The evening of the fashion show has arrived. Illuminated by dozens of spotlights, the runway extends halfway across the room. Music blares throughout and it is unbearably hot as nearly 100 spectators have come to see the models strut down the runway in the designers best.
Two large screens on either side of the runway project a single word: “Opulence.”
Behind a black curtain, models nervously wait alongside the designers.
This isn’t a runway in Paris or Milan. The impressive display was set up by the Fashion Club on April 27 in the gym.
Fashion design students from all class standings worked all semester to put together a portfolio to show off at the fashion show. Fashion Club hosts the event annually as an opportunity for students to display and promote their designs.
One of those designers is senior Rachel Mullins, who created seven outfits to rock the runway.
Rachel was born to be a fashion designer.
From the age of 3, she could be found playing dress up and it wasn’t just with the clothes in her closet. Rachel would pull long blankets off her bed, drape them across herself and imagine she was modeling glamorous dresses.
“It wasn’t like I was raiding my mom’s closet or wearing princess dresses,” she said with a laugh.
Eighteen years later and Rachel is working toward cultivating her own visual identity and brand “Rachel + Jade Creations.” She posts pictures of all her designs under the Instagram handle @raejade_creations.
Rachel has spent her last semester at FSU researching, designing and constructing garments for her portfolio, which was showcased at the fashion show.
Before she was certain fashion design was the correct path for her, she said she often turned to fashion for comfort. “It helped me express myself.
“Sometimes with the day-to-day hustle, we become robots. We don’t necessarily show feelings and I think fashion can convey so many things.” She added, sometimes fashion pieces can hold sentimental value, such as a family heirloom, and they “can connect you with that person and you feel closer to them.”
Rachel’s vision for her project was clear from the start – she wanted her pieces to emulate the glitz and glam of Hollywood in the 1950s.
Her project began with a mood board and a title – “Hollywood glam.” She collected fabric, pictures and color swatches that helped her develop her ideas into a design.
Rachel began by creating a color scheme, featuring soft colors such as baby blue and rose. It helped her visualize the mood board.
Her mood board featured timeless Hollywood classics – pictures of Marilyn Monroe, ruby red lipstick, pearls and sweeping mermaid gowns. Rachel drew inspiration from brands such as Yves Saint Laurent.
Rachel partially credits her mom for the idea to create designs from the 1950s. “My mother really gave me my love of vintage fashion.”
“Nineteen fifties is probably my favorite decade because it’s very classic.”
The idea was born when Rachel began researching two of her passions for her senior thesis last fall – film and fashion. While her senior thesis changed, her love of 1950s fashion remained.
Spring semester began and the couture of the 1950s inspired Rachel to design pieces that emulated the dramatic flair fashion had at the time as part of her senior portfolio.
Rachel’s favorite part of the whole designing process is the sketching. She created rough sketches of her designs before she drew each using Adobe Illustrator. She said sketching each of them usually takes two hours.
Rachel loves the freedom that sketching gives because she can erase and redraw a design in a second, whereas if she has already committed the design to fabric, it’s much harder to change.
Every day, Rachel visited the Hemenway sewing labs in preparation for the fashion show.
Sewing machines line the walls of the studio and the back of the room is home to 20 or so mannequins ready to be adorned with the fashion students’ latest creations.
She said most days she spent at least two hours in the lab utilizing the sewing machines, mannequins and other equipment available.
To bring her sketches to life, Rachel created a rough approximation of her design using mannequins and loose fabric. “I use a technique called draping, which is figuring out how to size and construct the garment.”
She said, “Because when I was little I draped blankets on myself, I think draping just comes naturally to me.”
Rachel is no longer yanking blankets off the bed and imagining a fabulous dress in place of the polyester blend.
The first piece in her collection was inspired by the classic Hollywood gown worn by starlets on the red carpet. She designed a soft-blue, mermaid-cut, off-the-shoulder dress, accented at the bottom with layers of white tulle. Rachel hand-stitched white lace that crept up the sides of the gown and across the back.
“It’s supposed to be more of the sweetheart, 1950s actress,” she said.
The second piece Rachel created as part of her collection drew inspiration from the “sultry side” of Hollywood glam. The black strapless gown is form-fitting, sheer lace, accented with silver stitching and ruffled edges cascading down the sides of the dress. An emerald green lining peeks through the sheer black, giving it a pop of color.
“I wanted to focus on the sultry side of Hollywood glam. You know – Marilyn Monroe, something sexy, something that shows a little skin.”
Rachel said because fashion students aren’t working for a big company with funding, they all have to find and purchase their own fabric. Rachel’s favorite store is Fabric Place Basement located in Natick. “I was not sure what fabrics to get for some of the garments. … Sometimes, you can’t find the right fabrics.”
She said most of her garments are made with woven materials such as cotton and silk. Rachel spent hours searching through the aisles of the fabric store, touching each fabric to see if it would work for her. She said touch is an incredibly important aspect of picking a fabric for her designs. “If I feel like it’s scratchy, I would not want to wear it myself.
“There’s a lot to look for in each fabric before you pick it and say, ‘Oh, this will work for the design.’”
Rachel said fashion design professor Seunghye Cho, who Rachel has known for three years, motivated her to unveil her new designs at the fashion show.
“She is the type of teacher who you can say has changed your life. She wants the best for her students. She pushes you in a way that helps you think outside the box,” Rachel said.
“She has really helped me grow as a designer and a person,” Rachel added.
Cho said she is one of the most successful students in the fashion design program. Cho said while Rachel struggled initially with the fabric she used for her classic Hollywood gown, Rachel “willingly took on the challenge … and the dress turned out to be one of the best garments in her collection.”
Cho added, “Most of her projects in classes truly went beyond class requirements and my expectations. She has also shown impressive growth in problem-solving capability to provide creative design solutions by applying basic principles that she learned in class.”
Rachel said because her collection for her portfolio was primarily formal wear, it involved a lot of hand sewing and each garment took three weeks to make.
This semester proved to be the busiest one yet – with work, classes and designing all seven garments for her portfolio. Rachel found time management to be her biggest struggle throughout the semester.
With the amount of sewing and preparation that went into each design, Rachel said it was frustrating to find the sewing labs locked during the weekend. “They have May Hall open for the art students, they have the library open for everyone else and we really need this equipment in here.”
She said it’s a “shame” that the labs aren’t open more frequently. She was told the labs are locked up because one year, a sewing machine “walked off” during a weekend.
She added while she has a sewing machine in her dorm room, other necessities such as the irons, ironing boards and the more industrial sewing machines don’t fit in her room. “There’s quite a lot of resources here that we don’t have access to all the time.”
Rachel said some people see fashion design as superficial or easy. “It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to sew like this. … I just want people to see more than the shallow surface of fashion. It’s a lot more complicated than people can see.”
When Rachel is not busy working or sketching out designs for her next piece, she enjoys creative writing and hanging out with her best friend, and fellow fashion design major, Alaina Mishley.
Mishley said this semester, the two of them became inseparable as they were both preparing for their pieces to be showcased in the fashion show and facing similar struggles. Mishley said working with Rachel made the coursework more fun. “She motivates me to be a better designer myself.”
Mishley herself designed a small collection of formal wear inspired by “sophistication and elegance.”
The week before the fashion show, Rachel realized she needed one more piece to finish her collection and found herself in the sewing labs late at night designing and constructing a shirt at the very last minute.
Rachel said the week before the fashion show was crazy. “Every day was spent in the sewing labs trying to finish up garments between my classes.”
She added, “I was in the sewing labs with fellow designers and friends until 1 a.m. I dedicated all my energy that week into the show and getting the models ready.”
Rachel said the process for finding models was difficult because she wanted to find models who were similar in size to her. “Because making the garments is so expensive, I usually make them to fit me. So, I was looking for someone who was 5 feet 6 inches, had the same waist size.” She added, “It all worked out.”
For her portfolio, Rachel worked with seven models, including herself, to showcase her various designs.
Junior and ARA of Peirce Hall, Sydney Chase, discovered Rachel was looking for models through a Facebook post.
Although Chase is shorter than Rachel, she still wanted to include Chase in the lineup for her models.
Chase said, “She was very accommodating, and it wasn’t an issue at all. She was playing around with a few pieces for me until the day of the show. She decided to put me in the finale gown, which fit me perfectly.”
She added, “I was slightly nervous to trip because of the tulle on the bottom, but once I got out there it was so much fun! The dress was gorgeous, and the crowd loved it. It made me feel like a princess.”
Initially, Rachel wasn’t planning on modeling one of her own designs. Due to one of her models not being reliable, she decided to grace the runway herself in one of her own creations.
The day the fashion show arrived Rachel was ready to show off her hard work. The fashion show began with a display of some of the finest designs FSU students had to offer. Cameras flashed, documenting the hours of work each student put into their designs.
Surrounded by six other models decked out in the garments made during the semester, Rachel knew all her hard work from the semester had paid off.
Because Rachel was a model herself, she did not get to watch the others strut down the runway in her own designs. About walking down the runway, she said, “I was nervous and excited all at the same time. … It made all the effort for the show worth it.”
She said, “To see some of the pictures from the runway felt so rewarding and amazing. All the late nights, challenges and effort put into this was all worth it for that moment.”