Ursula Rivera

Ten young visionaries, all students at Dominican University, pursuing a degree in design or merchandising, presented original and diverse collections at this year’s annual Spring Fashion Show: nine disparate bodies of work demonstrating downright daring designs.

The title and theme of Dominican’s spring fashion production this year was “Awaken,” spelled out in distorted Tim Burtonesque lettering in the program and depicting a willowy young woman emerging from a seemingly scorched forest, denuded trees flanking her, her silhouette illuminated by the sun breaking through cloudy skies.

Despite the pitchy palette, there’s something hopeful about the svelte figure standing erect at the break of dawn. The artwork mirrors the voyage — the trials and triumphs — of the students who participated in this year’s show.

This isn’t a coincidence. The program was crafted by the apparel merchandising students themselves. As a matter of fact, the production is completely organized and staged by the apparel merchandising students.

I had the opportunity to sit down previously with three of these budding ingénues, Shannon Seegers, Katherine Johnson and Danielle Moorhouse, who talked about the genesis of each spellbinding design and the journey from sketchbook to catwalk [The spirit of invention awakens, LifeLines, April 13].

Here are profiles of the ten designers:

Igniting potential

Ursula Rivera’s brown eyes reveal a satisfied traveler, home after a long-awaited journey. The fashion show was indeed an odyssey — of the senses — for Miss Rivera. She grew up listening to the joyful sounds of flamenco music, including the renowned guitarists the Gypsy Kings. The instrumentals sparked her senses as a child. So it’s no surprise that the theme guiding her senior collection was the Andalusian gypsies of Southern Spain.

Adding a splash of contemporary flair, Rivera chose to use spandex, a knit textile that moves easily (the symbolism is ingenious) and hugs a woman’s’ natural curves. Hers is a natural palette featuring the dark hues of soil and shades of a royal blue desert sky before sunset. Sangria red specks dot her formfitting maxi-dresses and represent the seductive and celebratory spirit of gypsy music and dance. The energetic designs combined with the relaxed fabric are perfect for a tranquil day under the sun — or a lively fiesta.

In perfect harmony

Bethany Bucholz sits poised before her long, off-the-shoulder chiffon dresses. She is soft-spoken, with a pensive expression. When I ask her to speak to the inspiration of her garments, her contemplative eyes shift to her dress forms. A mini-history lesson ensues. The pleats and gatherings of the Grecian toga were intentional, communicating wealth and wisdom — or lack thereof. Bucholz set out to create a modern aesthetic that would incorporate parallel and identically-spaced stitching — pleats that express beauty, not socioeconomic status.

The soft, muted colors in blush and jonquil are polite, the designs controlled, like the designer. Bucholz loves the textiles she chose to work with. “They’re prim, proper and wild.” Wild? I ask. She smiles sweetly, and something resembling mischief flashes from her eyes.

Upon closer inspection, I see that the flecks of color marking the fabric are actually tiny leopard spots. She reaches out and with the flick of a hand reveals a high slit in the skirt of each dress. A lovely balance of playful and provocative, I imagine, just like the designer. A pleasant surprise indeed.

The emancipation of Miss Foley

Stephanie Foley’s ethereal designs took seed in her mind in a far-away locale. While studying abroad in Ireland, Foley was stirred by the natural beauty of the lush, verdant landscape, but it was the Giant’s Causeway that moved her most. “The experience was liberating,” she recalls. Once back home, designs spilled from her prolific mind: her fantastical frocks came to life, impeccably echoing memories of pillow basalts and cascading ocean waves.

Sun-bleached layers of silk dupionis and silk chiffon intersect in shades of teal and gray and blend logically with leather details in Foley’s purposeful designs. The decorative leather accents mirror the igneous rock found at the fourth natural wonder, and the long, flowing lines emulate the basalt columns. These bold, unhesitating designs are flawlessly crafted and yield romantic and whimsical gowns. One feels called to these designs the way one is called to a vocation.

Inspiration uninterrupted

Jane Arvis’ refined yet quirky collection of separates pays tribute to the bumble bee. She has adopted the bee as a symbol.

“The bee is an interesting character,” she says. “I consider myself a worker bee; I have a strong work ethic, and I’m always on the go.” A double major, she is studying graphic design and fashion design.

Arvis was motivated to create a line that reflects the irony of the miniature pollinator’s life: its importance to our ecosystem yoked to the danger associated with the flying insect’s sting.

She chose heavy as well as gauzy textiles — suede and cotton sateen in tawny hues — to create breezy pieces that mimic the organic shapes and pigments of a bee’s bulbous nest and its fragile, diaphanous wings. Confident designs produce structural skirts and shifts, along with gossamer-layering pieces.

Her imagination also prompted an original digitally-designed pattern, a London-inspired Elizabethan fleur de lis in sepia and flax. With this lovely, printed textile, seen throughout her urbane, nature-inspired collection, her designs take flight.

Paint it black

Stacy Portilla has always been drawn to the terrain of big cities: the concrete below, the skyline beyond. Whether in Chicago or Paris, Stacy loves the gritty underground music scenes, graffiti wall art, and covert sectors off the beaten path.

Cityscapes are inextricably twined with her love of the color black.

“I’ve always had a love affair with black,” Portilla explains. “I’m drawn to it.” Her goal for the senior fashion show was to create an edgy collection of ready-to-wear separates, reinventing grunge with a point-of-view all her own. She insists this is not about ripped jeans and flannel shirts but a declaration of love for music and art and being true to yourself.

“I always design in black,” Portilla says. “I do include elements of surprise: accents of gray as well as studs and other embellishments.” She manages to link two seemingly opposed design aesthetics fluidly — granny meets rock and roll, incorporating hand-knit pieces. She also felted a winding path of gray woolen yarn across the bodice and along a one-sleeved LBD. Her little black dress is not ordinary. Apparently, the bad guys don’t always wear black.

Marching to a different beat

Jacqueline Bedolla wants to know: What is art?

“I love working with my hands,” she says. For the senior show, she worked to create unconventional designs.

“I wanted to think outside the box. The focus for my collection was strength and tenacity.”

Bedolla communicates this through chains, creating a smooth under-layer for each unique dress, as well as golden masks that meld into helmet-like headgear.

I have to ask: Where does one wear chains?

“Wear it to go out or dress it down under a blazer,” she replies cheerily.

Always resourceful and imaginative, Bedolla wants to travel to other countries, learning native crafting techniques and integrating these elements into her own future designs. She’s hoping to pour her creativity into nonconforming apparel that will speak to the masses.

The boiling point

Anna Chmel’s inspiration is Malcolm Gladwell. No, not the lanky, curly-haired writer for the New Yorker, but his book, The Tipping Point, that inspired Anna’s senior collection. Fascinated by his study on sociological changes as they affect everyday life, she chose to create conceptual pieces rather than wearables.

Chmel has succeeded in creating artistic fashion — unordinary dresses with beautiful bodices that explode at the hip in exaggerated proportions of tulle, silk organza and silk dupionis. Appropriately, she selected textiles in white, gray, and black.

A double major studying business as well as fashion design, Chmel says, “I’m interested in shapes and structure and why we view certain architectural proportions as attractive.” She will go on to study architecture come the fall. No matter the scope, she will surely construct edifices that reflect innovative views of the realm.

Rising Star

Katherine Johnson is a slip of a thing, with dark hair framing her small face, and eyes full of vitality. Akin to a hummingbird, Katherine flutters from one dress to another as she prepares her designs for the final show. As we chat about her uncommon collection, she multitasks effortlessly, flitting from one body form to another, scissors in one hand, needle in another, thread propped between her pursed lips.

She seems propelled by a limitless supply of energy – an almost otherworldly vigor. Appropriately, she looks to the stars for inspiration, astrological inspiration that is. Katherine decided to create a series of zodiac inspired wearables and costumesque designs for her senior collection.

Katherine’s bewitching faux metal dresses and equally enchanting faux fur frocks are easy to imagine on Lady Gaga. One can picture the songbird strutting across the stage in a Katherine Johnson celestial composition. She effuses, “I love reading my horoscope!” Sans the help of a sky-map, I predict the stars will align for this capable designer.

City of Dreams

Shannon Seegers is a fresh-faced student who believes earnestly that it is what’s on the inside that counts. That’s because she’s a psychology major. How did she end up designing meticulously constructed cotton and wool dresses with stage-worthy polish for our outer selves? She didn’t get lost on her way to a cognitive psychology course; Shannon is a fashion design minor.

If you’re wondering whether a psych major has the fashion fortitude and creative chutzpah necessary to beget beguiling garments, well, that’s like asking if Freud believed in unconscious desires. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Shannon is an unaffected designer whose inspiration was the attribution theory – a concept concerned with how individuals interpret events. She was interested in creating a visual interpretation of internal and external attributions; her line is a material depiction of what we see and interpret versus what is. Shannon shares, “We don’t always take into account the entire context. We try to sort through things quickly in our minds to move through life more quickly.”

Hence, Shannon has ingeniously conceived two garments for each of her designs: a pithy woolen outer layer with crisp, clean lines and a delicate, soft inner piece, intricately constructed of cotton. “My focus in on functional apparel.” Who knew function could look so good?

Big-Time Ambition

I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about Danielle Moorhouse. Self-possessed and determined, she articulates herself with ease. Danielle’s playful yet sophisticated collection of urban-eclectic pieces was inspired by the vibrant and bold colors of the circus as well as the distinct shapes found within the arena: the ringmaster’s top hat, the big top tent.

Stripes and polka dots mingle on silk dupionis and poly shantung to create easy separates that would make a welcome addition to any woman’s wardrobe. “I wanted to be creative and create clothes that would be fun.” The only drawback to Danielle’s clever collection: “Ever since I started this collection I haven’t been able to get the carnival song [Entrance of the Gladiators] out of my head!”

Sarah Gretencord, the senior fashion show’s director, explained that the students’ excitement over their impending graduation was tempered by bleak thoughts of a depressed economy and an uncertain job market. But over time the students came together to support one another on their very personal journeys.

“We’re confident, we’re focused, and we’re ready to achieve our goals,” Gretencord says. “That’s our rebirth, our awakening. Things are going to get better.”

And the winner is…

Thank you to all of the readers who voted for their favorite designer. Voting ended June 1 and the designer with the most votes will be featured in Wednesday Journal’s Fall Fashion Guide due out on September 14.
Click here to find out which designer will be featured in our Fall Fashion Guide…

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