Sheer Ingenuity

Sheer Ingenuity

For anyone attending Collection 2013, RISD’s annual student fashion show, the spacey electronica track by Jon Hopkins was the first cue that the apparel collection by Hannah Soukup 13 AP about to make its runway debut would emanate a surreal, unearthly vibe. And as models stepped out wearing her line of icy-hued capes, angular jumpsuits and sleeveless tube dresses, the hunch was confirmed. The futuristic collection appears to defy gravity.

The recent Apparel Design graduate, who now hopes to build on the success of her final collection by eventually launching her own avant-garde design company, explains that the stunning structural garments she created senior year were inspired by an obscure collectable: Sabino glassware. When Soukup discovered several pieces at an antique shop in the Netherlands last summer, she was immediately taken with the milky color and translucency of the antiques.

“I'm attracted to the iridescence and fragility of glass,” the designer says, in part because “those qualities can be likened to people and their essence of self. Like glass, a person’s façade can be easily broken.”

As Soukup began to draw the curvilinear lines of the glassware last fall, the beginnings of a surreal apparel collection took shape. Those rudimentary designs would eventually become the blueprint for Opalescent, the ethereal assortment of silk and polyester garments that comprise her senior thesis collection.

According to Soukup, her process starts with an exploration of textiles. “I find that the fabric I use determines the designs,” she says. “In the beginning, I like to play with the material to see how it falls. When constructing Opalescent, the trick was to layer the silk with the polyester. There was a stiffness to the fabric that allowed me to create these sculptural pieces. And the polyester had this sheen that I hadn’t been able to find in any other textile.”

To give her collection a unique edge, Soukup also ventured into the Industrial Design department to vacuum form a semi-crystalline sphere to one of her dresses. After she made the ornament, she punctured a hole in the shell and shellacked the exterior to give it an opaque appearance. “At first, I wasn't sure how I was going to make it,” she says, “but I eventually figured it out. RISD is all about pushing the limits.”

Soukup’s curiosity and resolve are what led her to the Netherlands last summer, too. Having landed an internship at Iris van Herpen, a haute couturier based in Amsterdam, she worked with other international students to construct the avant-garde designer’s latest collection, which debuted in Paris last fall. “I learned so much during that summer, ” Soukup says. “And to work with Iris was such an honor. She’s a true artist.”

Though Soukup has always nurtured a love of fashion, the West Virginia native began her art studies taking printmaking classes at a small liberal arts college. She eventually transferred to RISD to continue her work using eco-friendly dyes. But when she began noticing that the classes she signed up for included as many apparel studios as printmaking courses, she began to recognize a clear calling.

“I had always assumed that people thought that apparel design was this frou frou, shallow world,” Soukup admits. “But in the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted do fashion. To me, it’s not just a trendy commodity or commercial endeavor. It’s an art form that exposes the artistic expression of the wearer.”

– Abigail Crocker

related links:

· Hannah Soukup

· Opalescent

· Collection 2013 coverage on our.risd

· RISD’s Apparel Design department

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