Fashion Design is a wearable art form. There are two types of modern fashion design: haute couture, which is one-of-a-kind garment design and is created with a particular individual in mind, and the other, ready-to-wear garment design is made to standardized measurements for a particular target market. For the purpose of portfolio development, student designers were given the opportunity to create an haute couture garment design and showcase it on the runway for the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences annual fashion show. Count Down to Chic: Cosmos Fashion drew inspiration from the beautiful, marvelous, majestic, and yet mysterious universe. They allowed their creative minds to take them to different regions of the cosmos and envision futuristic apparel, embrace technological advances, as well as embody societal concerns such as sustainability, upcycling, and environmental resource stewardship.
Every garment design considered for inclusion in the runway show is peer and faculty reviewed and judged on the following criteria, which follows the Boyer Scholarship Form:
Statement of Purpose: The design concept is explained by discussing the purpose of the submission, including a sketch of the design.
Aesthetic Properties and Visual Impact: Submission applies the elements and principles of design, creating a compelling design work and demonstrating strong visual impact.
Innovation: The submission is significantly different or novel in response to what is already in the public domain and the academic literature.
Process, Technique, and Execution: Submission demonstrates a rigorous process (draping or flat pattern), a mastery of sewing technique, is appropriate (meets standards in Liberty Way for modesty), and of high quality.
Research experience and how research mentorship played a role:
With a determination to reach my goal of becoming a teacher of Family and Consumer Sciences, and needing a job to pay my way through college as an undergraduate student, I approached my Liberty University FACS Department Chair, Dr. Treva Babcock, and asked for a job in the department as her Clothing and Textiles Laboratory Assistant. This began my path of research and discovery. From researching cutting-edge topics for updating her lectures to researching new fabric development and technology, as well as working one-on-one with students in the laboratory to problem solve garment fit and sewing techniques, I found my passion for research and student collaboration.
Upon acceptance to pursue graduate work at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, I was offered the position of Research Assistant in the Department of Clothing and Textiles. I was the Research Assistant to Dr. Melvin Hurwitz, Cornell University-trained Textile Chemist, and I will forever be grateful for the investment he made in my life as a mentor. I worked side-by-side with him in the laboratory to perform non-bias textile research projects, testing for various corporations, and hired by courts for lawsuit settlements. A sampling of my research included: testing of detergents on a variety of soils under realistic usage conditions; secure and analyze data to challenge Company A’s claims to superiority vs. Company B’s, primarily of cleaning effectiveness, and secondarily of softness and freshness; and finally, testing non-woven fabrics in compliance with a new EPA standard stating that any product in a workplace with more than 1% “free” formaldehyde must be so labeled. My mentor recommended me for the prestigious internship at Proctor & Gamble Corporation, Cincinnati, Ohio, in the Packaged Soap Division.
With extreme fondness, I think of my mentors and recognize the investment they made in my life to help make me the teacher and student mentor that I am today. The FACS Department annual fashion show began twelve years ago to provide students with a real-world situation in which to strengthen their portfolios and resumes. Sarah’s garment design Spindles of Stardust is a result of research required to successfully complete a runway-ready garment. I am privileged as a faculty mentor to assess critically student work at each progress check, including design sketches, fabric selection, pattern-making, garment construction, and fit on the model. Sarah was always open to my appraisal and together we collaborated to arrive at a viable solution.
What impact will this research have in your field?
Winner of “Best Haute Couture Collection” as well as the First Runner-Up winner of the show, Sarah Blanke’s work was chosen for its quality sewing techniques, melding of fabric choice with show theme, and most importantly, its functional and transitional pieces. Potential benefits of this creative design include pieces that may be removed, reversed, or otherwise worn to minimize fabric waste, control “quantity” spending, and increase sustainability.
So ingenious is her work, that Sarah Blanke was chosen to present her research entitled “Wearable Art and the Design Process” during Liberty University’s Research Week, and her winning garment design “Spindles of Stardust” at the ITAA (International Textile and Apparel Association) Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, November 2016.
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of collaborating with students in a research experience?
As a teacher, I decided long ago to invest in my students outside the classroom. It is often outside the classroom where critical thinking, problem-solving, the ability to work independently, effective communication, and experiences in collaborative projects take place. It is outside the four walls of the classroom where one can have a positive and lasting impact on a student’s professional life. Most call this indispensable person a mentor. From a beginning student just learning to sew to the most academically advanced student, each needs to be recognized as a developing professional and to be coached to improve their skills and find success in their work. I enjoy creating extracurricular opportunities such as special community donation drives, global sewing projects, and designing for our annual fashion show. Extracurricular opportunities allow for collaboration of ideas between students and myself in a non-academic arena. Since we are learning together, my students gain confidence in their skills for future success.
One of the main goals of this piece is to draw a parallel between the relevance of a couture garment and the inspired, creative nature of wearable art. This is a work that embodies the spiral galaxies of outer space in a wearable piece that appeals to the modern consumer both on and off the runway. While couture garments and wearable art are certainly pieces to be admired, they are not often as purposeful once taken off the runway. Through the design of this garment, cohesion with the runway as well as wearable formal wear have been captured, bridging the gap between these two areas of fashion. The inspiration of a spiral galaxy was chosen due to the variety of colors found in these galaxies, as well as the beautiful movement they display. While much of natural beauty is observable with the naked eye, a great deal is still overlooked. This piece draws attention to just one of these forgotten wonders, embodying the elegance and beauty that exists in our universe.
The galaxies are massive, yet are made up by smaller details that come together to form the whole. This principle has been largely implemented into the construction of the garment. A major inspiration piece lies in the metallic spiral detailing of the belt and straps, which swirl in a similar manner to the galaxies they represent. The bodice reflects this metallic effect as gold threads are woven into cream brocade, which has been constructed with a fitted waistline and modified sweetheart neckline. The skirt is made up of sixteen separate panels of organza, each manipulated to spiral down, creating volume throughout. The skirt of the dress is also a functional piece, as the organza panels attach to the removable belt. When the belt is removed, a solid gold skirt is revealed. This aspect brings both functional and convertible aspects to the garment. These details, while unique but understated on their own, come together to create an image of the effortless movement and magnificence of the galaxies. This representation not only is unique and bold enough for the runway but is also functional enough to be worn to a formal event. The creation of this garment shows a seamless blending between these two areas of fashion; a crossroads where high fashion meets sensible fashion.
How did you get involved in research collaboration with a faculty mentor?
When I decided to take part in Liberty’s annual Family and Consumer Science fashion show in 2016, for which this garment was designed, Mrs. Howard immediately came alongside me as a mentor. While the show is largely student-run, Mrs. Howard was incredibly supportive, giving critique and advice for both design and construction of the garment. In many of our fashion classes, Mrs. Howard has taught us to create not only beautiful clothing but also about what will appeal to a customer and hold relevance within the consumer market. This sparked the idea to create a piece that captures couture elements while still holding to a theme that is marketable.
After the fashion show, Mrs. Howard encouraged me to submit my garment to be exhibited at the International Textile and Apparel Association’s Annual Conference in November of 2016. As a result of this mentorship, I have grown a great deal as a designer and as a goal-oriented person, seeing beyond what is in front of me and grasping the opportunities that lie ahead.
What impact will this research have on your future academic and professional opportunities?
This research will impact future academic and professional opportunities particularly in the manner in which I approach them and the range of experiences this research has introduced me to. Academically, I would like to continue to research and implement ways in which couture clothing can be marketed to the consumer, as well as the role that wearable art plays in the fashion industry. After taking part in research that I am passionate about, I will enter into academic and professional opportunities with an enthusiasm to continue to further my knowledge and experience in these areas. It is my hope that my peers, mentors, and future employers will see the passion that I have for beautiful, functional, and marketable fashion and the ways that it can benefit the industry as a whole.
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
I have found that the most exciting and rewarding aspect of my undergraduate research experience has been the opportunity to share my work with those not only in the field of fashion but also in other areas of study. As I have presented my research to fellow scholars in various fields, I have been encouraged by their enthusiasm for what I am doing and have gained insight into their perspectives on my research through the lens of their specializations. I have learned that it is incredibly beneficial to share ideas among various disciplines, making for even more effective collaboration among researchers and professionals.
What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
My advice for a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research is to not be intimidated or turned away by the word “research.” While the thought of extensively learning about and applying a new concept or idea has been daunting for me in the past, I’ve learned through the work that I’ve done that research can be enjoyable and rewarding. In my experience, I’ve simply implemented something I love – designing and constructing clothing – and done so in a way that is relevant to real issues within the fashion industry.
In light of this, my advice is to find what you are passionate about and utilize it in a way that will further both yourself as a student as well as your field of study. Once you incorporate the things you love into the work you are doing, God is then glorified and the intimidating concept of research becomes much more welcoming.