This past weekend at Cornell lots of people were choosing the clothes they’d wear, some were experimenting with their hair and makeup, some were choosing the perfect pair of shoes to go with their outfit. But some, like seniors Abbey Liebman and Kerry McCarthy, were doing this for models—their models, who spent Saturday night in the clothing they designed, in hair and makeup they meticulously chose, in shoes they handpicked or even tweaked to put their own twist on it, and on a student-designed runway walking to music specifically chosen to compliment the clothes and the models.
Abbey and Kerry took part in the 26th annual Cornell Design League fashion show, which showcases student designers, primarily in the Fiber Science and Apparel Design major in the School of Human Ecology. Both had been eager participants since freshman year. Abbey designed all four years—progressing from one-piece freshman year, two sophomore year, a mini-line of five to six pieces junior year (when Kerry didn’t participate because she was abroad), to a full line this year.
Designing clothes is nothing new to the two aspiring fashion designers as it is part of the curriculum in their major. However, designing for CDL is very different from homework in classes. “In your classes you have certain stipulations about what kind of garments you’re going to create,” Abbey explained. “[With CDL] you have a stage with runway models so you can practice for the real world.” With the freedom to create whatever you want — inspirations can come from a variety of sources. “I took inspiration originally from Cecil Beaton who styled My Fair Lady—so it kind of was that and this idea of dressing for the derby, like the Kentucky Derby,” Kerry explained about her line “seen.” “I sort of did an updated version of My Fair Lady and I wanted it to be more edged out—there is a lot of leather and things like that—but I love what I already saw.” Kerry also explained that she takes a lot of inspiration from modern art in her clothing designs.
Abbey, who had styled her line last year using inspiration from the spring (with a variety of soft blue and green pastel colors) used nature once again—turning towards the desert. “This year the original inspiration was the Southwest and the desert,” Abbey explained. “I love the desert; I’m obsessed with Arizona, Utah, those areas. I love the Moab Desert. But what I decided to do was add in more Western elements of how clothing is constructed such as collar, placket and shirt detailing that reminds one of more traditional Western dress (in men more than women). The colors and silhouettes are to remind you of the Southwest but in actuality they are more trendy pieces.” Once inspiration came to Kerry and Abbey, who each designed nine women’s looks, it was time to start construction of the outfits.
Abbey, who had designed all dresses in sophomore and junior year, struggled a little bit to design pants—as she intended to create a more wearable line this year. “The hardest thing [to make] for me was the pants because I hadn’t really done that many pants at all before. Instead of using slopers [base patterns] to make pants patterns, I drafted my own slopers from the models’ measurements. I found this way I was able to get a much better fit on the pants. One of the hardest things about CDL is fitting real people, with curves, into my clothes, not just mannequins.” While Abbey may have struggled learning a new designing and sewing technique, the end result, like all of her clothes, came out beautifully.
Kerry described her construction style as more technical, and explained her preference for using the more mechanical slopers as opposed to draping. “I’m more technical and draping is more of a freestyle approach and my designs are usually more technical.” When I spoke to Kerry she was sewing a purple pleated leather skirt—which was perfectly assembled and really described her more mechanical approach. Speaking about that skirt in particular, Kerry described the struggle in using leather, a particularly expensive fabric. “I put a tiny model in the [purple leather skirt] because I wanted to use as little leather as possible. It worked out because they only had that amount in that color so I put it on her because she’s the tiniest.”
Choosing the models is one of the aspects that really allows designers to properly prepare for real-world experience. Elsa Gillis, another Cornell senior, had her modeling debut for Abbey’s line, Abbey Rachel. “I think its one of the coolest events at Cornell,” Elsa gushed. “I love fashion so I was really flattered to be apart of the experience.” Elsa underwent hair and makeup in preparation for the runway, which relaxed her. The relaxation was necessary as many models, including Elsa, are nervous for their walk. “I wanted to make sure I was really showing off her clothes because she worked really hard but I was nervous and shaking the whole time,” Elsa said.
Each designer has preferences when it comes to models. “I like a very specific body type in a model,” Kerry said. “I like girls with long legs and no chest essentially. I like almost boyish looking models, I just don’t like dealing with boobs. So that’s how I pick my models because just about all my stuff is short because I really like short dresses. I try to get as tall as I can but a lot of my models are shorter than me so I just put them in high heels.”
When the models and clothes are ready, full-line level designers are left to choose music and lighting to complement their models along with design a logo for their line.
Kerry and Abbey both emphasized that CDL is a completely extracurricular activity. At many design schools, creating a line like they did is the equivalent of a thesis. Here it is just an expensive way (designers are responsible for all costs, but can apply for specific grants for CDL) to prepare for the real world. “I consider it more important that the classes I’m taking,” Abbey admitted. “I end up having to make choices which means focusing on something extracurricular at this school but it is important for the next few years. I enjoy my classes a lot, but you have to make choices, especially senior year.” But in the end, there is a finished product to admire. “You get the feeling of having something completed that’s yours and you can look at it … its great,” Abbey gushed.
Kerry echoed the sentiment of working towards the ultimate goal of possibly one day having her own line. “Hopefully it will get me a job, that’s the goal, but as of right now it’s just for the show.”
SOURCES Abbey Liebman, Cornell senior Kerry McCarthy, Cornell senior Elsa Gillis, Cornell senior Photo credits: Tracey Liebman for Abbey Rachel by Abbey Liebman [Backstage] Photo credits: Juan P Hinestroza