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G Force

Fashion identity at Harvard

(Alexandra Roberts)
By Luke O’Neil
September 1, 2011

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Q. Among other fashion-related projects, you’ve been producing the annual Identities Fashion Show at Harvard. Tell us about the show.

A. It’s a fashion show held on the Harvard campus. The primary goal of the show is to promote student creativity. We get samples from designers, professionals based in New York City, and all over the world, but it’s a completely student-styled runway show. It gives a chance for Harvard students to act as stylists, and gives a chance for students in the audience to see their fellow classmates and their work.

Q. What are some of the ideas you try to bring across with the fashions presented?

A. Each show has a concept or a theme. It’s about pursuing fashion as a form of expression of some kind of idea or artistic pursuit. One of the themes this year was an exploration of modernization and modernism. . . . Another segment that we had when I was the creative director was an exploration of what a post-apocalyptic world might be like. We had the traditional take, like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,’’ a grungy, very dark post-apocalyptic world. We also had a take on Christian Dior’s approach in World War II, a form of an apocalypse where millions of people died, but there’s a new hope for humanity, and a belief that we could start anew. Those are the kinds of ideas that we encourage students to express through fashion.

Q. You’ve also had some big names in the fashion world in attendance, right?

A. Yes, we honored two legendary designers, Vera Wang in 2011, and Anna Sui in 2010. We don’t know who we’ll have this year yet because there are so many great designers out there, so we’re looking at a wide number of designers. We should know by November.

Q. Is there a big fashion design scene at Harvard? Or is it a small group?

A. I think it’s growing. In the college there is a small group of people very interested in fashion. A surprising amount of all years choose to do a fashion internship, or to be a part of one of the student fashion shows on campus, or the Vestis Council, Harvard’s year-round fashion organization where we try to connect people interested in fashion to the industry, which I’m also part of. What’s happening at the college is also happening at the Business School with the success of Gilt Groupe, and other fashion start-ups that have come from the Business School. It’s small but growing, definitely having a presence.

Q. You’ve done some research into the history of high heels as part of your studies. What are some things you’ve learned?

A. When we think about the way high heels have become such an important part of the modern woman’s wardrobe, we don’t think about how its rise was timed with the rise of the great American city. I did some research into when women started to own more than one pair. It was timed when sidewalks started to be paved with concrete instead of cobblestone, with greater road maintenance, and public transportation. There’s been a lot written about the development of the city but we haven’t thought about the way it changed how people dressed. When we change the way we dress, it also changes the way we move in the city. I thought it was fascinating that what women thought of as a luxury, one pair of high heels, became what it is today, where women have dozens of pairs and don’t think twice about it.

Q. You’re also researching the globalization of American sportswear?

A. I think that some American sportswear brands, the greatest examples like Polo Ralph Lauren, are just as recognizable as the American flag or Coca-Cola. When I think about the way the rest of the world understands American culture, American clothing and specifically sportswear brands are part of that. I’m interested in exploring what makes American sportswear unique, whether it’s design or functionality, and whether at its core it reflects some kind of American ideal.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Luke O’Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47@gmail.com.

WHO
Jane Chun
WHAT
The San Francisco native and 21-year-old Harvard senior is trying to change the way people on campus and off think about the world of fashion and design. She’s been the producer and creative director of the annual student-run Identities Fashion Show, playing host to the likes of Vera Wang and Anna Sui, and will serve this year as the co-president of the Vestis Council, Harvard’s only year-round fashion organization. Chun talked about the challenges of making fashion a focal point at Harvard, and shared some perspective on fashion throughout history.