Although Brown offers many academic opportunities in the arts, courses in fashion are few and far between. While components of visual arts classes sometimes overlap with design, and students occasionally gain access to Rhode Island School of Design resources, the University does not offer a concentration in fashion.
Groups such as Fashion@Brown are trying to make up for this deficit. F@B aims to offer an “accessible, informative and creative space for young designers,” according to its mission statement.
The Herald spoke to Nora Cowett ’24 and Phoebe Dragseth ’24 about their passions for fashion as they seek success in F@B and beyond, combining art and academics to make their own ways in the industry.
Clothes for ‘everyone’s unique body’: Cowett talks designing, business goals
Cowett, a F@B designer, first got into fashion when she was a child, taking lessons at her local sewing store. “I loved sewing and I loved the class and creating things,” she said. But “I didn’t think that fashion was a reasonable career path, so I suppressed that dream for a little bit.”
Cowett eventually came back to her dream in young adulthood, learning how to upcycle clothing and make new pieces from scratch. “Ever since high school, I’ve just been doing it continuously,” she said.
Cowett, who concentrates in gender and sexuality studies and visual art, described fashion as the “perfect intersection” between her two areas of study.
Much of Cowett’s work focuses on empowering the bodies that wear her clothes. “I personally use clothing as a way to express my gender and feel empowered in myself, and so I’d like for my clothing to also be able to do that for other people,” she said.
Lately, Cowett has been using a lot of “stretchy fabrics and knits” in her designs, “because they kind of adjust to everyone’s unique body.”
“I don’t really make fashion that is just meant to exist in a museum on a mannequin,” she said. “I really want them to have lives.”
Cowett described her design process as relatively messy. “I just have an idea in my brain and I don’t really like to draw it,” she said. “I just start cutting fabric, and sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Although Cowett participated in some fashion shows in high school, most of the runways she has done have been with F@B, she said. She had nine looks in F@B’s runway show this past Friday.
“Not only is she insanely talented, but she does such a fantastic job of matching her models with a look that best embodies them,” wrote Salonee Singh ’24, who has walked for Cowett three times now, in a message to The Herald.
Cowett also runs a small clothing business that initially began with her selling upcycled pieces on Instagram. When she decided to delay her start at the University due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cowett dedicated much of her time to expanding her business.
“I took that opportunity to make a formal website (and) get registered as an official business, and I’ve been selling things through my website ever since,” she said. “It’s a bit hard to manage that and school at the same time, but it’s great to have my own space on the internet.”
In both her business and collections, Cowett is aiming to create a “more clear direction.”
“Before I was making a lot of one-off pieces, and they were all very different,” she said. “Now I’m trying to create a pattern, where I make multiples in different colors (or) in different sizes” to create a more defined brand image.
In terms of the future, Cowett hopes to work with small designers and help design, produce and learn “the mechanics of a small business and how to survive.”
“Long-term, I would love to have my own successful brand,” she added.
‘Bridge those gaps’: Dragseth on making connections, bridging fashion, mathematics
Dragseth, a director of F@B’s design team, spent a long time deciding between design schools and liberal arts schools when she was deciding which colleges she wanted to apply to. She ended up settling on Brown because of F@B’s presence on campus and the University’s proximity to RISD.
“I really like the way that fashion can tell a story and provide a new lens on explaining things,” Dragseth said. She explained that some of her earlier collections focused on her upbringing and childhood, such as one on “spiritual spaces” — meant to reflect her father’s work as a pastor — and another focused on personal health issues.
Fashion “was just a way to share aspects of my life that I didn’t really have a way … to just sit down and tell people about,” she said.
Dragseth, a math and political science concentrator who wants to pursue fashion professionally, is especially interested in incorporating her academic work into her artistic process. She said that her knowledge of math has allowed her to refine her design process, particularly pattern-making.
“I’ve really fallen in love with connecting my math major with my love of fashion and using design as a way to bring lots of different people into the math community,” she said. “Taking these equations and these shapes that usually only exist in math and bringing them into something that most people can wrap their minds around, like fashion, is a really great way to bridge those gaps.”
Still, Dragseth finds that her “best work is stuff that kind of just comes to me at random times.” The ideas she gets while driving in a car or sitting in a lecture typically result in designs that come together pretty quickly, she said
As a member of F@B, Dragseth has been able to present her work in multiple runway shows. She displayed several pieces in F@B’s show this past Friday and plans to show again during Rhode Island Fashion Week.
“I personally have gotten a few jobs just because I’ve been able to say that I’ve had a runway show,” Dragseth said. Last summer, Dragseth worked for two designers in New York and was given the opportunity to help make pieces for various celebrities and musicians. This summer, she is headed to “Berlin to work for a couture company.”
Dragseth is still unsure about whether she wants to close the door on math and politics, and has “done a lot of internships and a lot of research with math and political science.” But she explained that these fields don’t give her “that same spark of joy that fashion has.”
“It’s really an art form. You can educate people through your work in a way that you can’t necessarily do if you’re giving a seminar to a set of academics,” Dragseth said. “It has really brought me so much joy (to see) how many people you can really inspire and reach out to by doing art.”