DTM Girls Design
On February 23, 2018, MODA– a student-run fashion organization at The University of Chicago– put on their annual fashion show. This show presents work by student designers in a professional setting, giving them a unique chance and space to convey their creative visions.
Anita and Maxime presented collections this year, and I thought it would be great to learn more about their designs from their personal and honest perspectives.
Scroll to see the full scope of their designs! And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @dtmblog
Model: Christy Cheng
Martina: What was your design process like?
Anita: I’ve basically been sketching here and there since the last MODA show (February 2017). After that was done, I remember just, like, watching every single Project Runway episode and fashion documentary I could find because I literally knew nothing about fashion and wanted to learn more, and I was like “I’ll keep sketching and see what happens.”
Maxime: I feel you.
Anita: My design process had been thought out for a long period of time, but getting closer to the show and just evolving as a person, those designs changed as well.
Maxime: Yeah, I can definitely echo that. I think a lot of the time people want a defined answer, but like…
Anita: It’s really fluid.
Maxime: It’s really a process, it changes every day. Like, I started off hating all of my designs and then I would go on Instagram or Vogue and try to draw inspiration from current designers, but also trying not to be influenced by their designs because it’s really easy to… there’s a fine line between inspiration and copying, and you need inspiration but you don’t want your designs to look exactly like someone else’s designs.
Martina: Yeah, and I remember a while ago you had said you wanted it to be based off of like, rice fields? And then that totally changed.
Maxime: (Laughs) Yeah, I started off with channeling nature, really anything that looked aesthetically pleasing and visually appealing to me. And the rice thing, I took out the element of the basket, because it was like a woven basket that held the rice so I wanted to use ropes in my piece, but it just didn’t go well overall with the whole collection… at the end of the day… it’s a collection, I wanted all of it to look cohesive. During the process I didn’t think about feasibility as much. So it (my designs) changed a lot, it went from, “I’m gonna do this and that and add this element,” to pieces that are actually wearable.
Models: Christy Cheng, Lizzie Hunpatin
Martina: Was there an inspiration behind your designs?
Anita: I think a big part of my inspiration… I think for every creative person a big part of this comes from your background. So I’m from Lagos, Nigeria and there’s so much cool fashion coming from Nigeria and the rest of the continent. Lagos Fashion Design Week was around the time designer applications were happening for MODA and I was inspired by some of my favorite designers like Maki Oh, Rich Mnisi, Lisa Folawiyo, and Post Imperial. I joked about this with my friends but I felt like my collection really encompassed how I’ve felt in the last few years like “just a young West African girl trying to make it in Chicago.” I also work at Urban Outfitters which has influenced my style.
Model: Rachel Alexander
Martina: We had talked about a frustration that you’d felt when people were trying to impose a Nigerian definition on your designs. Would you want to elaborate on that?
Anita: It wasn’t so much a frustration but I designed in the MODA show last year, and I think I battled with whether or not I was going to use Ankara fabrics in the show, and ultimately I decided not to just because my designs were going in a different direction. I got a couple of comments from people like “I heard you designed for the MODA fashion show, I didn’t see any print on the runway...” obviously being Nigerian is a big part of who I am, but I had a big issue with feeling like I had to be “quintessentially African” (whatever that means) to be taken seriously as a designer. Even with what people consider “African fabrics” like Ankara, they were originally made in Europe for other textile markets and until the 60s most wax prints sold in West Africa were produced in Europe, with most companies today not being owned by Africans. This is not me minimizing Ankara fabrics at all because I love them, I just want people to understand that the design process is complex, and as a Nigerian designer it’s not something that has to be in my fashion.
Martina: Yeah, it’s like people trying to question your identity. Or try to…
Maxime: Impose one on you.
Martina: Yeah. It’s like they’re saying you’re not “Nigerian” enough.
Anita: Yeah, that’s so right.
Martina: I think that’s so problematic… because it makes you be put in a place where your culture is questioned, but also detracts from your perceived abilities and possible places to draw inspiration from.
Model: Muna Okebalama
Maxime: I don’t know how to answer this question. I sort of lost track of my inspiration and it became “How can I make it look good.” But to answer your question, I was initially inspired by nature. And I wanted to convey this idea of man and nature, but it’s not as visually appealing as it would be if I’d only considered the visual elements. So… I would say that, like, it became a very modern, chic look, [even though] that wasn’t the original direction. [Looking back to the process, I’d say] I was inspired by my perception of beauty.
Anita: I also think as someone starting out really new… you may have wonderful inspirations and designs but if you can’t make it you can’t make it (Laughs). Especially in the time frame that we have and being students… it’s hard.
Models: Christy Cheng, China Aniks
Maxime: And I’m not disappointed or unhappy with the final result it’s just, it didn’t end the way that I started. I’m still really happy with the collection but I’d have to admit that the final collection was… it was something pretty. It was something pretty that was inspired by whatever was in my head at the moment. Like having the sparkly side panels. I had extra panels and was like “Whoa, this might look good!” and it did. So I sewed it on. (Laughs)
Martina: How do you think you could grapple with that in the future if you design again or go on to create another collection?
Maxime: Since it’s my first time ever designing, and sewing, I didn’t take into account feasibility and I didn’t plan anything well. And I think if I had more time, I would probably have my designs resemble my final pieces more closely. I would spend more time to design and plan and I think my work would more closely resemble my ideas or what I was inspired by.
Models: Lizzie Hunpatin, Hannah Jacobs-El
Martina: How did you feel on the day of the show?
Anita: It was weird because I’ve done this before but I was still nervous.
Maxime: One thing that really surprised me was the fact that I spent twenty, thirty hours sewing and my model was on stage for ten seconds. Afterwards people were able to see the pieces more closely, but I [still] wish I had more time to showcase my work. At least I was able to permanently present these through photos.
Anita: Yeah, I remember coming back to my apartment the next day and cleaning up my living room and packing up my sewing machine and it was just kind of like, “Wow, this is the end of this creative adventure.”
Thank you to the photographers who allowed us to use their work in this piece: Kiran Misra (@kiranambika, kiranmisra.com), Angela Liu (@angelawholiu, angelaliu.xyz), and Angela Fung (@angelafungphoto)
Learn more about MODA UChicago at modachicago.org