Written in collaboration with Nicole Murphy, program coordinator for the Fashion Design Department at Jefferson University.
Each year, Thomas Jefferson University juniors majoring in fashion design partner with the American Heart Association Philadelphia to create red dresses for a Rock the Red Dress fashion show that’s held during their annual Go Red for Women Luncheon.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, this year’s Red Dress fashion show has been canceled, but the outstanding message behind this campaign and the beautiful red dresses our students have created will live on.
The American Heart Association’s national “Go Red for Women” campaign promotes women’s heart health while providing educational insight on the dangers of heart disease.
“Go Red for Women is committed to making sure women know their risk for heart disease and stroke through healthy lifestyle education,” said Deena Weems Thornton, director, AHA Philadelphia. “As part of our yearlong movement, we host the Rock the Red Fashion show featuring networking, education and fashion. Each year our supporters look forward to seeing the dozens of student designs from Thomas Jefferson University. These red dresses bring awareness to heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women while providing students with the opportunity to showcase their hard work and talent.”
In their fall semester, junior students design and construct the dresses in their Pattern Development II classes, whether that be in the studios of Thomas Jefferson University’s East Falls campus or studying abroad in Rome.
For most, working with the AHA inspires students to develop deep, meaningful, and sometimes very personal concept direction behind their Red Dress designs.
“Knowing that an organization like this not only supports us as designers but allows us to use our art to bring awareness to a much bigger and important issue is so incredible,” said fashion design student Kinley Lingenfelter, class of 2021. For her dress, Kinley took inspiration from her own family’s triumphs in overcoming health issues over the years to become even stronger.
Students also take this opportunity to discuss issues they are passionate about. Brooke Kaplan (’21) feels that women’s mental health is another important facet of her overall well-being. “My research led me to discover the plight of women who fall victim to people with obsessive personalities,” Brooke explained. “In order to bring further awareness to women’s mental and physical health, I wanted to create a dress that embodied elegance and strength. Learning how to make my red dress come to life was truly a dream come true!”
Many students also look to the strong female figures in their life for inspiration. “All my life, my idols and role models have been women, my mom being the biggest one,” said Lucas Circello (’21). “[My] dress is a homage to strong powerful women in historical context, in addition to cinematic depiction.”
Cullen Dukes’ (’21) dress was not only inspired by, but also designed for his mother. “Being raised by a single mom from the age of 2, I know the strength and power of women, of their hearts. So, getting to design something that would be a part of this legacy between the school and AHA was exciting. Although we had to choose a recognizable muse, my true muse was my mother. I felt that my design had to reflect strength and power, clean lines and a strong silhouette because to me that is the true beauty of a woman. And, of course, the perfect red. The level of personal commitment each designer puts into their dress is evident when seeing some of the amazing results they can achieve through hard work and dedication.”
For many students, the Red Dress project is their first experience with evening wear, which comes with its own set of challenges. With a color palette limited to red only, students must source their own fabrics, drape and perfect patterns, execute fittings on live models, and finally complete a beautifully constructed Red Dress look. Junior students studying abroad in Rome during this semester usually face their own set of unique challenges to the project, including a language barrier and adjusting to new surroundings. “Since I was in Rome, it was harder to source fabric in the exact shades and textures that I needed,” admits Taylor Millette, class of 2021. However, this added stress pays off as students in Rome are exposed to new fabric markets and materials they may not have easy access to in the US. “I feel like I learned a lot more from changing around that stressful situation and I have a dress that I can really be proud of,” Taylor continues.
Anne Hand, associate professor, Fashion Design at Thomas Jefferson University School of Design and Engineering and Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, has been with Jefferson University almost 30 years and part of the Rock the Red project since it first came to the university in 2005.
“I am continuously impressed with my students’ ability to articulate their design process from research, concept creation, draping and final execution,” said Anne. “Many share very touching stories of how heart disease has impacted their own life. I truly love the creative process and feel like the “orchestra conductor” during this process — giving them direction and watching them synthesize feedback from myself and their peers during the construction of the final look is magical.”
Each year during the Rock the Red fashion show, attendees have the chance to enjoy the production and cast votes to select their favorite dress. The student winner is then presented with an award — established by Professor Emeritus Celia Frank and Anne —to honor their outstanding work.
Because the fashion show couldn’t be hosted in-person due to COVID-19, a student winner was not selected. In lieu, Anne graciously decided to donate a monetary gift to AHA Philadelphia’s Go Red for Women campaign.
“Having spent many years working with AHA, I truly believe in their mission and appreciate the inclusivity of their outreach through programming offered in underserved communities,” said Anne. “It is inspiring to see so many women in positions of power who are able to make a positive impact on women’s health.”
All of the 22 red dresses selected for this year’s Go Red for Women: Rock the Red Fashion Show will be featured on AHA Philadelphia’s social media in celebration of all the junior fashion design students and to congratulate them on their hard-work and determination in designing these looks for the American Heart Association.