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Students weave societal struggles into March 11 show

Rachel Powell
Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology
Rachel Powell '17 works on her collection "Roots" for the 33rd Annual Runway Show.

After countless hours of preparation – planning, sketching, designing, laser cutting and even 3-D printing – 27 student designers will see their work grace the catwalk at the Cornell Fashion Collective’s 33rd Annual Runway Show.

On March 11, Barton Hall will be transformed into a fully-fledged fashion arena to display original creations with designers presenting their work collectively or independently under a specific theme.

From themes including “Glacial Reprise,” inspired by melting ice caps and the fragile state of the environment, to “Circus,” encompassing allure, decadence and sexuality through geometric shapes, dark colors and rich fabrics, student designers will showcase their creative talents after almost a year of work.

For designers AJ Saunders ’17 and Rachel Powell ’17, their collections represent personal stories of self-discovery, evolution and change captured within their designs and creations.

Agitated by the phenomenon of body dysphoria, Saunders, through her collection “Ad-Just-Men,” wanted to counteract the negativity individuals feel about the excess or lack of body parts.

“It’s really about the playfulness of gender,” she says. “It’s not so serious, it’s fluid, it’s androgynous and it’s about the play and fluidity and choice that people have to switch if they wanted and go between [items of] clothing.”

According to Saunders her collection is a reflection of her own experiences from when she began dressing like a boy to push the boundaries of what is accepted and accessible.

“When people are questioning their gender or identity, clothing is one of the first mediums they use to start viewing themselves differently and experiment with in terms of their body – I want to help [those] people,” she said. “There’s a psychological component in regards to fashion; technology has allowed me to produce an end result that’s meaningful, allowing people to experiment and be themselves.”

From online interviews, Saunders found many people felt confined to either the men’s or women’s section of a product line and struggled because of the way different garments are cut according to gender. For example, women may struggle to wear men’s pants over their hips.

“So I wanted to make accessible some sort of “fashion-ized” objects that would function in themselves to control the body instead of having to manipulate all of these different things,” Saunders said. “I invented a binder that will not just naturally flatten the chest, but be pretty enough to wear just as a shirt itself.”

Incorporating prosthetics to give a certain weight or shape to the body, Saunders used laser cutters and 3-D printers to help her push her fashion collection to one that is more conceptual and technological than a simple piece of clothing.

Powell explained that her collection, “Roots,” “explores the intersectionality of black women in America, the unique double discrimination that they experience based on their race and gender, the consequent omission of the black female voice from American history.”

Drawing inspiration from the African diaspora and the 1960s civil rights movement, Powell said the collection highlights the erasure of the black woman’s narrative and her journey in rooting her place in American society.

“The black woman falls into this void of not knowing where she fits in to society, so my collection is examining her transition in trying to find a space in American society,” she said. “Looking into the different designs, I examine how the black woman has progressed and morphed as she gained more freedom and more confidence in herself.”

Powell says she leveraged her course curriculum to integrate the most she can from her last year at Cornell into the work she is doing through her collection.

“I’ve been trying to take courses that interest me and relate to the collection in a way,” she said citing Photography and the American Dream, which looks at the pursuance of the American dream through an African-American lens. “What I’ve learned has been an integral influence on my collection.”

The Cornell Fashion Collective Runway Show takes place March 11 at 7 p.m. in Barton Hall.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

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