Designer Profile: Sarah Koval

By Stephanie Zhang

With dresses ranging from bridal gowns to corseted costumes, the Wearable Art collection draws Copley Place shoppers in to examine the design and detail in each creation. Entirely the work of twenty-five fashion design students at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Wearable Art features both textile and non-textile designs curated by associate professors Jayne Avery and James Mason. Among the non-textile designs displayed in Copley’s Center Court is a vivid blue and gold dress with a voluminous skirt. The dress, made from 30 feet of acetate sheeting coated in spray paint, is the creation of Sarah Koval, a junior at MassArt. I caught up with the designer to talk about what went into the making of her piece.

Haute Fashion: When did you first start designing?

Sarah: I started designing when I was, I think, in eighth grade because I remember going into my freshman year and when they asked everyone what they wanted to do, I just remember saying, “I want to be a fashion designer,” and it just kind of stuck with me. My aunt and my grandmother both went to school for fashion design, so it’s in the family a little bit.

HF: Is that also how you became interested in fashion in general?

S: Yeah, and believe it or not, it actually has a lot to do with Project Runway. When it came out when we were in middle school, I watched it and just remember thinking like, wow there’s actually a profession behind this. I always just thought of you just go to a store and buy clothes, and that’s how it works, but then when I realized there are people actually behind it and designing it, that’s what really got me interested.

HF: Have you designed things before Wearable Art?

S: I have, yeah. I always have always just enjoyed sketching and I’ve known how to sew for a while. In high school, I made my own prom dresses that I designed, and things like that for a couple other people too. Wearable Art, this was our first assignment our sophomore year when we went into the fashion program because at MassArt you start off with a foundation year where you just take a lot of different classes and you just kind of get experience in sculpture and graphic design and other fields–illustration, painting–and this was our first assignment when I finally got into my major was to make a piece that was not made out of fabric whatsoever.

HF: So does everyone in the fashion design program do one of these for Wearable Art?

S: Well, Wearable Art is just an exhibit that my professor Jayne Avery brought together. She and my other professor James Mason curate this exhibit every year for the past few years. It was in another mall, but now that we can actually bring it to Copley, it’s actually getting a lot more exposure. But this is a collection of work from sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

HF: What made you choose MassArt and its program?

S: I chose MassArt because I honestly really love Boston. I looked at a couple other schools and for me, it was between MassArt and Pratt in Brooklyn, and I just really love the city. I liked the program because it was smaller, and I felt like we get a lot of hands-on help. There’s a lot of involvement from all of our professors, and I fell in love with the program and fell in love with the city, really.

HF: Can you tell me a bit more about your design?

S: For my piece, I chose to use acetate which is usually used as a plastic film for overhead projectors. It’s also used in a lot of other ways but I guess that’s one that’s really familiar; that’s what I tell a lot of people. I had worked with it in a class my freshman year that was called Form Study. It was like an abstract sculpture class and we had to pick our own medium, so I chose to work through acetate through that semester and when I got into fashion it was something that I was just  really familiar with. When we were asked to do a piece that was non-textile, I knew I wanted to go for something that had a classic look to it, but with a twist, because it was non-textile. Because acetate is clear plastic, I had to spray paint it, which was a lot of fun. I could add a lot of different color to that, but I decided to keep it simple and just do gold and blue. I went for a more 50s-60s silhouette, higher-waisted, peter pan collar, and then give it a little cap sleeve. For the skirt, I just decided to attach all of these crumpled pieces of acetate to give it a lot of body and make it more of a fun, cocktail kind of a dress.

HF: So how would you say it is to wear?

S: It has been worn a couple times. I haven’t been able to put it on, but I can’t imagine it’s terribly comfortable because it is plastic, but my model who wore it for the MassArt fashion show at Revere last spring, she said it wasn’t too bad to wear. It was a little hot, doesn’t really breathe too much, but it does move a bit, as structured as it is.

HF: Was it hard to make?

S: It took a long time. The plastic actually went through a sewing machine which was okay. There are a couple darts in the bodice and it actually went through pretty well. I just felt bad for my sewing machine; I went through a lot of needles with that one! Putting the bodice and the skirt together wasn’t too bad, but what was the most difficult was attaching all the pieces to the skirt, which is all done by hand. That took a very long time, maybe eight to ten hours of work just put in there.

HF: How long did it take from the concept to actually making it?

S: About three weeks. We were given the assignment and then we had two weeks to work through it, and then we had to present it for critique, so about three weeks. It was design, maybe about a week, and then actually constructing it, probably about two weeks off and on between other classes.

HF: All your fellow students who also did the non-textile designs, did you work with them at all? Did you share ideas?

S: We did share ideas; we went around during class time and just kind of compared notes with each other. We had to bring in samples that we had worked with, so everyone tested a few things out at first and decided where they wanted to go from there. The most fun was just watching everyone’s pieces progress with the couple classes we had in between actually showing it for critique, and then just seeing it in the workroom in progress and wondering where people were going to go, that was neatest thing for me. I just loved seeing everybody’s work. It was a lot of fun because a lot of people at first are like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what I’m doing–we haven’t even made a real garment yet and here I’m trying to figure it out with, you know, plastic or tree bark.

HF: Are you guys working on any other projects, more design projects, at MassArt?

S: This semester we’re starting with swimwear, and then we’re going into womenswear and menswear. We do three projects this semester, but in another class which is where we learn how to pattern draft for actually making the clothing, we’re working on a tailored jacket for our whole junior year.

HF: Is there a senior project?

S: Senior project is you make, I think, an eight-piece collection. You start with your thesis and then a selected few of the seniors get to show their entire collections for the fashion show at the end of the year, at the end of spring semester.

HF: Is it highly competitive?

S: It is a little competitive. I think that’s really what everyone works for, to get into the show because it is such is a big event. Last year we combined the senior show with the junior/sophomore show, which means that a lot of us got exposure to people that we wouldn’t have normally. But we had three shows in one day, which was kind of hectic, but it went well.

HF: So where do you see yourself after school?

S: I’m not really sure yet. I know a lot of people are thinking about moving to New York, but I’m just not sure if I really want to go there yet, so I’m kind of thinking of maybe going out west. I think ideally, I want to own my own boutique, maybe start selling other designers’ work first and then slowly, hopefully be able to incorporate my own and make it around that eventually.

HF: Do you have any goals you definitely want to achieve?

S: Ultimately, I think my biggest goal is that I would love to show in New York Fashion Week. Even though I know I said I don’t know if I really want to live in New York per se, I think that would be amazing. I want people to see my work.

HF: Especially after you’ve put in all the hours and all the years doing the work.

S: I love it though, I really do. I’m really happy here.

Wearable Art is currently on display in the Center Court of Copley Place until September 27, 2012. The next fashion show featuring these creations will occur on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 during Boston Fashion Week.

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