On April 1, fashion-conscious students on campus gathered together in Adams House for the Harvard Vestis Council’s “Cocktails and Couture” in order to discuss problems prevalent in Harvard’s fashion community. Well-dressed representatives from Eleganza, Identities, and other groups participated in a fashion summit of sorts that, according to some, has been long overdue. “Cocktails and Couture” is just one of many ways that Vestis has sought to facilitate further dialogue about fashion on campus.
The Harvard Vestis Council was founded in 2005 by Chelsae I. Smith ’07, Kristen D. O’Neill ’06-’07, and Alexandra M. Tan ’06. In its first iteration, the Vestis Council’s primary mission was to showcase student designs in two annual shows: “Haute” and “Cocktails and Couture”. Gradually, however, there were fewer and fewer student designers, and the Vestis fashion shows began to suffer. “[Jane Chun ’12] and I made the decision to not do any Vestis fashion shows this year because the quality and quantity of student work available just wasn’t compelling enough to base an entire show on,” said Angela Su ’12, one of Vestis’s co-presidents. Instead, this year’s leadership opted to take Vestis in an entirely different direction—starting with the transformation of “Cocktails and Couture” into an intimate mixer that fosters conversation.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before on campus. We felt that it was time to have a very open and honest discussion within the community,” said Jane Chun ’12, the other co-president of Vestis. Ultimately, the Vestis Council aims to legitimize fashion as a pre-professional field of study, and provide students with the resources to pursue their passions. Vestis now works with Harvard’s Office of Career Services to foster a connection with local fashion retailers that students can later use to make their way in a notoriously difficult industry.
Vestis is also the fashion organization on campus that meets consistently all year. “There’s a definite need for a steady fashion group on campus. Other groups mainly build up to this one single event, and then disband,” said Ge “Andy” Zhang ’13, Vestis’s events director. “We want ‘Cocktails and Couture’ to become our hallmark and signature event in future years in order to maintain a connection with the other groups on campus,” he added.
Diversity is an important factor for Vestis, and is one of the reasons why the organization has been successful. “We bring people together from all walks of fashion … Jane and I had a hand in every other fashion organization on campus,” said Su. Each Vestis member also brings a different insight into fashion and its place in society. Most people consider the clothes that they shop for ‘fashion,’ but fashion itself is almost impossible to define. Fashion encompasses design, photography, modeling, and individual style among other things. In addition, fashion is in itself timeless. “Fashion reveals a window into history and culture. For instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt [’04] wore a Brooks Brothers cape to the meeting at Yalta, and Lincoln wore a Brooks Brothers topcoat to Ford’s Theatre on the night that he was assassinated,” Zhang said.
Interest in the Vestis Council has sharply increased within the last year, which is due in part to Vestis’s new fashion blog. Maintained by freshman Thomas Dai, the blog references fashion trends and events both on and off campus. “The internet started a huge revolution in the fashion industry. Emphasis on individual fashion trends was due in part to the fashion bloggers around the world. It just made sense for Vestis to have a blog of its own,” said Anna S. Ho ’11, former president of the Vestis Council.
After a night of champagne, hors d’œuvres, and laughter among colleagues, the Vestis Council’s immediate mission became apparent. “April is Harvard’s unofficial fashion month, so Vestis will be involved in almost every aspect of it,” said Su. The Harvard Vestis Council adds to the richness and diversity of interests on Harvard’s campus, and serves as a reminder that fashion—like other art forms—extends far beyond its medium.