Couture at home
Textiles and apparel students find new ways to create, celebrate collections
AUSTIN — When Ellie Dunn saw a flyer advertising the annual UT Fashion Show while on a campus tour, she was immediately sold on where she would attend college.
The show, free to the public at the Frank Erwin Center and broadcast live on the Longhorn Network, gives textiles and apparel students a platform to share their collections with friends, family and viewers across the country. It’s a celebration of hard work — one that Dunn said she’s dreamed about participating in ever since seeing that flyer.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the garments created by Dunn and her peers did not see the runway as they were initially scheduled to on April 23.
With the pandemic also jeopardizing her summer celebrity styling internship, Dunn, a textiles and apparel junior, worries the show’s cancellation could have professional implications.
“I think in terms of finding jobs, (the show was) something that we all were really going to use to our advantage, like, ‘Hey, here’s an hour-long runway show of my designs and my friends’ designs,’” Dunn said. “It’s something that our portfolio was going to be completely based upon.”
Students who planned on participating in the show could still complete their collections remotely, but Emilia Fishburn, a textiles and apparel senior, said she thinks spirits have been low.
“We’re less connected to our work because there was … all this hype about something that’s going to happen, all these people are going to get to see it and now that’s all gone,” Fishburn said. “It kind of feels like, ‘What are we designing for?’”
UT loaned sewing machines to those who don’t have one at home, Fishburn said. But without the materials provided in on-campus labs, Dunn said it was sometimes challenging to get work done.
“When I run out of thread in the lab, I can just go borrow someone’s, or if I don’t have my scissors in the lab, I can go borrow someone’s,” Dunn said. “There’s a lot of little things that if I run out of here, I’m going to have to reorder them, ship them, so there’s such a timing issue.”
Dunn said working from home allowed her to focus better, but she said she missed the connection and support she enjoyed in the lab with peers.
“Being in a lab with the people that have become my best friends over these last three years makes it so much more fun to sew,” Dunn said. “Sewing can be really, really frustrating, so I think being alone is really challenging. It probably helps me focus better, but I think not having the support is going to be really, really hard.”
One garment Dunn said she would have been proud to spotlight in the canceled show is her couture piece: a hand-sewn bridal pantsuit. Dunn, who hopes to be a stylist, said the pantsuit and other four designs in her collection reflect her personal style.
“I sort of took my collection and made pieces that I would dress clients in if I were a stylist,” Dunn said. “I really put my style in there, what I would be wearing on a daily basis — my favorite fabrics, my favorite silhouettes.”
Fishburn said her collection is inspired by American suffragist and fashion advocate Amelia Bloomer and her revolutionary Turkish dress. She said she hoped her collection would communicate a “subtle playfulness” on the runway.
“(The Turkish dress) was the first generation of pants to be introduced to a woman’s wardrobe in the 1800s during the Seneca Falls Convention,” Fishburn said. “(Bloomer) wears them and then everyone starts adopting this dress, and it kind of liberates women, and they’re able to ride bikes now because they don’t have all these layers of dresses.”
Once shelter-in-place restrictions relaxed in her hometown of Oklahoma City, Dunn took pictures of friends modeling her designs. When things return to normalcy in Texas, Fishburn said she hopes to collaborate with other classmates to put on their own “bootleg parking lot show” and showcase their designs to friends and family.
“Everyone’s just going to have to get creative if they want to showcase it, sooner rather than later,” Fishburn said.
Staff and faculty members in the Textiles and Apparel Program are also developing methods to showcase students’ designs. Lecturer Katherine Polston, who directs the fashion show, said they are building a website called www.UTAustinFashionShow.com, which will feature the students’ garments. Those interested in UT Fashion can also follow the students’ work on Instagram @UTFashionShow and Facebook @UTAustinFashion, Polston said.
“The fashion show has been a longtime signature event by and for the Textiles and Apparel Program students and for the School of Human Ecology,” Stephen Russell, director of the School of Human Ecology, said in an email. “We regret that due to the pandemic, we were unable to hold a show this year with our graduating seniors.”
Despite her concerns and challenges, Dunn said spending time at home has been a welcomed change in pace from her usual design classes. She also said the pandemic has put many things in her life into perspective.
“We work so hard all the time, and we’re always sewing, and we’re always doing our other classes,” Dunn said. “It’s such a time commitment, so being able to have all this time to just stop and think about everything we do. It’s definitely made me realize that I need to slow down and that I don’t have to go 100 miles a minute.”