March 1, 2011

Ministère de la Mode

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When I meet Libby Mattern ’11 at Stella’s Café, she’s wearing an elegantly draped black cardigan, with perfect smoky eyes and a sleek ponytail, making me feel slightly underdressed in my standard striped tee and jeans. It’s easy to read this designer’s style aesthetic when you see her: she’s all goth-romantic with a definite note of sophistication.

Libby has been making her own dresses since middle school. She looked at a few design schools in NYC, but decided to come to Cornell to get a more rounded education. Though the Ivy League may be an atypical place to find a burgeoning designer, Libby is ultimately happy with her decision to come here, and says that she wouldn’t trade her Cornell experience for anything.

For the Spring CFC show, Libby found inspiration in Rorschach inkblots and vintage psychiatric ward iconography (“It’s a lot less creepy than it sounds,” she swears). After completing an independent study on different dying techniques, Libby gravitated towards the Rorschach blots, with their drip dye look. From there, she considered the stark imagery of the psych ward, which meshes perfectly with her overall design philosophy: “I’m interested in combining things that are pretty with things that just aren’t. I think that this concept can still be pretty.”

For the collection, she plans to juxtapose leather with chiffon, in order to “play on hard versus soft textures,” she explains. She will also incorporate the burnout dye technique to lend a bold look to her pieces. “The hardest thing is designing for the runway. You need to have those big elements that are going to stand out, even for the people sitting in the back row.”

The psych ward inspiration also lends itself to Libby’s preferred color palette; “I don’t typically use colors,” she says. The collection will feature blacks, whites and grays, giving the cerebral impression of the asylum. Libby’s last CFC collection used muted shades of navy and cream. “This year’s collection will be slightly more somber,” she says, “but the use of chiffon will make it pretty.”

Instead of using loud colors to define her pieces, she typically uses lots of layering and unique details. She also favors asymmetrical looks because according to her, “symmetry is too perfect.”  In all, Libby describes herself as a minimalist; “I don’t do a lot of frills or really ornate things,” she says.

After interning at Coren Moore and Liz Claiborne, Libby landed her dream internship this summer, when she had the opportunity to work for Vera Wang in the city. After nixing children’s fashion and womenswear, she’s ultimately narrowed her career focus down to bridal.

“I think it’s fun to help a bride pick something to wear for that one special day. It’s so gratifying for the designer because you know that she’ll remember the details of the dress forever,” she says.

She suspects that she would like to work for a larger fashion house, as opposed to a small company. After seeing the dynamics of both small and large companies, Libby sees “more potential in a larger company to move around and find where you fit.”

Libby looks to both Vera Wang and Monique Lhullier for style inspiration. She was particularly taken by the unconventional black wedding gowns from Vera Wang’s Fall and Spring 2010 collections, which seem to forecast her rendering of psychiatric ward chic. “I try to stray away from anything too typically beautiful,” she explains. Of course, she referenced Andy Warhol’s iconic inkblots for her upcoming collection as well.

In keeping with her typical design process, Libby is already developing her next project. After looking for images of psych wards, she found a plethora of abandoned psych wards and other abandoned buildings, which have formed the perfect inspiration for her next round of sketches. “I love the way that decay can fall over a building, but it can still remain beautiful,” she says. Libby perpetually takes off from her previous projects to reconfigure new ideas, which is how a few inkblots morphed into a highly polished and conceptual runway collection.

Libby also happens to be the Vice President of Public Relations for the Cornell Fashion Collective, which gives the show a whole other dimension for her; “I get to look at the show from the planning side too,” she says. “It will be really gratifying to see the whole thing come together, and to be able to watch my collection come down the runway.” She’s currently in the process of matching her looks with models; “I like to keep my models’ personalities in mind when I’m designing their looks,” she explains.

It’s clear that Libby has successfully mixed ethereal fabric and heavy texture to translate her creative vision for the Spring show: “I think that beauty can’t exist without that which is its opposite.”

Original Author: Meredith Richard