On Saturday, May 22, the sidewalk along the Marist riverfront popped with a blue, orange, purple, and yellow covering, each color taking up a roughly 20-foot strip of the carpet that stretched from the Marist Boathouse to the very end of the walkway. The light posts were decorated with streamers matching the corresponding color on the ground. Folding chairs were set up six feet apart alongside the grass, facing the river. Marist students lined up inside the boathouse, flaunting the creations by their classmates, ready to walk the runway for the 35th annual Silver Needle Runway Show.
“Open your eyes past the distorted lenses you have built,” a voice implored through the speakers placed behind the audience before the models began their strut. “Liberate your mind to the world beyond your perspective. Now, what will you see?”
The producers of the SNR show had been asking themselves that question for roughly a year. Bringing the show back to an in-person spectacle took exhaustive planning. After SNR 34 had to transition to a completely online venture because of the pandemic, this year’s edition of the Marist Fashion Program’s annual show looked, unlike any show before it. It was outside. There was a virtual show in addition to the in-person one. It was an entirely student-produced show, save for the efforts of Faculty Director Juan-Manuel Olivera-Silvera.
Several factors changed in the show’s production that made it happen. The most impactful change was the omittance of outside help. Due to a crunched budget and social distancing guidelines to follow, there was no outside production company or experienced professional model corps at the SNR team’s disposal, unlike in years past. The production team had to make do with the resources they had. Olivera-Silvera — who is a senior professional lecturer of fashion and the Fashion Program’s internship coordinator in addition to being the SNR faculty director — wants SNR to be a “laboratory of innovation” for his students. They had to make the laboratory look different this year, but still, the experimentation produced results that the team was proud of.
The student production team for this 35th edition of SNR was formed shortly after the virtual 2020 show. They started meeting on Zoom to get to know each other before working more with the show during the school year. Creative Director Ariana Pittelli ’21 took the reins on the “aesthetic visual” — the color palette and story that created the theme they wanted to express. Production Directors Kennedi Hudnut ’21 and Elizabeth Knight ’21 organized three sub-teams: model, wardrobe, and logistics. All in all, more than 30 students came together to tackle the production aspect of the show.
The 18 designers, all of whom were seniors, created their outfits with the theme SNR35: illusion in mind. “Our whole goal is to give a deeper message about how your perspective is similar and we all see the world differently, but we need to recognize that and try to undo some of the walls we’ve built,” Pittelli said. Since working around the coronavirus pandemic was the theme of last year’s show, they wanted to do something different while still providing a meaningful, relevant message. “We thought a lot about the societal issues going on, like Black Lives Matter, and all the prejudice in our world,” Pittelli said. “We wanted the show to be a chance to recognize that and give people the message of, ‘We need to undo this illusion.’ ”
Designer Jenna Mitarotonda took inspiration from traditional Scottish clothing by incorporating plaid designs and shades of red and light brown into all her designs. Her collection featured skirt-like shapes with baggy sleeves and black boots. She started designing the collection in the fall. Sketching the idea is the first part, followed by draping — taking pieces of fabrics and applying them on a dress form — and then making the actual garments, some of which were scrapped or redone. “I would say this whole design process is trial and error because you learn from your mistakes, or sometimes mistakes are actually really successful,” Mitarotonda said.
The trial-and-error nature of collection designing is the same across the board, but the actual steps are not. Designer Natalie Ford is not a fan of draping. Instead, she focused on pattern making, which she took a class in and developed a knack for. She found inspiration in grocery stores, an idea she had had since freshman year. Her collection featured two ensembles with bright colors reminiscent of candy and one dress depicting waffles, accessorized by a round handbag with a waffle design and golden-brown color.
Chloe Goldstein’s collection took inspiration from Morocco, which she visited for a few days while studying abroad in Italy in the fall of 2019. She utilized her line of handmade macrame bags in her pieces. Her collection focused on sustainability. She omitted the use of non-natural fibers and toxic dyes and sourced everything from small vendors. It took more time, research, and connecting with small businesses to make her collection, but for her, it was well worth the effort to make it more eco-friendly.
The models for the show were all students. Hailey Keenan, a sophomore majoring in fashion merchandising, was selected as a model for Jenna Mitarotonda’s collection. Her only experience modeling had been for a capping project last year. She sent an audition video and auditioned in person before being selected to model Mitarotonda’s collection. Keenan and two other models met with Mitarotonda a week before the show for fitting.
Production Director Kennedi Hudnut said that the team working out the logistics themselves and having only fellow students at their disposal involved a big learning curve. They didn’t realize the entirety of the picture that went into logistics, which included obtaining fire inspections and permits. “Stuff like that, we never thought we’d have to do being in the fashion show production class,” she said prior to the show. “But I think it’s going to make us grow stronger as a class and it’s really a great thing to know that it’s all student-run, from top to bottom.”
The SNR project served as a capping class for Fashion students but was open to students of any major within the School of Communication and the Arts. The expansion drew students with a wide array of skills. And the production crew needed to reach even further within the Marist community to make the show go. Pittelli said they tapped several departments to set up certain aspects of the show — Athletics for tents, IT for Wi-Fi hotspots, the Marist Media Center for live-streaming capabilities. She added that the sense of feeling rewarded is not due just to their hard work, but because they’re setting up the group of younger students to take the reins and continue to thrive.
Along with the in-person show, the SNR team created virtual content. They streamed the show live on Vimeo, using multiple camera angles and shots A 12-minute YouTube video shows the models’ walks around the Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne estate, a mansion owned by Marist 20 minutes north of the main campus on the west side of the river. They also created a documentary and a 17-minute film titled What you’ll see. The story follows Eliza, a young woman, going through the motions of her life without trying to find much more.
“The virtual show has a greater reach than you could ever have with an in-person show, so that’s really important,” Pittelli said. “We’re always thinking about the future of the class, the future of the Fashion Program, the future of the industry, and [we] try to instill that into our teams and give them the experience they need moving forward in the industry. So it only made sense to do this.”
Olivera-Silvera said the pandemic forced the fashion industry into some introspection. He said that due to the high costs and the copious amounts and forms of waste— trash, electricity, energy— that fashion shows produce, the current system wasn’t sustainable. “The pandemic has brought to light the fact that the industry needed to change, and the virtual platforms have been an amazing vehicle to bring that change,” he said.
“Going forward, I think the virtual show will always be something that Marist Fashion does,” Production Director Elizabeth Knight said.
The SNR show has been a staple of Marist Fashion for decades. But now they’re looking to become more than that. Leaning heavier into digital content is just one of the ways they’re doing so. SNR started a newsletter called “Through the Needle”, a four-part publication that took readers behind the scenes of the show. They also launched “More Than Fashion: The SNR Podcast,” a five-episode series that discusses different aspects of fashion with a guest. SNR launched their own social media accounts rather than use those of the Fashion Program. “It’s all about creating buzz for us,” Pittelli said. “We’re trying to make SNR not just a school fashion show, but a brand.”
The College already has a strong reputation as a school for the study of fashion. This past May, Forbes named Marist one of the “Best Colleges That Are Shaping the Future of Fashion.” Forbes lists only 10 programs worldwide, only four of which are in the United States.
The efforts to further expand as a brand went down to the wire during the week of the show. Olivera-Silvera consulted three different weather apps to ensure the team would be ready for anything. They prepped for bad weather by placing umbrellas behind every seat, stashing some for the models, and putting a rain date in place. Luckily, it wasn’t needed, as the weather was cooperative enough for the show to go on.
Everyone came together the night before the event for a dress rehearsal around 5:00. A tent on the side of the boathouse, out of the sight of visitors, served as their headquarters. Olivera-Silvera gave instructions about walking paths for the models and pitched in to help where it was needed as everyone prepared for a test run. Models changed into their outfits on the second floor of the boathouse, which was restricted to everyone but the models themselves and a few SNR staffers. The first floor had water bottles, snacks, wipes, cotton swabs, lint rollers, hair straighteners, cotton balls, and more. SNR staffers strung a banner across the opening of the boathouse to mark the start and end of the runway.
Members of the SNR creative team manned the upstairs balcony, working with the video and sound side of the operation after the models were ready. The models started their walk in the tent and through the first floor of the boathouse. They began their first practice run around 6:30. Olivera-Silvera watched from the side, offering tips to models as they walked. A few practice runs later, the only thing left to do was put on the show the next day. Or actually, to put it on five times: to accommodate the large audience SNR always draws, they organized five shows debuting every half hour, beginning at noon and ending with their last show at 6:00.
On the day of the event, the SNR team’s check-in station featured two big tents with other elements of the show and the Fashion Program to explore — merchandise tables for SNR and Mporium, a student-run boutique, a funhouse mirror painted with SNR colors, a table promoting the new student-run magazine Measure, and a separate tent showing a short film on a projector.
John Bartlett, the director of the Fashion Program, spoke to the SNR production students before the show. “What you all have accomplished this year is Herculean.”
He also addressed the audience at the start of the event. “Design students, you have simply moved me with your talent, your creativity, and your natural gifts — and also, your ability to lift each other up. You are all going to go very far in this industry and in life.”