Booming thunder, bolts of lightning, buckets and buckets of rain—last night’s gloomy evening was the perfect setting for a fairy-tale hero to swoop in, swing the sword, and save the day. While slaying did ensue, audiences dropped dead from looks, not from dragons or witches or what have you. Students, professors, and designers gathered at the Weisman Art Museum and eyed the catwalk, awaiting the annual Student Design Showcase, Between the Seams.
Inspired by the Wonderful World Before Disney, WAM’s current exhibition which depicts countless fairy-tale postcards and illustrations that pre-date Disney’s interpretations, the sophomore designers spoke to the moral, social, and political aspects of the age-old tales with garments that hit the marks on wearable, recyclable, collectible, and many cases, all of the above.
Each of the 18 garments were some sort of take on a classic cocktail dress, save for one lone jumpsuit designed by Chong Xiong.
“I see a jumpsuit as really powerful. Jumpsuits are more functional and forward and with the times,” Xiong said.
Xiong’s piece, constructed from clear vinyl, aluminum foil, and laser engraved acrylic, was created in response to a Little Red Riding Hood postcard that depicts Red in a field of flowers, unaware of the wolf lurking behind her. Xiong thought to herself, ‘Turn around!’ and immediately recognized her response as victim blaming.
“I wanted to bring up the conversation of victim blaming because even I, myself, who is strongly against it, have these tendencies to do it. And so, I want to bring that to be part of the conversation,” Xiong said.
Each of the designs were unique in their inspiration and intentional message, but a few repeating themes could hardly go unnoticed. There was a plethora of plant themes—flowers, leaves, twigs, and the like—symbolic of the passage of time and personal growth, as well as a handful of boxy armor-inspired numbers.
Kai Johnson’s dress was a compilation of the two. She took on the story of Tom Thumb—and for those who need a fairy-tale refresher, Tom Thumb was the youngest of a poor family with lots of children whose parents led them to the woods to “lose” them, and although Tom’s siblings picked on him for being the smallest, he was the one who led them out of the woods to safety time and again.
Embodying growth and resiliency, what onlookers first saw was a large white hat that gracefully flopped with each step and a white plated dress, both embossed with a wood-like texture. Applause confirmed, the piece was an audience favorite.
“The hat and boots are in very oversized proportions to make the model look smaller, and that draws on some of the actual articles of clothing that were shown in the postcards,” Johnson said. “It’s about being confident in your own abilities, even when the people around you and people in society don’t look at you in a way that allows you to fully excel.”
Passed down and adopted and recreated and retold, fairy-tales are embedded into our childhood memories, enabling us to recite their characters and stories like our only family histories (okay, maybe not Little Tom Thumb). Timeless as they seem, if anything ought to be taken from fairy-tales today, it is that they are not stagnant. Rather, as cultural values and ideologies progress, fairy-tales can be analyzed not by the stories they tell, but what they fail to address. Through power suits and pieces that speak to inner strength and resiliency, the designers said it best—the lessons to be learned are between the seams.