New York City may have Bryant Park, but we have The Sanctum. On Saturday night, we put the space to fashionable use when six student designers gathered to present their original looks.
As part of a long-standing FM tradition, our third annual Fast Fashion Challenge tested the creativity and stamina of the six designers. With only 24 hours and 24 dollars, FM dared these intrepid couturiers to create inspiring looks based on six distinguished Harvard alumni.
Lady GaGa’s “Beautiful Dirty Rich” blares as the models filed onto the makeshift catwalk to strut their designers’ stuff. After a pretty damned impressive show, the models strike a pose next to their waiting designers.
Victoria D. Sung, who is also a Crimson Arts columnist, created a look inspired by the “simple” and “chic” aesthetic of Natalie Portman ’03. The result? A midnight blue jersey dress with braid detailing on the neckline.
“I thought this was what Natalie Portman would be wearing next time she came to Harvard and made out with someone at the Spee,” Sung explains.
Mira Nair ’79 was Hoi L. “Helen” Tsim’s style inspiration. Her first stop? Google. “I had no idea who Mira Nair was,” Tsim says. Despite her unfamiliarity with her muse, Tsim was able to channel the director’s “passionate” color palette in a gold and crimson chiffon gown.
But there were some unforeseen obstacles: Tsim arrived at the fabric store just as it was closing. “I had to beg them to stay open for five more minutes,” Tsim says. The judges spot a rogue safety pin at the model’s waist.
Nhu-Quynh L. “Quinn” Dang’s model kicked it old school in a black and white floor-length jersey dress inspired by Puritan Minister Cotton Mather, Class of 1678. Dang’s goal was to take the “pure out of Puritan.” A quick spin down the runway, with the detachable caplet in hand, showed off a revealing, low-cut back. Would Mather have been pleased? Shocked? God only knows.
Julia C. “JC” Guest adopted an eco-friendly design style, as she searched for “vintage” clothes at the Garment District’s Dollar-A-Pound pile. With Al Gore ’69 as her fashion inspiration, Guest decided to forego her muse’s stark suits and focus on his environmentally friendly message. Guest created a shockingly complex dress for a rock-bottom price of $5.40. Several distinct patterns merged in this layered-tank dress, which Guest finished with buttons down the back—a detail that paid homage to her style inspiration. “Al Gore could have worn this,” she says.
Meriweather Burruss channeled “geek-chic” via her Bill Gates-inspired number, created from an oversized, pink and white striped Oxford. The technologically-advanced accessories, including a bow crafted from the interior of an old keyboard, were a big hit with the judges. Burruss’s model requested to wear the dress out later that night for a little trouble-making, just like Gates would have done during his stint in the Yard.
Lucy W. Baird, FM’s defending Fast Fashion champion, presented a “space-age cocktail dress,” an ode to science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin ’51. The form-fitting, bronze stretch-jersey glittered in the Sanctum’s spotlight. While the front of the dress was simple and sleek, the elaborately interwoven black strips of fabric across the open back showed off Baird’s handiwork.
While the hustle and bustle of the show’s aftermath continues in The Sanctum, the judges congregate downstairs to discuss the creations and declare the winner of the Fast Fashion Challenge.
Margaret M. Wang ’09, President of The Harvard Vestis Council, settles cross-legged into her chair. Opposite her is Harvard Business School student Elizabeth R. Whitman ’06, who co-founded the fashion line Lewis Albert as an undergraduate. Whitman smooths out her full black skirt as she makes final comments on her score sheet. Rounding out the trio is Timothy M. Parent ’09, founder of fashion show Project East. Clad in a naval jumpsuit and fierce boots, Parent has cutting opinions—and an even sharper tongue—when it comes to fashion.
Sung’s Natalie Portman-inspired cocktail dress is up first. “Natalie Portman is simple and chic,” Wang says, “So I thought she was pretty on target.” The design also earned points for the “really cool” piping around the neckline.
The judges thought Tsim was well spoken. “I liked the idea that it was Vanity Fair crossed with Bollywood,” Parent says. But they were disappointed by the slight puckering at the seam, a result of an unfortunate choice in fabric.
Dang’s flowing Cotton Mather-inspired cocktail gown earned her praise for technical prowess. “The dress had awesome execution and fit,” Whitman says .
Parent agreed, citing the execution as the reason for the geometric shape’s sharp appearance.
“I didn’t like the cape,” adds Parent. “It looked like something that had been thrown on and shouldn’t have been.”
Guest’s play on the theme of sustainability impressed some of the judges. “It was really cool and a great idea,” Wang says.
But the judges questioned what seemed to be a haphazard choice of fabric and color scheme. Whitman expressed some hesitation about the polyester.
“She could just really be into polyester,” Parent points out.
“I’m not,” replies Whitman.
Baird’s garment impressed judges for elements of its construction. “I really liked the V-seam in the front,” notes Wang.
“It was a dress with a pretty back,” Parent says.
But the judges weren’t convinced how the piece connected with Le Guin’s sci-fi world. “I like the idea of space-age cocktail dress,” Whitman says. “But it could have been Studio 54.”
The judges were wowed by Burruss’s incorporation of alternative materials. “I loved the keyboard,” says Whitman. Burruss broke down an old keyboard to create an original labels—her initials on the dress’s left pocket. She also created a bow out of the film found inside the keyboard.
“I love the bow,” says Parent. “I would wear that if I were a girl.”
“You’d wear that anyway, Timmy,” adds Margaret.
From head to toe, from clear geek glasses to the microchip necklace, Burruss had succeeded in creating a real “look.” “It was an outfit,” Whitman says.
It was a tight race, but ultimately, one designer emerged victorious. For the breadth of materials, completeness of vision, and kick-ass je-ne-sais-quoi, Meriweather H. Burruss, winner of the FM’s 3rd Annual Fast Fashion challenge, we congratulate you.