Virtual Fashion Show a creative collaboration

Harper student Karla Bautista sews a garment

Karla Bautista said her three-piece collection for the virtual fashion show is inspired by abstract art.

In a fashion show featuring the work of more than 30 fashion design students, it can be difficult to find one – ahem – common thread.

Yet the Harper College Fashion Studies department’s annual show, titled “Unmasked: Spirit of the Times,” will unify designers with such disparate inspirations as fashion legends Rei Kawakubo and Gianni Versace, pop star Rihanna and film director Guillermo del Toro, abstract art, the natural world, and more. All of those influences will be on display when the virtual fashion show goes live at 7 p.m. Friday, May 28 on the Fashion Studies homepage.  

“Last year, the masks went up and now things are emerging,” said Nupur Sharma, associate professor and program coordinator for the department. The “Unmasked” theme is “not only in terms of COVID, but look at the political environment with Black Lives Matter. There’s been a shift in the political landscape. This show is about an awakening, a resurgence.”  

Sharma said some students have expressed their political opinions through garments that will be featured in the show. For instance, graduating designer Mariah Molina’s collection ties together the themes of graffiti art and female empowerment. Fellow graduate Jaxon Klein constructed a collection related to her adoption story. Emily Muller, another member of Harper’s class of 2021, combined ideas of natural and personal transformation in her “Ecdysis Collection.” 

Unmasked Fashion Show Poster“It is based off the shedding of skin because ecdysis is the process of an animal shedding its skin or shedding its fur,” Emily said. “My collection is a combination of acrylic that has been laser cut … combined with soft and pretty fabrics. I wanted this kind of contrast between a hardened exterior and this really soft, almost vulnerable process that we all go through when we experience trauma.” 

Sharma said that 2020’s virtual fashion show was somewhat traumatic for her, other faculty members and students, who did their best to turn the usual, in-person event into a video presentation. She’s much more excited about this year’s show, which serves as a showcase for design students, a capstone project for fashion merchandising students and an assessment for the Fashion Studies department. With more time and better preparation for the 2021 edition, everyone could be more intentional in stitching the show together. 

Harper fashion student Paloma Valdes works on a garment

Paloma Valdes works on her colorful four-piece collection for the Harper College Fashion Studies department's annual fashion show.

“This time we were able to organize a full photo shoot on campus,” she said. “We had models and everything.” 

Sharma highlights the efforts of adjunct instructor Jeremy Schulz, who photographed the designers and their designs and is producing the show, as well as graphic arts technology student Konstantina Tsonis, who designed the event poster and was awarded $100 for her work being selected. 

In anticipation of the show, fashion design and merchandising students looked forward to their future plans (from pursuing bachelor’s degrees at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago to opening their own boutiques) and reflected on the support they found at Harper. 

“What I love most about Harper College is the people I have met as well as the instructors,” Mariah said. “It’s super important for me to be around like-minded individuals who share the same creative space as me. It helps boost my confidence in terms of creativity [and] helps me learn about constructive criticism.” 

Other students shared that sense of community. Graduating fashion entrepreneurship student Paige Zielinski said that her classmates helped inspire her artistry. Whether they were galvanized by “Project Runway” at age 9 (like Emily) or began as an engineering or business major before studying fashion (like Karla Bautista or Paloma Valdes), the program’s new graduates discussed their appreciation for the creative encouragement and care of Harper faculty and students. 

“I feel like I’ve really found myself here,” Jaxson said. 

Looking forward to the fashion show while thinking about the challenges of the past 15 months, Sharma focused on the resiliency of Harper’s Fashion Studies community. She is inspired by faculty members’ hard work as well as students’ creativity and perseverance – and she hopes the show’s audience will be too. 

“The garments look beautiful and spectacular. It gives me hope,” Sharma said. “In spite of the hardships, the students have pulled through.”