Assistant arts editor Daniel Moran ’21 sat down with Cornell Fashion Collective President Katie Williams ’20 to learn about her experience as a designer and organizer of CFC’s March 14 show.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Arts: What is the theme of your collection?
Katie Williams ’20: The title of my collection is Home Bound. I am minoring in history and I am focusing on American History. I’m drawing inspiration from America in the 1950s — that decade is one of the most interesting times to me as a historian because we look back at that decade with nostalgia and rose colored lenses. On one hand, it was very economically prosperous but for a lot of people, the American Dream wasn’t accessible. I’m showing the duality — the prosperous times of the 1950s while also looking at women in the 50s and how they were trapped in these suburban housewife roles, and it was really hard for them to get out of those roles because the war had just ended; you have a nice home, you have a garage, you have a car, your kids are going to a nice public school — what is there to complain about?
That’s why my collection is called Home Bound — it’s looking at the positivity and negativity of women’s roles in the 1950s. Through that, I’m using the symbols of ribbons and bows, which are very feminine, to tie the collection together. While they’re typically feminine symbols, in my collection they’re there to take over the body and restrict movement as the girl walks, and distort the figure.
Arts: What types of pieces are you focusing on within your collection?
KW: I tend to make large pieces with draped silhouettes, so in that sense the silhouettes are very 1950s. If you look at Dior shows or Balenciaga – it’s very draped – and something I really work with as a designer is gravity-defying silhouettes and pieces. A lot of the things I’ve been using are either structured in a way that they stand on their own or they move away from the body and have people say “How do they even stand up?”
Arts: Where were you looking for inspiration?
KW: I actually am a research assistant in the Cornell Fashion and Textile Collection, so they have a ton of archived clothing from any period and any culture. I was pulling pieces from the 1950s, they had some really cool Balenciaga and Dior pieces.
Arts: How did you go about choosing your fabrics?
KW: I started out with a very Wes Anderson vintage or retro color palette, like Grand Budapest Hotel. From there, I really wanted to focus on silk taftas, which was a new fabric in the 1950s and it holds really great drape. I also started collecting a lot of gingham and plaids, which work really well with my collection. When you think of the grid, it is very restrictive and very uniform.
Arts: Is there something specific in the collection you want to highlight?
KW: The bows are what unifies the collection. I’ve also been making accessories, because in the 1950s they would wear matching gloves and matching hats, so I’ve been trying to tie that in. I’ve also been working on a leather garter belt that serves as an apron, which restricts her stomach yet has a delicate waste pattern that transforms into the apron.
Arts: What music are you choosing for your collection?
KW: I want to create an experience and transport people back to the 1950s, so the intro video I curated is on a screen of old fashioned TVs. And then there’s a video reel as if it were someone changing the channel. Then it’s going to cut out and a radio is going to start playing different 50s songs like “Mr Sandman” and “Be My Baby.” It sounds spooky, which is what I wanted to get. Even though all their voices sound super cheerful, the lyrics have weird undertones.
Arts: What got you into fashion? Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to be a designer?
KW: I have always been fascinated with how people can express who they are, or who they aspire to become through clothing. From a very young age I took many art courses, like sculpture, painting and photography. These works soon became oriented around fashion — not specifically making actual garments but using unconventional materials to sculpt dresses or fashion illustrations. Eventually I started to research different creative career paths and realized I wanted to be a part of the fashion industry.
Arts: Does your background in sculpture have an influence on how you design now?
KW: I think with how I go about my process of designing, I’m a very big draper, so I usually go and get yards of fabric and pin and move it on the form and see how shapes are formed. So I think it really does have a major influence with how I go about designing things.
Arts: What was the first step in planning the CFC show?
KW: The first step was meeting with the newly elected executive board, making sure that everyone was on the same page and were aware of what they were committing to. That was a conversation I feel like is important to have early on because this isn’t just a fun hobby — a lot of people’s careers are put into this. But everyone’s done an amazing job in getting things done on time. Starting right away was really important — we start planning the next show about two weeks after the previous show finishes
Arts: What aspect of the show do you think is particularly difficult that you think outside viewers may not pick up on?
KW: I think when people are in Barton Hall on Saturday night they’ll feel a certain energy that you’ll never feel anywhere else. You have 180 CFC members who spent a year putting this show on, who are all talented and from different backgrounds, ranging from the designers to PR, lighting or photography. One of the most important things people might not realize is that every single detail that went into the show and the whole space has been curated entirely by CFC.
Arts: What was it like coordinating all the different designers?
KW: I think with any designer, when you look at their process from initial sketch to final garment, it’s really special. When you’re working with 65 designers, there’s a lot of creative energy you have to manage — but it’s fun and very rewarding. We’re not here to tell people what to design, we’re here to help them get their ideas on the runway. It’s more about being there as a support system for them, not necessarily directing them.
Arts: What are you most excited or worried about with the show?
KW: I think what I’m most worried about — which I hope doesn’t happen, because the show is going to happen no matter what at this point — is: Will every single member of the organization feel proud of what they’ve done that night? I think that’s also what I’m most looking forward to — to interact with each member of CFC and see the excitement on all their faces. I hope everyone is able to share that.
The 36th annual Cornell Fashion Collective runway show will take place on Saturday, March 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and can be purchased at events.cornell.edu.
Daniel Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as the assistant arts editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.