Carnegie Mellon students of many disciplines invent, build Lunar Gala's fashion creations

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

If you can design a building, why not design fashion?

“There are a lot of similarities to designing a garment and architecture, including the structure of the clothing,” says Noopur Suckhlecha, a fourth-year Carnegie Mellon University student.

It might seem like an odd link, but the idea of taking classroom concepts in one field and applying them to another — fashion, specifically — is the whole point of CMU's Lunar Gala, an annual student-run fashion show — set for 8 p.m. Feb. 13 on the Oakland campus.

Every February, student designers, models, dancers, videographers and motion designers bring their skills together. Every aspect of the show is envisioned and implemented by students.

“Every student is self-motivated at Carnegie Mellon, whether they are in the classroom or participating in an event like Lunar Gala,” says Suckhlecha, who is from India. “We can always use some things that we learn academically to everyday life. It's about applying that knowledge in a different and unique way.”

Suckhlecha, along with fellow architecture classmates Jenny Wong of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Marnfah Kanjanavanit of Thailand, created the fashion line Exuviae.

Exuviae are the exoskeleton remnants of certain animals after a skin-shedding process. In Latin, the term means “that which is stripped from a body.” The fashion line attempts to redefine this natural phenomenon.

Wong says fashion and architecture both require understanding structure and an attention to detail.

But learning to sew wasn't something the three of them had encountered in the classroom. “We had no sewing experience, so we had to learn it,” Wong says. “There are no patterns. You have to think about the garment and how to fit it to the model who will be wearing it. You have to consider how the model will be able to walk the runway wearing the garment.”

The trio used plastic to create their looks. Models will wear blue or black underneath to showcase the details.

Theirs will be one of 16 collections unveiled at the show, whose theme this year is “strain.”

As the event turns 20, organizers say they are pleased with how it has grown into the fully immersive experience it is today.

“And while we are fortunate to be able to draw on the talented students in the college of fine arts and, particularly, the school of design, we have strong representation from the entire undergraduate population,” says Joanna Dickert, Lunar Gala adviser and assistant director of undergraduate research and national fellowships at CMU.

“Our designers and models are equally diverse. They are artists, engineers, scientists and writers.”

The Lunar Gala personifies the best of CMU, she says, because there are so many students from different disciplines involved. Regardless of whether the student is designing a garment, assisting with technical design, managing the budget or navigating the branding and marketing, there are connections with their coursework, Dickert says.

“For many students, it is an opportunity to use their discipline-specific knowledge to contribute to a robust campus tradition,” she says. “They are not only applying technical expertise but practicing invaluable soft skills related to communication, teamwork and leadership. These are important learning gains that students can then speak to when they are interviewing for jobs or applying to graduate schools.”

Knowing engineering helped Katherine Wong, a senior electrical and computer engineering major from central New Jersey. She teamed with Yiru Yao of China, also a senior electrical and computer engineering major, and Eunice Oh of North New Jersey, a junior chemistry major.

Their fashion line, Dauntless, incorporates elements that highlight the elegance of a woman and the fierce nature of a warrior. Delicate floral accents with the harshness of structured armor create a conflicting, but synergetic, mix of femininity and toughness.

“I really like being creative,” says Katherine Wong, who aspires to work as a Disney engineer. “Creating this line was a lot of work, but we are used to working hard at Carnegie Mellon. We knew it was going to be hard, but the hardest part was actually making the garments.”

Materials Katherine Wong and her team used consisted of foam-sprayed pleather, silk and jersey. They created gold-colored wings.

Designer candidates submit a portfolio and are interviewed by the gala's student board. Those selected then show a prototype garment. They pay for all their supplies.

Myles Blodnick, a senior artificial intelligence major from Long Island who plans to continue at CMU studying robotics, says the entire event is a creative process.

“You learn so many things in this design process of the fashion world,” Blodnick says. “These skills can be a benefit and are great for the portfolio. As a model, you learn about confidence. You have to walk the runway based on what a garment stands for.”

Blodnick will wear a pair of Japanese samurai pants for the collection called Fukkatsu, designed by communication design student Sharon Yu and art student Cindy Hsu, both sophomores from Taiwan. Fukkatsu means revival in Japanese. They've incorporated traditional Japanese elements into modern-inspired pieces.

One of the gala's producers, Miriam Buchwald says this experience is teaching her how to manage people.

“Being part of this show, no matter in what capacity, requires you to have an open mindset,” says the northern New Jersey resident and senior communication design student. “There is really no right or wrong. The designs show the ideas of the designers. The best part is seeing their creativity showcased on the runway. They come up with some amazing designs.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7889 or jharrop@tribweb.com.

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