June 16, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

13 finalists selected for fashion design competition

3 min read
Clothes lined up at the Evanston History Center fashion design competition.
Dozens of garments were assembled to inspire designers for the ReFashioning History competition. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Move over, Heidi Klum. An evening fundraiser at the Evanston History Center on June 27 will incorporate the irresistible element of a fashion design competition and provide a showcase for winning creations as guests sip and mingle on the Dawes House terrace.

The final 13 contestants for the ReFashioning History competition were selected on April 26 after EHC judges sorted through submissions from 33 amateur and professional designers based in Chicagoland.

EHC costume curator Rachel Jennens said the competition and reception are intended to raise awareness and support for the institution’s costume collection, which includes more than 30,000 garments dating from the mid-19th century through present day.

Winners will be on hand at the event to discuss their designs, and the top four will take home a cash prize of $750 each. Several runnerup prizes of $50 also will be awarded.

A pink ballgown dress at the Evanston History Center fashion design competition.
Blossoms trail across the bodice and skirt of a carnation pink opera costume. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Early last month contestants were invited to view an assortment of specially selected garments and accessories from the EHC collection that would provide their inspiration. Some chose a single garment, said Jennens, while others plan to keep multiple objects in mind as they execute their vision.

“The overall theme is embellishment,” she said, “but there are different kinds of embellishment. People think of beads and lace and ribbons and flowers, but there’s also embellishment in terms of how things are cut and put together.”

Striking pieces such as a floor-length French velvet day dress, a lavishly adorned carnation pink opera gown, a flirty Emilio Pucci frock and a vintage lady’s hat topped with a stuffed beady-eyed pigeon were among the items on display.

The collection of inspirational garments, along with the designers’ winning creations, will form the centerpiece of the new ReFashioning History exhibit, premiering at the event and running through the end of September in two second-floor rooms of the Dawes House.

Showcasing part of the collection

Special exhibits like ReFashioning History give EHC the opportunity to share a portion of its extensive costume collection with the public. Due to limited display space and the delicate nature of clothing, most of the collection is typically kept under wraps.

Long orange ruched dress at the Evanston History Center fashion design competition.
A handmade orange chiffon dress was a favorite among designers. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

The bulk is stored in the attic, said Jennens, with furs, old plastics (think hair combs and purse handles) and other temperature-sensitive items tucked in a small cold storage room in the basement. Viewing is by appointment only and limited to researchers with specific areas of interest or past donors who may want another peek at a treasured family heirloom.

While collection pieces vary widely, they are all stylistically or historically significant and share an Evanston provenance, which Jennens said is a must for acquisitions.

“Either somebody wore it here or it was made here, or it was sold here,” she said. “It has to have some connection to Evanston.”

She was hard-pressed to pick favorites but expressed fondness for a few: two Fortuny gowns worn by Vera Megowan, a woman who ran successful Evanston restaurants in the 1950s, and an 1880s Liberty of London tea gown that once belonged to Eleanor Noyes Orr.

Bird Hat
The stuffed pigeon on this lady’s hat was preserved using arsenic. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Not all pieces donated to the collection are from a forgotten era. Some provide a more modern snapshot of life in Evanston. Jennens pointed to a newly acquired black velvet party dress with red plaid cuffs and collar.

“It’s very typical of its period. It’s a very, very 1990s Christmas party dress. It speaks of a certain time and function,” she noted.

Jennens believes preserving the garments people wore to special events and in everyday life provides an invaluable window to the past.

“A lot of people don’t really know, or they have some idealized version of, how people dressed and behaved in the past,” she said. “It’s helpful to have the costumes that might introduce a different narrative. It’s a way of viewing history that’s not the written word.”

Tickets to the ReFashioning History event are $150.

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