Courtesy of the University

Rachel Doran '19, who passed away last week, stands in front of her fashion exhibit in the College of Human Ecology last year.

August 26, 2018

Rachel Doran ’19, Fashion Enthusiast and Loving Friend, Dies At Age 21

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Rachel Doran ’19, a rising senior in the College of Human Ecology, died Aug. 17 after battling against several rare and life-threatening syndromes for five weeks. She was 21 years old.

Doran died with family and friends by her side, according to a statement from Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. She is survived by her parents, Lisa and Alan, and her 15-year-old sister Ellie Doran.

“She’s the most kind and considerate person there ever was,” said Prof. Denise N. Green ’07, fiber science and apparel design, under whom Doran served as a research assistant in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection for five semesters.

“She is passionate, determinant and thoughtful. She would never push someone out of the way to get things done,” Green told The Sun. “Rachel taught me so much about life and about being a good person.”

Doran was diagnosed on July 13 with both Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis, serious skin disorders usually caused by a drug reaction, according to the webpage of a GoFundMe campaign created by Doran’s family friends to raise money for her treatment. The SJS resulted in severe burns to 95 percent of Rachel’s body, the fundraisers said.

The GoFundMe had raised more than $100,000 out of a $150,000 goal as of Sunday afternoon to help Doran’s parents, including many donations made after the announcement of Doran’s death.

Doran was treated at The Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital for two weeks before she was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center for the treatment of adult respiratory distress syndrome, where she spent her last days, according to the same page.

“True to Rachel’s spirit and with the same fervor she had for everything she took on, she fought the most difficult health issues with tenacity and grace,” Kathy Coon and Elaine Daignault, the GoFundMe campaign organizers, wrote after her death.

Originally from Westport, Connecticut, Doran was a fashion management design major at Cornell and was completing a minor in business. Aside from doing research for the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, she was also the vice president of public relations for the Pi Sigma Epsilon professional fraternity and a member of the Cornell Fashion Industry Network.

Doran, who was interested in the modern business side of the fashion industry according to Green, was called an “old soul” by Coon in an interview with Westport News. In a class assignment during her sophomore year, Doran said her music tastes were shaped by classic rock artists.

“One of my earliest memories is singing along to Eric Clapton on the way to preschool,” she wrote, adding: “Instead of lullabies, [my dad] sang Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’ and Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ to put me to sleep at night,” she wrote in spring 2017 for a group project for COMM 1300: Visual Communication. “His music taste has been a big influence on me.”

Doran was remembered by her friends as a strong and genuine person.

“She was the most mature, independent person I’ve ever known,” Abby Lustig ’19, a friend of Doran’s since nursery school, told Westport News. “She was driving highways before I could drive Post Road, running errands for her family, and bringing her sister Ellie around.”

Pi Sigma Epsilon president Noah Burgett ’19 first met Doran in the fall of 2016 at the new member interview for the fraternity. As they walked out of the Dairy Bar, where the interview took place, it started pouring and they had to run all the way to their next classes.

“I didn’t know it was that far from Central Campus, and I felt bad for making her trek all the way up there,” Burgett told The Sun. “We were soaking wet, not that she didn’t care, but she had the best attitude with it just as with everything.”

“She just has this warmest laugh that always makes you smile,” he added.

Even before college, Doran demonstrated her entrepreneurial spirit and talent for fashion design. She founded her own company, Rachel’s Rags, at the age of 11, which sold homemade pajamas on and across Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut, according to Green.

Doran also made her own prom dresses and produced costumes for the plays at Staples High School, which she graduated from in 2015. Her work — which later became part of her portfolio — greatly impressed Green when she was reviewing applications to the fashion design management program.

“Right away, we were like, ‘yes, this is exactly the kind of students we want,’” Green recalled. “She was such an impressive person even before I met her at school.”

Green, who is the director of the CCTC, also saw Doran as “one of [the] most dedicated and prolific” research assistants and blog writers she ever had.

Doran curated her exhibition Go Figure: The Fashion Silhouette & The Female Form in November 2017, for which she received the Charlotte A. Jirousek Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a $1,000 prize awarded to one student every year to set up their exhibitions, according to Green. The exhibition looked at the “perceptions and representations of Euro-American ideals of beauty through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries,” Doran told the Cornell Chronicle, which is run by the University.

“Body image is something I’ve always been very interested in and this exhibit allowed me to explore the intersection of body image and fashion, and so I looked at ways women control their bodies in how they look,” Doran said.

To prepare for the exhibition, Doran single-handedly inventoried every gown from the 19th and 20th centuries that the collection owned.

“She probably knew more about 19th century gowns than I did,” Green said, laughing.

Doran also “radically changed” how exhibitions were held: instead of putting the details of the garments on the showroom glass — as usually done — she designed an exhibition guide that featured “beautiful writings” of the history and explanation of each piece of clothes, according to Green.

“I’m just grateful that she had her exhibition last year, through which she was able to share her knowledge, her expertise and her passion to the community,” Green said.

“I hear this signature giggle of hers in my head all the time,” Green continued. “She was a true Cornellian in all senses of the word. She maximized her tenure, she lived her life to the fullest.”