Normally, Hutch Courtyard is a barren desert, only receiving attention when some daring student becomes bored enough to play in the sterile fountain. Nevertheless, last Friday, May 11, it was like watching the aftermath of an accident with a semi on the expressway:The traffic slowing almost to a halt as people watched the construction of a massive tent that consumed the once-infertile fountain along with the rest of the courtyard. The unfamiliar wore expressions of wonder and even possible irritation that this obstruction was being built in the midst of their normal walking paths; however, others grinned in excitement for the event that put Looptopia in all its attempted glory to shame—the Festival of the Arts (FOTA) launch party.
Since 1963, FOTA has been portraying the raw talents of University of Chicago students with shows dedicated to student film, plays, portraits, music, and dance. Each year, the festival grows grander and gains more appreciation due to the level of professionalism and creativity put into establishing the more than weeklong series of events. Executive director Hannah Kushnick describes: “This year’s programming is more selective than we’ve been the last two years—we slimmed down the number of events because we wanted the things we do sponsor to receive the attention they deserve.”
If you have ever seen The Devil Wears Prada or have any appreciation for fashion, you know that the amount of ingenuity and dedication put into creating a piece of art in the fashion world is immense. The designers chosen to represent the University of Chicago at this launch party proved this with their innovative designs and model choices. As Kushnick stated, “We wanted to shift the focus of our launch party, which has sometimes been the booze and the DJ, to the fashion—and this year we were definitely successful.”
Bass pounded as the DJ played selections from the ’80s as well as current hits fused with house/techno, and then the lights dimmed as executive directors Kushnick and Kristine Khouri confidently stormed the stage to announce the start of one of the most vivid half-hour shows to ever hit the University of Chicago campus.
Rocky Horror—or at least some random scantily clad male specimen—announced the beginning of Elizabeth Shaeffer’s designs by circling the stage in nothing but boxers and a sign with the designer’s name inscribed upon it. The names of the rest of the designers were presented in kind, with their models tailgating.
Shaeffer chose the softer side of Rocky Horror, focusing her designs on a golden wedding, sporting dresses garnished with lush bows, florid embroidery, and straightforward pleats.
The first step toward the style of The Jetsons was made by designer Cara Clifford, featuring semi-casual designs in different color schemes.
The semi-casual designs continued with those of Elise Johnston, adding a sleeveless, almost nude element to all of her clothing.
Fairy tales came to life with the designs of Michael Lynn Shumate and those of Alta Buden and Aisling Roche, including skaters, angels, Victorian sophistication, and even a model wearing an outfit that was reminiscent of something from Bambi.
“Compulsive Collecting: Armed Forces of Nature” was the theme of Dilshanie Perera’s collection. She explained that the bizarre choices seen on stage were inspired by “toy soldiers, sweaters, flowers—all exploring the intersection of the militant and the natural.” Applying to Moda’s Fashion Boot Camp on a whim, Perera was accepted and helped as she cultivated this inventive collection; she claims, “Without the support and encouragement of the models and the FOTA organizers, the designs would not have been possible.”
The most audacious designs of the night were those of fourth-year Roger Fierro. Some of the themes used were “male objectification, gingham, short shorts, and reclaiming/redefining masculinity.” At first it looked as if the male models, most shirtless, were wearing boxers across the stage. “I have a problem with sizes of shorts, so I wanted to make my own shorter, more fitted shorts,” Fierro explained. One might think that seeing different men in boxers would get old rather quickly (unless you happen to be a woman or a gay man). However, “the unique personalities of the models I chose played a key role in the styling of each look, with each model offering something [...] vital to each design,” said Fierro.
Singer Beyoncé made a song dedicated to the type of dress that fourth-year designer Ava Rodland premiered—the Freakum Dress. “Cuz when they act wrong/ That’s when you put it on,” Beyoncé started, and Rodland finished with the exhibition of dresses that oozed with class and sexiness. “My designs were inspired by Bahaman uniforms and African prints. In the Bahamas, each school has a distinct uniform…. On the same token, people personalize their uniforms and prints and give them individuality. So my goal for my designs was to suggest how obligatory fashions may be modified to encompass individual identity.” Featuring models in naval, red-and-white plaid, fiery, and bright diamond print, Rodland’s designs ensured that each model would not only retain their unique personality, but that it would be reflected in the garment that they chose. “I could very easily have chosen the stereotypical tall, thin ladies at the model calls that were being conducted around campus; however, I wanted my models to be representative of real women, and that’s why they encompass such a diversity of body types.” And each one of her models did just that, pulling out the big guns and putting their freakum dresses on.
“[The FOTA launch party] exists to showcase the work of our very talented designers, to celebrate the achievements of our other artists, and begin the rest of the festival with a bang. And this year it did all that and more. Our designers absolutely outdid themselves—we couldn’t have been more impressed or pleased with their work,” said Kushnick. This show was only the beginning of a series of events ranging from digital artwork to theater production to the Rhythmic Bodies performances as well as the famed MAB show. For more information on FOTA or any other events taking place, check fota.uchicago.edu.