When you hear the words “fashion show,” a couple of images may come to mind. Flashing flickers set off by a sea of cameras, a spotlight illuminating a raised, linear runway, a synchronized assembly of models. However, you may perceive a fashion show to be, the student fashion show producers who created Marist College’s 35th annual Silver Needle Runway challenged the narrative and the concept around what a fashion show can be.
The Runway Revolution: Marist Fashion Students Reinvent the Meaning of a Fashion Show at the 35th Annual Silver Needle Runway – Story by: Erica Capobianco – Photos by: Declan Fung, Andrew Mark, & Bobby Oliver
For the last thirty-five years, the Silver Needle Runway has been the largest event production presented by Marist College. But what many may not realize is this highly anticipated event is produced entirely by the students of the School of Communications and the Arts and features garments designed and realized by the graduating senior fashion design students. This year’s production, a showcase of eighteen senior designers’ collections premiering at a total of five physical runway shows with a total of close to three hundred attendees from the Marist College community, took place on Saturday, May 22nd overlooking the picturesque Hudson River.
Inspired by the visual aesthetics of distortion and the age-old adage that, “everything is not what it seems upon first glance,” the thirty-one student fashion show producers, led by seven capping directors, created this year’s show theme, entitled, illusion. The show’s name is rather fitting, as it segues in Silver Needle Runway’s success in establishing a production exceeding beyond the expectations of the traditional, antiquated model of a fashion show.
Over the course of five months, the student fashion show producers and designers collaborated to create an exclusive “Behind The Designs” interview series, podcast, newsletter, virtual fashion show, digital lookbook, and a short film.
This year’s Student Digital Media Director, Steven Ciravolo, is the co-visionary (alongside Creative Director, Ariana Pittelli) in executing the hybrid model of this year’s show. Ciravolo explains how “with the pandemic, it limited what fashion shows were really able to do with restrictions on guests being able to actually view the event in person as well as other restrictions at the time as well as now. It made something that was already exclusive even more exclusive, which is sort of ironic.” But despite the circumstances, Ciravolo and his six fellow directors, Pittelli, Erica Capobianco, Kerry Flynn, Elizabeth Knight, Kennedi Hudnut, and Victoria Marino, took this time to rethink how we experience a fashion show, starting with setting the runway outside along the Hudson River.
On May 22nd, when guests entered the world of illusion, they were welcomed into a fantasy of complimentary colored hanging florals donated by Hudson Valley Florals, a swirl decal mirror photo-op, and an exclusive merchandise line with Marist Fashion’s student-run boutique, Mporium, as well as a collaboration with Hopewell Junction’s very own, Unshattered. Before guests were ushered to their seats, along the color-blocked runway and overlooked the river, they watched Ciravolo’s short film, what you’ll see.
Directed by Ciravolo and produced by eleven student team members of the Creative Team, the film centered around recent college graduate, Eliza, who while alone visiting her family’s beautiful Beaux Arts-style estate in the Hudson Valley of New York recognizes her dispassion towards the life she has been leading for herself. Continuously falling back into the convenience of familiarity rather than pushing herself into the discomfort that comes with trying something different, Eliza is challenged to make a decision for herself that may transform her life, uplifting the illusion she has surrounded herself with.
As guests waited in anticipation for the show to start, ominous music flooded the space with the overhead voice repeating, “Open your eyes past the distorted lens you have built. Liberate your mind to the world beyond your perspective. What will you see?” Soon, a sea of 54 models entered the colorful utopia venue showcasing the three-garment collections from eighteen senior designers.
At the 6 PM show, Marist Fashion’s esteemed program director, John Bartlett, presented the award of Senior Designer of the Year to Kristine Otero.
Otero explains that her collection was inspired by, “Bomba y Plena, an Afro-Puerto Rican tradition that originated during the European colonial period of Puerto Rico, where enslaved Africans used lyrics and dance as a form of protest against the colonizers and the conditions in which they lived. Their lyrics conveyed a sense of anger and sadness, while the music moved them to dance and form a sense of community and identity.” Aesthetically, Otero took inspiration from the traditional Bomba y Plena dress, which she explains has a lot of Spanish influence and is made with white fabric and lots of ruffle details that add more impact to the movement of the dance.
Otero continues with, “Along with Bomba y Plena, another element in my collection is inspired by the Taíno Indians, the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico, who became nearly extinct after Spanish colonization. Their written language was in the form of petroglyphs, which are ancient symbols that were carved on natural rock surfaces. These petroglyphs mainly included symbols of fertility, the sun, water, the coquí frog, the bird, masks, and many more. I combined my two inspirations into my collection: the details in the Bomba y Plena dress, and the Taíno symbols.”
When asked what the biggest challenge was in creating her collection, Otero reflected on her experience implementing design techniques that she had just learned earlier this year. “Last semester, I took the Textile Design class at Marist, where I learned about painting fabric, along with other printing techniques,” Otero says, “I knew I wanted to make this a part of my collection, but it was a very long process to execute exactly what I wanted on a full pair of trousers. However, with the help of my professor and with constant practice, I was able to make them. Also, making pieces with so many ruffle details on them can be very challenging depending on the fabric being used. My big, layered yellow skirt, for example, was probably one of the hardest garments I have ever made due to the weight of the skirt because it had so much fabric going into it.”
Though the long days and nights working on these garments became all worth it for Otero when she was presented with the tremendous achievement of Senior Designer of the Year. When asked about her reaction, Otero, humbly replied, “I thought about my family and the immense joy my grandma, the person who started it all, would feel once she found out. My collection is so personal to me, and my pieces have so much meaning and stories behind them, that I felt so proud to see how it resonated with others and brought a sense of happiness and optimism.”
The 35th Annual Silver Needle Runway signaled a change for the future of the Marist Fashion program and even more so for the industry as a whole. While the future of the traditional fashion show is unknown, Ciravolo can assure that this new viewing experience will not change the presentation of collections. “It’s like going to see a play compared to seeing a movie. The story is the same, the way we see it is different.”
Access this year’s virtual fashion show here.