March 8, 2016

Senior Designer Profile: Speaking with Senior Fashion Student Riley Kilgariff ’16

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From her ruby-red lips down, Riley Kilgariff ’16 makes her interest in fashion clear without saying a word. Throughout her years of study in Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design (FSAD) program, Kilgariff has exhibited her collections alongside those of other FSAD students in the Cornell Fashion Collective’s annual runway shows.  This Saturday, she will once again display her collection — comprised largely of dresses and jackets —alongside the work of her peers in Barton Hall.

The Sun had a chance to speak with Riley outside Libe Café, where she explained her interest in fashion, explicated her philosophy on design and gave insight into the program from which she’ll soon graduate.

The Sun: So how did you become interested in fashion design?

Riley Kilgariff: Well, I’ve always been interested in art. I’ve been in art classes my whole life. … I don’t know the actual moment when it happened, but I know I’ve always really enjoyed drawing and painting, and I moved over into fashion sometime in middle school. Ever since then that’s what I’ve wanted to do. Then I did it, and here I am!

Sun: What kind of clothes do you normally design?



R.K.: I do women’s wear. Basically, stuff I like for myself. Nothing too crazy or over the top. This collection is dresses, pants and jackets, so it’s dark green and bright pink.

Sun: Like watermelon?

R.K.: Yeah, I know, people have been saying that! I’m like, yeah, it does look like watermelon, but that was not my intention. But yeah, kind of like that. And then I have these circle motifs, and some other pieces.

Sun: Do you have any opinion on the fashion industry’s superficiality and recent move towards more realistic-looking models?

R.K.: That’s something to think about, and that’s also one of the reasons I might not want to do fashion. It seems–not useless, because I don’t think that. I do think fashion is important. It’s something everyone interacts with, something you can’t escape. So it’s very important in that way. But I definitely think the move to be more inclusive is good, because it is something that everyone has to deal with and interact with and I know there are a lot of issues with brands and sizing. It’s important.

Sun: Do you find yourself, as a fashion designer, judging people’s clothing choices or sense of style?

R.K.: I wouldn’t say judging. I actually had this conversation with someone recently. He was describing some crazy outfit that he was wearing, and I was like, that could work! He said every fashion major he’d told the story to had that same reaction, but everyone else was like, “Ew, why would you wear that?” So it’s less about what you wear but how you wear it. It’s personal. I definitely notice it, but I wouldn’t say I’m judging between good and bad. It’s just interesting to see what people wear.

Sun: Is there any unifying theme in your work or a statement you’d like to make, or do you just try to make the prettiest thing possible?

R.K.: That’s interesting. I know there are a lot of designers who have a very strong statement about what they’re trying to say, and a story. I guess I’d say I make pretty things that I would wear, and that I think are cool.

Sun: So you have an idea for a dress. How long does it take from having the idea to someone actually wearing the dress?

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R.K.: Well, it depends on how complicated it is. It’s hard to estimate. If it was a really basic dress, like a sundress, I could probably do that in a day. The way it works is if I had the idea, I’d sketch it out and it’d go through a bunch of rounds of sketches until you find the perfect one that you want, and then you go and make it out of paper pattern, and then from there you make it in a mock-up, and you fit it on your model, make all the adjustments, and then you do it on your final fabric, sew it and finish it.

The Sun: Would you describe members of the fashion industry or your program as hyper-competitive?

R.K.: Not here, but I have noticed that elsewhere. I think that since we’re such a small program, we’re more collaborative than competitive. Especially [with] all the seniors right now, our styles are so different that you couldn’t really compare them. There isn’t really much competition. The industry is pretty competitive though. But not at Cornell. [It probably is competitive] at other schools, where there’s a bigger fashion program. Especially since here, everyone can show [their designs]. At some other schools, not everyone can be in the final show, so that probably creates more competition. Being here and being in this environment that’s not like an art school is good for that.

Sun: Were there any other people’s work in the show that you found especially interesting?

R.K.: I thought everyone’s work was interesting!

Sun: That’s a good answer.

R.K.: Yeah, but it’s true. Everyone has a different perspective and they’re bringing different experiences. Just the way that someone will interpret something is really interesting. We’ve been working on this basically since the beginning of the year, and last semester we had a class where we were establishing what we wanted to do with a collection. Collecting images, inspiration, that kind of thing. So it’s really interesting to see someone’s wall of inspiration turn into clothes, because the way they interpret their images is different from the way I would do it. It’s a really interesting process to see how everyone’s vision plays out in the end. It’ll be really interesting to see how everyone’s stuff turns out!

Max Van Zile is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].