Athena - the combined work of Dominican students Stacy Portilla (apparel designer) and Iris Carney (visual merchandiser) for Beauty in the Bra.

You may be seeing a little less pink now that breast cancer awareness month officially ended yesterday.  I’m good with losing the pink (really? is that the only color that can represent women?), but want to talk about the art of breast cancer. You may have seen some interesting looking bras in window displays at 15 businesses in Forest Park and Oak Park. Bra as art is not a particularly new form of social commentary, but the October display of Beauty in the Bra was noteworthy for its partnership between students and businesses. Watch the brief video here to see more of the great designs.

Beauty in the Bra was the brainchild of Eden DeGenova, owner of Baubo’s Garden in Forest Park. DeGenova’s passion for the arts (she’s a musician, her partner’s a poet and literary magazine publisher) made this project a great way to raise awareness for a cancer that touches so many of her customers.

DeGenova partnered with students from Dominican University for the art show, challenging them to create goddess-themed pieces that “celebrate the divine feminine attributes of particular Roman and Greek goddesses.” Apparel design students created the hand-decorated bras, and then visual merchandising students designed displays for the bras in the shop windows along Madison Street and in Oak Park.


Not surprisingly, many of the bras and displays are really eye catching (I understand someone tried to purchase the one in Muse on Marion!). I was curious, though, about the students behind the process. How did the young artists view this process? I reached out to a pair of students, Stacy Portilla and Iris Carney, who worked on representing Athena (goddess of wisdom, a warrior) and Alcyone (goddess of the sea, tranquility).

  • Getting Involved – Both students became involved in the project when it was assigned in class. The merchandising majors have been involved with the local retailers in the past, regularly decorating windows in the business and arts districts, but this was a new experience for design/journalism major, Portilla. She said of the project, “Personally, the idea of being hands on, creating something from square one, only to hand it over to someone else so that they can display it was terrifying. But that’s how the real world works, and I doubt it gets any easier.” For her part, design/merchandising major Carney was grateful for the opportunity to do a real-world merchandising project where she received legitimate client feedback.
  • Cancer as the Cause – Both young women have been impacted by cancer. Melanoma is a big risk and constant fear in Carney’s family, and Portilla’s mother is a cancer survivor. Knowing the project’s goal was to raise breast cancer awareness gave Portilla the drive to create something beautiful, and Carney was enthusiastic about supporting the cause.
  • The Creative Process – As is often the case in any creative project, unexpected obstacles can prevent an artist from producing the vision in her head.  Staying focused on the client helped keep designer Portilla on track, causing her to shift her design aesthetic to lighten a piece that was deemed “too dark.”  Carney’s job was to take the bras created by Portilla and display them in the windows, playing up the symbolism of each goddess, while still staying focused on the goal of raising cancer awareness.  Sometimes the tension between the goals of the two students was a challenge, as the designer had to surrender final control for how her pieces were displayed by the merchandiser.


This kind of artistic partnership between student and business, profit and cause, is fascinating. I will be writing more about the commerce of art in future blogs. In the meanwhile, I encourage all in the community to remember the rich resource offered by our local university students. They are great babysitters, true, but also designers, writers, actors and future leaders in training. Giving them experiences like Beauty in the Bra enriches both their education and our community.

And, pink ribbon or no, don’t forget the cause behind the art. Breast cancer probably gets more than its fair share of funding, but still, this topic is near and dear to my heart – my mom’s a survivor and I lost a good friend to the disease several years ago. So, whatever your cause, support it passionately and creatively.

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Libbey's qualifications for the job of blogging on the Oak Park arts scene are a deep and abiding interest in the arts with only modest talents, and a nearly 10-year passion for Oak Park itself.  Oh yeah,...

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