Arts & Culture

Fashioning the Fifth Symphony

Arts & Culture Editor
Monday, February 7, 2011

Correction appended.

As Monique Batson ’13 browsed through the mall in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn., she decided to take fashion into her own hands. Unsatisfied with the clothes stores offered her, Batson said to herself, “You know what? I’m just going to make my own clothes.”

What started out as a small project to overcome her “not liking anything at the mall,” led Batson to become one of the 10 finalists in Boston Symphony Orchestra’s third annual fashion competition, Project Beethoven. Each contestant created a garment inspired by the composer’s music and submitted a sketch. Those that truly reflected Beethoven’s essence, were visually appealing and had potential marketability were chosen for what Sarah Manoog, the orchestra’s director of marketing, calls a “very exciting, very festive, real fashion show.”


The Fifth Symphony

After spotting the competition’s flyer in an elevator at the Rhode Island School of Design, where Batson has taken several courses, she sat down and listened to Beethoven’s celebrated Fifth Symphony.

“I must have listened to it over a hundred times,” she said. “I wanted to use the fifth without it being a cliche.”

“There are four notes that everybody knows – the da da da da,” she continued, mimicking the epic sounds of the G-G-G-E musical notes that drive the symphony.

To highlight the piece’s four notes and the fact that it is also divided into four parts, she used four gold balls that run down the dress’s sleeves and around the waist.

Batson was inspired by the fact that Beethoven was going deaf as he composed. “He couldn’t hear it,” she said, “but he could still see it somehow. There had to be a way to see symphony without the music.”

Batson, a composer herself, chose to use a computer program that turns music notes into waveforms. Hand-stitched all over the ethereal gown, the waveforms show the actual sounds of Beethoven’s masterpiece in a subtle, yet intellectually driven, way. “I didn’t want it to be so obvious,” she said.


Project Beethoven

In an effort to “enhance the overall concert experience,” Manoog and her team spearheaded the marketing strategy called “Symphony+.” By offering outside events — fashion shows and receptions — in conjunction with the orchestra’s concerts, Manoog aimed to “increase the enjoyment of (their) patrons.”

Project Beethoven “is one way that classical music can inspire people,” Manoog, a fashion lover and Project Runway fan, said.

After a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 played by soloist Radu Lupu, one-fourth of the patrons moved on to watch the fashion show and selected a fan-favorite winner.

With a panel of celebrity judges that included two renowned designers, Michael DePaulo and Sara Campbell, fashion-blogger Liana Krupp, Lifestyle Editor of Boston Magazine Alexandra Hall and Boston Symphany Orchestra cellist Owen Young, Project Beethoven is a “great opportunity” for new designers, Manoog said.

“It’s a great thing to have on your resume,” she said. “It really makes you stand out.”


The Grand Finale

On the night of Feb. 3, a cream and ivory gown draped gracefully over Batson’s model, Analise Roland ’13. A white top, which contrasts the creamier tones of the dress, resembled conductors’ button-down shirts and succeeded in making Batson’s gown a cohesive piece.

Roland — who had not seen the dress until the eve of the competition  — wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that she had “total faith” in Batson. With understated yet sophisticated makeup, Roland strutted down the runway in a room filled with over 400 people.

But Batson did not win. The prizes, which included a one-page spread in Boston Magazine and a window display at L’Elite store on Newbury St., went to RISD student Maria Canada. The audience picked Ashley Boiardi of Framingham State University as its favorite.

“I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity though,” Batson wrote in and e-mail to The Herald. “And I look forward to participating in future competitions and learning as much as I can about apparel construction.”

Through Project Beethoven, Batson learned the difficulties of making clothes and executing her own ideas, but she is far from being discouraged, she said.

“It truly is an art that I will hopefully one day master,” she wrote. “But for now, I plan to keep taking classes and making clothes and hopefully start my own line.”

A previous version of this article misspelled the designer’s name. Monique Batson ’13 was the finalist and creator of a gown in the fashion competition Project Beethoven. The Herald regrets the error.

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