Turbulent events in the public arena were the catalyst for Nicole Conti’s final thesis concept. “I started with a political concept related to the anger that followed the election,” said the 7th semester fashion design major. “Things people were doing to make themselves heard — were they protesting to express anger or to make a change? I started with this personal idea that I could explore.”
Over the summer, Conti took a close look at climate issues strongly related to Standing Rock and the G20 protests in Europe. She came well prepared to the table, with a solid academic background on environmental issues. She began her undergraduate studies in environmental science at SUNY Potsdam. At Putnam Valley High School she took environmental science classes and started a Go-Green club.
“I thought of the anger directed at the fashion industry, and of how people are often not willing to implement changes in their own lives to affect change.” Her concept would be to juxtapose the expression of angry and the fashion industry.
“I began noticing peoples’ hands, how they show love, anger, brutality. I collected images of hands in various states, old, young, worn.
“I started seeing the aggression, the fight, the split knuckles and then ended up at the environmental point of oil spills, of people dipping their hands into the water to show how polluted the water was.”
Then Conti looked at animals saturated from the spills and began experimenting with different textiles to represent the oil coatings.
“I began experimenting with pulling fabric through other fabric (below) to show a spilling effect. I wanted to work with vegan leather, fake fur, organic cellulous fiber. The spikes are a representation of anger.”
Says her professor, the fashion designer Charles Youssef, “Nicole has found a great way to take (the concept of) oil spills and translate that into beautiful textiles that can be worn as garments.”
Conti’s Sportswear Incubator class proved ideal for her exploration. It is described as a research and development course where students “stretch the possibilities of shaping, seaming, handling, and manipulating select fabrics to create innovative, wearable designer sportswear silhouettes and details.”
Professor Charles Youssef, has held senior design positions at Calvin Klein, Gareth Pugh, Cerruti, and Ralph Lauren.
“This is a hands-on class where you manipulate the fabric draping patterning, even the textile development,” says Conti. “We came prepared the first day to state what our projects were about. I was able to get started right away.”
For her next step: “I’m going to keep my hands coated in fabric paint as I develop garments so that fabric becomes saturated with paint everywhere I touch it to represent your carbon footprint – what you leave behind without even thinking.”
“I can tell it’s going to work,” says Professor Youssef. “The challenge is to get it to where we visualize it to be.”
Photos by Rachel Ellner