This is a guest post by Cydney Gray, a Digital Learning Program Associate for DreamYard Project who also teaches fashion and maker classes (among many other random things).
“Yea, I have a question. Miss, where did you get your vest?” After 30 minutes of a painfully scripted recruitment speech, this was the one question that inevitably came up in every classroom my DreamYard colleague and I visited. I would shake my head and quickly respond, “I bought a jacket, made into a vest, and put things on it. But we’re not talking about that right now. Any questions about DreamYard’s free Visual Arts, Theater, or Hip Hop programs?” I learned quickly to leave my vest, and personal style, at work when I went to do classroom recruitment. But once students were enrolled in our programs, my fashion choices became another way for me to share part of my life with stylish teens who were looking for a new way to express themselves. I found myself staying late and working through lunch (when I could) to teach teens quick tips on how to tweak mundane clothes into something a little more personal, unique, and yes, rad.
DreamYard is a vibrant artistic community, and as a part of the Hive Learning Network we were offered the opportunity to sit in on a larger conversation about NYC teens and fashion. After an initial meeting, Moriah Carlson, designer for Feral Childe and DreamYard Visual Arts Coach, and I could not stop talking about what it would mean to have a Bronx-based fashion program for our Art Center students. I immediately started taking mental stock of the participants that were already ready, willing, and eager to make it happen.
While planning, we realized that we wanted the participants to walk away with a broader definition of “fashion” that included, but went beyond, the exclusive high fashion highlighted by popular media. We approached this by defining the fashion system as a continuous, non-linear cycle between:
- High Fashion – exclusive clothing made by well known designers like Valentino and Marc Jacobs
- Consumable Fashion – clothing produced in mass quantities in different sizes for a large population
- DIY (Do It Yourself) Fashion - clothing made or modified by someone as part of their personal style.
Another goal was to have each person in our class begin to define their own look (or personal style) through learning new DIY skills. The participants were asked to talk about their own design choices by identifying three ways designers use the world around them to create new fashion:
- Appropriate (which we defined as): to borrow from someone else’s look or design
- Subvert: to push back on what is considered the norm or the original usage
- Change in Context: to put something where it doesn’t belong, like using a shoe as a hat
Each day was broken into four sections: reflection time, where participants were asked to unpack their personal experiences with fashion inside and outside of the classroom; inspiration time, where participants learned about the fashion cycle and how to identify design choices; creation time, where participants learned new hands-on techniques; and share-back, where participants walked the practice runway and talked about what they made in studio time along with their design choices.
The first day was based on the guiding question “What do I admire?”. The participants took a look at high fashion designers to practice ways to talk about physical design choices (cut, shape, fabric, color, etc.) each designer makes and how those collective decisions can eventually become a trend. After they were given basic fashion vocabulary, the participants were introduced to Pinterest, which allowed them to digitally collect their fashion inspirations for the class. Each person was given their own photo album-like section of the account, called a moodboard, so they could easily collect examples of trends to use as inspiration for designing their own garments. In the afternoon the participants learned the bare basics of altering existing garments through the “Cut & Tie t-shirt” station and “Embellish” station where they were encouraged to use small items like zippers and studs in new contexts. Their first mini-runway the participants showed off their first day creations to their peers and explained how they used one of the three design choices.
The second day the participants were introduced to the fashion cycle and Vivienne Westwood as an example of a designer who has, throughout her career, made her mark in each phase of the cycle. They then looked at fashion blogs to collect examples of how individuals use a mix of high, consumable, and DIY to develop their personal styles on moodboards. The second half the day the students were able to continue working on their garments from the first day while learning new t-shirt transfer and bleaching techniques.
The third day started with participants exploring their consumable fashion choices and going “shopping” on store sites via their Pinterest moodboards. Then they hit the streets of the ever-bustling Hub at 149th and 3rd Ave to look for real life style inspiration. We thought it was important to make sure that the participants were aware that fashion is a part of their everyday lives, especially in a style incubator like the Bronx. We took four groups out with cameras to capture their favorite outfits and add them to their moodboards. After lunch the participants pushed their DIY making skills even further, by discovering new ways to change the context of existing garments, screen printing, and meeting their new friend the sewing machine.
The fourth day, everyone worked very hard to develop their own unique look for the fashion show based on what they had learned and their moodboard inspirations. Everyone was encouraged to use their strongest piece(s) from the first three days and given criteria to build around their strengths, to draw, explain, and name their look. Once their design was approved by both Moriah and myself, they spent the rest of the day making other pieces that brought their look to life and practice their presentations.
The fifth day marked our very first DreamYard Fashion Show! After a packed morning of rehearsals, last minute touches, and space transformation, each participant took a turn on the runway to model their look and present their design statements in front of friends, family, and staff. We’re so proud of our first DY Fashion Week class and all of the creative designs they were able to create in such a short time!
Check out a video overview (below) made by Gabbie Bowen, our summer teen photo/video expert:
For more DreamYard Fashion, check out our blog: http://dreamyardfashion.tumblr.com/