30 years to be named for the Leadership in the Arts Award granted by the group. “She’s one of the biggest names in the industry,” lauds Tworek, and it was a privilege to enter in contact with the world of fashion from behind and in front of the curtains. The combination of the design process with model training culminated at the very last moment. Much of the preparation of the models “all [went] down on the day of the show, […] pretty quickly,” says Tworek. Arriving at 9:30 am for a show which was to take place nine and a half hours later, the student-models received clothes assignments and were tended to by “an entire hair and makeup crew,” shares Reck. Although the time to prepare was restricted, most participants were grateful for the organizational team’s minutiae in the months leading up to the fashion show and accordingly approve that the whole process came together well at the very moment of the show.
A few days now after this student production, one might wonder what identities were truly shining through the clothes. Stripped of gender or mixed within traditional archetypes, composed of a diverse array of backgrounds, Tworek concludes that the real takeaway from the production lies in “bringing people together and giving a platform to the issues most prevalent in society, [while] make them shine through the designs and fashion itself.”
Ana Luiza Nicolae ‘22 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pondering how diversity shines within identity.
Please note that the title of this article has been changed from “Gone with the ‘Dandy.'”