Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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UNITY brings cyclical couture to Chicago with charity fashion show

Daily file photo by Ziye Wang / The Daily Northwestern
Last year’s UNITY theme was “Subculture: The Intersection of Expression, Identity and Fashion,” inspiring a bright colored gown.

With fabric that otherwise would be wasted, a bridal-inspired couture dress with an edgy twist is set to be featured at the third annual UNITY Charity Fashion Show since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The piece is made of patchwork from secondhand wedding fabric that was donated to the line. This underscores the “Cyclical” theme, which will feature 14 clothing lines from Chicagoland designers and one from Northwestern students in UNITY. The show will take place Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center.

UNITY hopes to embrace sustainability in fashion and emphasize that articles of clothing can be reimagined through generations yet still remain timeless, said SESP senior Anthony Engle, co-executive director of UNITY.

“It’s typically just the styles we see change, like the concept of the white T-shirt,” Engle said. “The value of the white T-shirt went from being a plain T-shirt to a sleeveless tank, but at the core, it’s still the white T-shirt that’s always there. It’s just the way we see it is changing; It’s cyclical.”

In previous years, the organization hosted the sold-out shows at venues in Evanston, with around 300 people in attendance each year.

Yet its scope is broadening to the Chicago fashion space to host more than 400 people this year, fulfilling a long-term goal, Engle said.

“We wanted to bring more of our work to the forefront of the Chicago fashion community,” he said.

This show is partnering for the fourth year with Arts of Life, a charity organization that provides creative studios for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. All of the ticket sales will go directly toward the charity.

The show will open with live performances from a jazz ensemble and NU contemporary dance ensemble Graffiti Dancers.

Despite the breadth of collaboration for the show, the clothing pieces are entirely individualized. The design process began in Winter Quarter with 18 student models creating a “mood board” of their clothing preferences, including textures, colors and styles, said Weinberg senior and creative director Yolanda Chen.

Chen said members of the design team then picked a mood board that resonated with them the most and were paired with a model.

She said Winter Quarter and Spring Quarter were a collaboration to design a piece catered to both the model and the artist.

“As a typical commercial model, you are a glorified clothes hanger,” Chen said. “We wanted to make sure every model had a piece that was custom-made and tailor-fitted and they just felt beautiful in.”

Chen is a self-taught designer who learned to sew as a pandemic hobby. At workshops prior to the show, Chen taught members of the design team how to craft their individualized pieces.

In previous years, the design team worked from Ford Center, but the sewing machines were broken this year, limiting their options.

Now, the designers are producing the clothing line out of Chen’s apartment, leaving fabric scraps and paper pins in their wake.

“Ideally, I would want everyone to have a sewing machine, a desk and a nice pair of fabric scissors, but instead we’re passing around two pairs of scissors and two sewing machines,” Chen said. “I think it adds to the bit of creating a line from scratch with not the best equipment.”

Despite this challenge, Chen said this process is “special” because it entertains students’ passions for fashion and design to create a full-fledged couture line.

Weinberg freshman Aliyah Durry said she plans to go to the show to see her friend and UNITY model Emani Larkin’s accomplishments in action.

“She really worked hard for this,” Durry said. “I think it will be a good opportunity for all of us to see what can be accomplished in a short amount of time.”

UNITY tickets are available for purchase on UNITY’s Instagram, with a special discount for students. UNITY will provide bussing for NU students prior to the show’s start at 8:30 p.m.

“(The audience) should be ready for the night of their lives,” Engle said. “If people are looking for an ability to get dressed up, head down to the city to see a beautiful venue and enjoy a night of culture and couture, then UNITY is the perfect opportunity for them.”

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