Inside the rouge ballroom is a top-secret gathering of the stylish.
The nation’s first four-year fashion program (Milwaukee’s own Mount Mary College!) is holding a reception for AIDS awareness. There is to be a conversation between Timothy Gunn, American fashion icon who hosts the television show, Project Runway and Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, who founded the fashion design program at Mount Mary fifty years ago.
It is the hob-nob hour before Mr. Gunn and Sr. Aloyse speak, so I nob my hob over to the table of fashion majors to find out what trends they are all about. Petal sleeves! A recent assignment challenged them all to create a bunch of sleeves out of muslin fabric. The results were stapled to the wall and became something known as “the wall of sleeves.”
There are two kinds focus for fashion majors at Mount Mary, the merchandise department is for those who want to open a boutique, and the design department is for those who want to create the stock for their friend’s boutiques.
I ask them if they all draw pretty ladies in their free time.
“You SHOULD draw pretty ladies in your free time if you’re in fashion!”
Tori, a junior in the designer program loves to knit, but has never crocheted. She tells me that after graduation she is going to move to either New York or London and get her masters in knitwear.
“I like posh New York style business wear,” says Pakou, a sophomore who gets a lot of her influences as a designer from Alexander McQueen. “I love his drama and tailoring.” Pakou made up her own henna design and applied it to her hand with a toothpick. She wants to stay in Milwaukee after graduation, but is thinking about using a different name as a designer because “Pakou is a very common Hmong name.” I shake my head, “But just think of all the women named Pakou who will want to buy your clothes and wear them because you share the same name!” Pakou smiles and admits that she’s never thought of it that way.
Two moments stand out in the dialogue between Sr. Aloyse and Tim Gunn. One is the story of how Sr. Aloyse studied fashion in New York and still had to wear her full floor length habit of a Catholic nun that covered all of her hair and much of her face. Many people on the streets and in elevators assumed she was a beggar.
The other moment occurred at the end of the discussion when Timothy Gunn said, “There is a profound difference between being a fashion designer and a clothing designer. The world needs clothes, it doesn’t need fashion. As a fashion designer you’re really a barometric gage of your culture. And if that sounds highfalootin’ and grand— it is! You are working in a context as the societal, cultural, historical, political and economic. You are that gage of what is happening in this particular time and place. That’s your role and you need to accept responsibility for it. It’s not just about the pretty dress.”