This past Saturday, creative chaos reigned supreme backstage. You couldn’t help but forget Barton Hall’s status as a field house as it became the location of a professional runway operation. The Cornell Fashion Collective had just achieved a new organizational best with its 34th year being its first ever sold out show. Such success is well deserved.

Management patrolled the area, aiding models, designers, and hair and makeup artists in preparing for the limelight in a timely fashion. A look in any direction and visions were being crafted to the fullest as yearlong collections were minutes away from presentation.                                        

Upon showtime, a short film gave the eager crowd insight into the craftsmanship behind student work and displayed how much of a resource the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection was to many designers while developing their clothing lines. At the video’s conclusion, the Cornell Fashion Collective executive board made their way onstage with a welcome address led by president Jessa Chargois ’18 thanking the Dean of Human Ecology Alan Mathios, the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD), and the university as a whole for its continued support. Soon after, the lights faded to black and the bombastic dance music reached its end. Showtime.

The opening act was led by senior designer David Wild with his collection Who Are We?. This question was posed on screen before it transitioned into a sequence of nature inspired images of both the Ithaca and Cornell communities. The silence was sliced by critically acclaimed violinist Ariana Kim, an assistant music professor at Cornell, who performed a rich and soothing musical accompaniment. Models walked the runway each with a pair of geta and outfits characterized by reimagined versions or variations of kimonos. Rather than circling backstage, Wild’s models continued to display his work walking down the aisles between audience members. Soon, fortune cookies were distributed to everyone in the crowd. Inside, the fashion forward fortune read: “Are you willing to break the rules? What is stopping you? Come to the stage.”

Slope Media

In a matter of seconds, audience members rushed to make the fortune true and designer David Wild proceeded to thank every brave soul who dared to join him with the help of his personal megaphone. Initially, the whole act felt rash. However, in retrospect, it was a pivotal moment. The world of fashion is notorious for its exclusionary practices, such as favoring certain body types and ethnicities over others. A quick run through the Cornell Fashion Collective Runway booklet and the answer to his proposed question Who Are We? is answered with We are one. Wild clearly felt moved to pair his statement with action by uniting the diverse attendees.   

Slope Media, David Wild

Unfortunately, the uplifting sentiment was short lived as audience members on stage were told to return to their seats for safety reasons .

To begin the show with Wild’s work was a brilliant choice. It set the tone for a show in which style and ideas of gender politics, faith, the destruction of natural resources, and health shaped the clothing, shoes, makeup, and hair.  It allowed for students, faculty, and locals to witness the breaking of a fashion rule and furthered the excitement to see the other messages embedded within student work.

Fellow senior designer Emelia Black followed Wild with a collection titled Sea Ephemeral which functioned “as a demonstration of the plethora of discard that goes to inundate our oceans and other natural resources.” Models were reminiscent of majestic sea creatures being able to walk on shore for the first time. They were barefoot with their steps guided by the rhythmic soundtrack. Each face was characterized by a fresh, dewy glow. Zoe McCormick’ 20, a model for Black, was never highly interested in fashion prior to her runway experience but as a Biological Sciences major she found herself very fond of the “concept of this particular collection which is all recycled.”

Slope Media, Model Zoe McCormick

Gender politics came into play with the collections of senior designers Erica Resnick, Olivia Friedman, and Lily Xi Li. Resnick’s Unhinged was introduced by flashing lights that set a futuristic tone for women’s ready-to-wear. The clothing demonstrated the varying dimensions that shape the woman of today. Transparence Féminité by Friedman highlighted fierce pieces which celebrated women’s bodies. The collection was game changing, with its see-through garments and lingerie-inspired professional attire. Managing to challenge the status quo of what is and isn’t work appropriate, there is no doubt Friedman will find success in the industry considering how absolutely stunning her pieces were and the confidence that radiated through each outfit. As for designer Lily Xi Li, she immediately shifted gears by debuting a menswear line that allowed men to be free of limitations when discovering clothes. Pea-Sainté by Li featured male models who conquered the stage with a tinge of humor. Once again, the rules of the runway were broken as models took time in their walks for comedic gestures relating to the relevance of Li’s work. Li accomplished her goal to remove “the line between menswear and womenswear.”

Slope Media, Mark Colbran Collection

Themes of faith, superstition, and religion were explored through Mark Colbran’s ’18 collection Solastalgia and Jackie Fogarty’s ’18 Spectrum of Paradox. Colbran’s work was something mysterious,  but also strikingly familiar. In short, his collection was similar to opening act David Wild in that it was was unforgettable. The background screen featured a burning flame as models wearing tribal inspired garments paraded the stage in honor of the central figure, a tall model covered in a white gown with a fur exterior and a deer head on top. The audience appeared to be unsettled as the models seemed to be in a worship like trance, their movements often stiff and repetitive. Colbran’s showcase ended with him marching on stage with a banner professing love to his fellow FSAD peers. Once turned over, the banner revealed the words “Fuck hate but fuck the FSAD faculty.” It was clear that this instance was unplanned as CFC president Jessa Chargois took it upon herself to remove the banner from Colbran’s possession in an onstage tug-of-war. Chargois would later close the show apologizing for the antics of both Wild and Colbran.

Slope Media, Mark Colbran

The 34th Annual Runway show was full of surprises. Some statements were loud, one abrasive, and many nuanced. Together they were all progressive in their inclusion of a variety of cultures, values, and people in the narrative that is the fashion industry. “You could be any race. You can have any sort of facial features. Fashion is for everyone… why not make it more accessible?” – Mary Louise DuBose ’18