October 3, 2013

Cornell Students to Don Condoms, Raise Awareness About AIDS

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Models parading down a runway at Cornell December to help raise money for AIDS Awareness Week will be wearing something unusual: condoms.

Student organizers say they will use more than a thousand condoms to dress the models in the show. Similar events have been held at other schools, including Harvard University, where a “condom” fashion show was organized last spring to help raise awareness about AIDS.

Cornell students who are organizing the event say they hope it will not only catch people’s eye but also help educate the community about the global prevalence of AIDS.

“Who doesn’t like a fashion show? It is really appealing, and the impact on the people is going to be great,” said Juliana Batista ’16, who is S.A. vice president for outreach and one of the organizers of the event.

Sean Page ’14, co-chair of AIDS week, said he thinks the fashion show will help educate a wider swath of students than a more conventional event.

“Events such as this fashion show and traditional sex education are both effective, but they target different demographics of people. I think that the fashion show would target people who are really into fashion or people that just want to do something fun on a Friday night, as opposed to more serious event  — for example, our speaker series — that would more effectively target people who either have someone who was affected by AIDS or who are really just interested in AIDS,” he said. “We are trying to organize a lot of different events that attract a lot of different students.”

Batista echoed Page’s sentiments, adding that the team organizing the show is very diverse and comprises of LGBTQ students, international students, women and men alike.

“We wanted to fuse the diverse communities around campus under one cause,” Batista said. “AIDS awareness is a people issue. It is a big issue in every part of the planet, and the educational intent of the fashion show is useful for all kind of people.”

Batista said that designing clothes from condoms is not without its challenges. She called it an “experimental and unique process,” explaining that designers begin with a muslin base but that many different directions can be taken from that point on.

“The designer has autonomy to deconstruct the condoms, using the latex itself or cutting up the decorative wrappers. The latex can then be painted, torn, cut, crumpled or molded,” Batista said. “It is like working with a plastic material — it is really versatile, and today you can find condoms of all sorts of color and texture.”

Caroline Donelan ’16, a fiber science and apparel design major and a designer for the show, said it is difficult trying to find the best way to attach all the condoms together while sticking to a desired design.

“Things usually don’t turn out as you first expect them to, but I hope to stay true to my design, whatever it may be. I’m thinking I want to put a lot of structure in my garment, but this will definitely be a challenge too because condoms are not a very stiff material,” she said. “This project requires a lot of trial and error to finalize your construction technique and final process.”

Donelan added that most garments will be dresses, since “it is the most practical and conceptual piece of clothing when designing a garment made out of unconventional materials.” Each dress will likely take 300 condoms to be completed, she said.

Batista said the show will be unique because of its unconventional clothing.

“Each piece will have a story behind it that relates personally to the designer as well as the overall mission of AIDS awareness. These stories will be told during the show through the physical design that will be modeled and a visual component presented,” she said.

Batista praised the abilities of the fashion designers involved in the project, saying the students involved in the show’s organization have all been “really creative.”

The students are still at the beginning of the planning process and will start realizing their design within the next few weeks, Donelan said.

“I’m really excited myself to see what everyone comes up with, especially because not all of the designers are apparel design majors,” Donelan said.

Page said the team is really enthusiastic about the show and expects that more than 200 students will attend the show. The ultimate goal, Page said, is for students to become more aware not only about AIDS but also about safe sex.

“The reason why Juliana and I were so excited about doing this event is because it is one of those events you wouldn’t normally see in everyday life, and we feel that because of that it is such a powerful idea,” Page said. “We think this is going to be a great show and hope that a lot of students will come out.”