On a Wednesday night in the Lowell Belltower, girl after girl came panting up the stairs, struggling to climb the five flights in their three-inch stilettos. But the Belltower was not hosting a party. It was housing auditions for Haute, the annual fashion show now run by the Harvard Vestis Council.
Of the girls who climbed, some, in beautiful dresses and expensive accessories, had modeled before. Others were taking a more casual approach, wearing clothes and jewelry they had made with their own hands. Julia K. Clarke ’05 arrived in a home-made Zoolander “Derelicte” tank-top, inspiring the others to shout such encouragements as “Blue Steel!” and “So hot right now!” as their fellow would-be models went in to audition.
For a brief moment, these Harvard students weren’t worrying about midterms and papers. Instead, they were having fun with fashion—exactly what the founders of Vestis envisioned when they started their club last year.
Chelsae I. Smith ’07, Kristen D. O’Neill ’06-’07, and Alexandra M. Tan ’06 met while producing last year’s Haute. They say the show’s combination of meager funding and high demand revealed just how few campus resources Harvard had to offer to students interested in fashion careers—and inspired them to start Vestis.
Behind their project: the hunch that Harvard students were, in fact, more interested in looking good than their North Face jackets and thick sweatpants might suggest. Tan, Vestis’ events coordinator, thought of it as a science experiment.
At first, their laboratory was quiet. Vestis sponsored just one event last year, bringing a speaker from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts to make a presentation at the Fogg.
But interest in the club has since “exploded,” according to O’Neill, who says Vestis’ membership now stands at around 200.
This year, they’ve already put on a successful “Put Some Style in Your Career” event with the Office of Career Services (OCS), which brought marketing executives and recruiters from companies like Abercrombie and Fitch, The Gap, and Liz Claiborne to campus. Once they’re done with this year’s Haute, Vestis will get started on plans for next spring’s career panel and lecture series.
The founders work hard to fight against perceptions that a fashion club is not serious.
“I feel like we get pigeon-holed,” says O’Neill, the Council’s president. “It’s not like in our meetings we talk about what people are wearing, and different styles we should do, and that on Wednesday we should all wear pink.”
One of the group’s missions is to explore the link between high fashion and high art, bringing the purportedly “frivolous” world of fashion into Harvard’s ivy-covered walls.
“Fashion is art,” says Smith. “Fashion is a part of our culture. It’s something that can be very academic.”
That said, academia never looked this good. And if Vestis has to keep fighting for legitimacy on the Harvard campus, chances are some of the doubters are just jealous.