Fashion students base designs off historical figures | News

SOA fashion designs

Above are designs created by Mia Lassiter (left) and Tomi Olalere (right) for their senior thesis as fashion and design students.

Fashion and design students from Charleston County School of the Arts drew inspiration from historical figures for the fashion and design department’s 8th annual fashion show.

Family, friends and the student fashion designers themselves gathered at the school’s Rose Maree Myers Theater to view a virtual showing of student models parading down a runway in outfits created by the students.

Fashion sketches

Fashion sketches by Mia Lassiter, a senior fashion and design student. 

This year, the show’s theme “Overlooked” challenged the fashion design students to choose a historical figure who were not well known during their lifetime. The students explored themes relating to religion, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality; some students incorporated elements of nature into their designs, while others let the fabrics and embellishments speak for themselves.

The inspirations ranged from a Black nun in the 60s who was a civil rights activist to one of the first female erotic comic writers. Others included visual artists, writers and scientists. The students had the creative freedom to decide how they wanted to share the story of their historical figure.

“You just made something that you felt like would tell a story … that’s not completely historically accurate,” said Chapel Barker, a junior at SOA.

Barker picked Sister Martin de Porres, who was kicked out of a covenant because she was Black and wasn’t issued a public apology from the Catholic Church until 2020. Barker wanted to tie religion into her collection because it’s something she’s interested in.

However, she did not mimic the typical nun habit with a traditional black and white tunic and headpiece. Barker’s niche is designing prom dresses so she created a strapless dress with big ribbons decorated with pearls and jewels tied around the waist. She completed the looks by adding religious crowns. Her other designs included a strapless dress with a blue top and white trumpet skirt and a silver nightgown with a gemstone placed under the bust.

Chapel Barker sewing

Chapel Barker, a junior fashion and design student, works on a piece in class.

Kelly Martin, the fashion and design instructor, said the students put a lot of effort into their collections. “Students spent countless hours hand embroidering and hand sewing these garments with immense amounts of detail.”

The fashion show featured designs from all grade levels, with the seniors presenting their final thesis project.

Each student had a different creative process in making the designs. Some spent a lot of time first creating the designs on paper by drawing and sketching several drafts before deciding on a final design while others had an idea in their head and moved straight to the construction of the design. 

SOA fashion sketches

Sketches created by fashion and design students. 

MC Sheffield, a junior, considers herself more of an artist than seamstress, so she took her time drawing out her designs prior to creating a piece. Sheffield explained the program teaches them fashion proportions used in sketching a design, known as croquis. The designs are stretched out and skinnier than anatomically correct drawings.

Sheffield based her designs off Sylvia Plath, a writer and poet who died by suicide at age 30. Sheffield said Plath’s life was surrounded by death and her work was very dark. However, instead of embracing a dark theme, Sheffield ironically used childlike pastels throughout her collection.

Several students expressed challenges this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. Some worked virtually all year and completed their design projects at home.

Typically, the design students and models work closely together to ensure correct fittings, but there was less collaboration this year due to the pandemic.

Cora Ray, a junior in the program, worked virtually for half of the year. She said it was hard to organize all of the details, but she was able to sew from home and reach out to people when she needed help.

Ray based her designs off Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife, whose artwork flew under the radar compared to her husband’s work. She designed a pantsuit with an asymmetrical slit and a dress that matched one of Krasner’s paintings. “I put them into the category of luxury fashion,” Ray said. She hopes to pursue fashion as a career and after high school she would like to study abroad in Paris.

SOA fashion students in class

Fashion and design students collaborating on a project in class. 

Evie Wells, another junior fashion and design student in the program, worked with bright colors while creating her designs, which were inspired by Kate Worley, a female erotic comics writer. Wells said Worley also contributed to Wonder Woman issues and wrote several Roger Rabbit comics.

Wells said the bond between classmates in the fashion design program has grown throughout the year. “We’ve watched each other all accidentally prick ourselves with needles,” she quipped. She’s excited to see how each of them use their creative abilities in the future, whether it’s through fashion or another avenue.

The virtual fashion show will be held in the School of the Arts’ theater on May 27 at 6 p.m. and May 28 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. There is also a virtual at-home option. For more information about tickets, visit the Fashion and Design Department’s website at

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