FAST'S First Student Straw Collection

FAST’S FIRST STUDENT STRAW COLLECTION
By Jessica Pitocco and Amber Wright

When people think of fashion in Tuscany, leather is usually the first to come to mind. In Florence, leather products abound in high and low-end stores as well as at the outdoor markets. What most people don’t know is that straw, while in today’s fashion less popular, is also a classic material with strong roots in this region.

Dolce and Gabbana’s Spring 2016 collection featured straw materials in handbags and clutches, and on December 6th, FUA’s Fly event did the same. Titled “Winter Garden Fashion Party,” student Emily Russell headlined the event, displaying her collection of hats and bags for which she utilized this historical material and lessons learned in class.

Russell was the first student from a special accesories class to feature her artisanal straw designs at a FLY event. As the only student in her beginner-level class, "Straw Hats and Bags: A Florentine Dynasty," Russell felt nervous about being one-on-one with the professor, Francesca Mocali. But, as she later mentioned, the class moved at a proper pace and gave her more opportunity than she had ever previously had to explore her creativity as a designer. In fact, Russell never planned on designing anything; as a Fashion Merchandising major at the University of South Carolina, she hadn’t previously encountered the opportunity to design anything before. 

"Through this class I not only got this amazing opportunity for a show, but I also learned new skills like sewing, by hand and with a machine, sketching, and design. I can now manipulate the straw into different shapes and edges, and even match different colors and materials together," Russell said.

Russell and her professor started preparing for “Winter Garden Fashion Party” in mid-October. During her time in the classroom, Prof. Mocali taught her how to manipulate sinamay: a straw-like fabric made from banana leaves that Russell used for her collection of five hats and two bags. While working with the material, she experimented with the natural colors of sinamay in taupes, blues, and browns to create a cohesive line for the show.

Russell said she sees how sinamay could be used as an eco-friendly alternative fabric in modern fashion; taking an old Italian technique and making it modern through design, color, and styling. Her inspiration was drawn from from historical Florence and artworks at the Uffizi.

"I love the look of draped fabrics on marble statues. My collection has a subtle Renaissance-feel because of the way I folded the sinamay and used curves in the hats to mimic that," Russell said. "Looking at paintings in the Uffizi Gallery, or even the basilica’s gothic arches, I experimented with each element in an avant-garde way."

While this is Russell’s first design class, after this course she is open to the idea of taking similar classes at her college and exploring her creative side more thoroughly.

"I appreciate all sides of fashion more than ever, and I feel like anyone in this business should get to experience this too," Russell said. "I never really thought of myself as a designer, but now I've had my own show and could not be happier!"
 

straw story
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