Sydney Hawes’ plush children’s coats go to Washington with Kamala Harris’ great nieces!

Lady Gaga wore Schiaparelli at the Inauguration. Kamala Harris’ two great-nieces wore iloveplum. FIT graduates designed for all three…but this is about two-year-old Leela and four-year-old Amala, and their adorable hooded faux-fur leopard-print coats.

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Fashion Design alumna Sydney Hawes,’08, not only designed the coats, she cut and sewed them in three days, drawing on her FIT experience. Her former FIT roommate, Susan Trotiner, sketched them for the client, the new Vice-President’s niece Meena Harris. They work for iloveplum childrenswear, which specializes in tutus and in having fun.

Hawes, the company’s design director, lives and works out of Oakland, Kamala Harris’s home town. “That was a special connection,” says Hawes. “It’s an amazing moment for Oakland. Kamala is a positive face for the city.  We pitched the idea of Inauguration outfits to Meena around Christmas. We saw that her daughters were in all the family pictures wearing white outfits and white Doc Martens. Might they be going to the Inauguration? This could be kinda cool.”

Inauguration coat made and designed by Sydney Hawes

The Inauguration was a pinnacle moment for fashion. “Fashion reporters want to breakdown who’s wearing what and why. A huge part of being a fashion designer is the storytelling, which obviously was a big focus at FIT, says Hawes.

“We started brainstorming. We had a lot of ideas, given the family heritage, the suffragette movement, the colors, all the real fashion nerd stuff. We were winding down and I was getting into the CAD mood, and then I found the childhood picture of Kamala with her family.”

Kamala Harris family photo with young Kamala wearing her leopard coat.

Hawes continues, “I said wait a minute why don’t we make this coat? Meena had kept saying it has to be cozy and warm. So when I saw that picture, and all the the other ideas just melted away.”

Susan Trotiner, ’08, who dormed with Hawes in Nagler Hall, and is iloveplum’s sourcing director, did the sketches of the coats.  “We always joked (at FIT) that she helped me with drawing and I helped her doing sewing. So it was a perfect thing. She did the sketches and I did the sewing. It brings me back! It’s a great FIT story.”

Inauguration concept sketches

When they pitched it to Meena they got an immediate, enthusiastic response: “’I love the coats. Oh, I have to have the coats. This is amazing!’” says Hawes recalling Meena’s text message.

But it was a Thursday, almost three weeks before the January 20 ceremony. The two coats had to be ready the following Tuesday. “This was two weeks before the inauguration,” says Hawes.

“It’s a classic fashion story. Here I was, casually driving to look for fabric. I get the message. I think I need to drive faster!”

Hawes got onto the iloveplum messaging system with her colleagues and said, “’I think maybe I should just sew these.’ Talking to a pattern maker, talking to a sample room, rushing around getting all these people involved, would just take too much time. So I made the patterns and made the coats that weekend. I felt like I was at FIT working on a project the night before it was due.”

“When I heard that I had three days to make two children’s coats for the incoming Vice President’s great nieces, it was more than enough time. The confidence, to know that I could do that from start to finish, I learned that at FIT.

I learned how to make patterns, including grade pattern to make the two different sizes of coats. The prototype that I made first before the actual garments, of course tailoring, these were notch collars. I had under collars, over collars. I had to compensate for the faux fur, all of those technical concepts I got to apply. These are things I learned at FIT, like how to roll sleeves, getting the supplies I needed. I didn’t just blindly commit to that. I confidently committed to it. That comes from FIT.” – Fashion Design alumna Sydney Hawes

Hawes and Trotiner both studied childrenswear together and say they were most influenced by Prof. Sandra Markus, now chair of the Fashion Design department. “We had her for senior thesis and portfolio class. Most of our classmates wanted to dress celebrities. We wanted to design outfits for kids,” says Hawes.

“Childrenswear students tend to have a particularly close relationship with one another,” says Chair Sandra Markus. “Sydney and Susan were a dynamic duo—they really poured their heart and souls into their work–and formed a partnership that has lasted beyond FIT.”

Sydney Hawes and Susan Trotiner

When the coats were delivered, iloveplum got a note of appreciation but nothing more. “We didn’t know if they fit or if they would wear them. They just basically said thank you and that was it. So we waited,” says Hawes. “Meena did ask us for black turtlenecks to go with the coats. That was a good sign. But we had no idea or what was going to happen at the Inauguration. We were hoping for images we could post. Maybe Meena would post a picture. They can’t tag or promote any brand, so it’s up to us to get the news out there,” she said.

Inauguration Coat

“We were all watching on January 20. It was 6 am for me, 9 am in New York. We all had our TVs on and waited. We saw that everyone was leaving church and heading to the Capitol” says Hawes.

“And there’s Meena in her gorgeous emerald outfit and there’s this little furry arm holding her hand. It was like OMG! I must have woken up all of the East Bay screaming! We’re all texting each other:  ‘They’re wearing them…They’re wearing them!!!’”

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Hawes says it was a great moment for childrenswear. “The childrenswear market has changed since I graduated. There wasn’t so much high-end then; we were taught to design for function. We expected to have fun designing childrenswear but it’s not glam. That’s what makes this event so cool. It’s really special for FIT because they taught me all of the chops for that. I learned it all there!” says Hawes.

“Children are the future. I think that’s why they became such a visual of the day. Kamala has them around because they represent our future. Little Leela  was in her dad’s arms throughout the day, so the coat is in every single shot, from Lady Gaga singing to the swearing in. There was this little furry hood in the background the whole time!”

And then Meena posted a picture on social media of the girls alongside the picture of Kamala as a child. “Coats just like Auntie’s” it says.

Meena Harris’ IG post: “Just like Auntie’s.”

“Meena has authored the children’s book ‘Ambitious Girl‘ and the bestseller “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea.” She’s a lawyer who went to Stanford and Harvard law school. She’s a voice for feminism and empowerment, with a big social media following” says Hawes.

So when broadcast news picked up Meena’s post in real time fashion lightening struck. Rachel Maddow, CNN, CBS and others began talking about the coats, says Hawes.“ They had all those cameras, doing different angles, ‘How cute are these coats!  Who wouldn’t be warm in these sweet outfits?’ And then the comparison with Kamala’s childhood coat.”

Sydney Hawes Inauguration Day coat sightings:

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Says Hawes “It was such an historic moment and on top of that for fashion, especially for children’s fashion.”

To follow Sydney Hawes on Twitter go to: Sydney, on IG: pina_kit, and on her website: Sydney L. Hawes. Follow Susan Trotiner on IG: hautetootrot.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Fashion Design program go to: Fashion Design at FIT.

Images courtesy of iloveplum and Sydney Hawes.

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