Harper College is making a name for itself in one of the fashion capitals of the world.
Students Myra Chung of Des Plaines and Meta McKinney of Arlington Heights recently placed first and second at the annual Hand & Lock Prize in London, arguably the most prestigious competition in couture embroidery. They were the only two American prizewinners.
The producer of the world's finest hand embroidery since 1767, Hand & Lock has a longstanding association with the Royal Family. The British company regularly outfits royalty and military for pomp and circumstance occasions throughout the Commonwealth.
"This was a wonderful and exhausting yearlong process," said McKinney. "I'm so grateful for all the support we received."
Earlier this year, nearly 1,000 artists sent in photographs showing the early stages of their garments, which had to be inspired by a certain floral, pattern and geometry "design brief." Hand & Lock narrowed the entries to 12 total between the student and open categories. Finalists were then paired with an industry specialist who mentored the artists as they completed their pieces for judging.
McKinney travelled to London last month to the storied Bishopsgate Institute for the prize giving ceremony, where a crowd of enthusiasts, journalists, stylists, designers and fashion professionals examined the garments in person and voted for the winners.
Chung and McKinney were each awarded cash prizes and a special mention went out to their professor, two-time Hand & Lock winner Beata Kania of Harper. Kania was in attendance to support her students. Harper also won the Wilcom Institutional Prize and will receive more than $9,000 worth of advanced software to help further students' couture embroidery skills.
Each garment proved a yearlong process for the Harper students. McKinney said a single flower on her dress took anywhere from 18 to 24 hours of work, and each of the six panels took about 30 hours.
"My intent was to track time, but I stopped after a few hundred hours," said McKinney, who had a career in corporate research before she began taking fashion courses at Harper three years ago. "I was shocked and beyond pleased when I got the news that I made the finals. Everything else has been icing."
Chung works at her family's business, King's Suit Custom Tailoring in Arlington Heights. She praised Kania and Assistant Professor Cheryl Turnauer, fashion department coordinator, for all their support and guidance through the process.
"I am very grateful that Ms. Kania led me to this wonderful opportunity," Chung said. "She is a role model to all students, especially in embroidering. I didn't win the first place on my own. I did this together with my family, my classmates and with all of my professors."