From now until March 13, the UC Davis Department of Design is presenting its latest exhibit, Red Dress: Design Stories For Heart Health, at the UC Davis Design Museum in Cruess Hall. The exhibit is part of the department’s collaboration with the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program (UCDWCMP) to raise women’s heart health awareness.
The exhibit showcases 18 red dresses designed by students for various UC Davis Red Dress Collections over the course of five years. The dresses, which differ according to the designer’s interpretation of the theme of heart health, all share a similarity in the color red — the national color for raising awareness of heart disease.
In order to highlight the various emotional stages one goes through when battling cardiovascular disease, Adele Zhang, the museum curator, divided the exhibit into four categories: Awareness and Prevention, Celebration and Appreciation, Freedom and Signifier, and Inspiration and Encouragement.
In addition to the exhibit, the department will also put on its annual February runway show in Sacramento. The event, which is a collaboration between the design department, UCDWCMP and the chancellor, is set to coincide with National Heart Health month in February in order raise further awareness on the importance of heart health.
Susan Huey, a fourth-year design major, designed her dress, “Vesselation,” around the structure of the heart. Huey chose a solid woven fabric for the form of the dress in order to represent the center of the heart. Huey then layered the fabric with a geometric tulle pattern from the hips downwards in order to create a three-dimensional effect that mimics the veins flowing blood to the heart. Although she could have chosen any shade of red for her design, Huey chose a more vibrant shade in order to represent the power of the heart.
“I could’ve chosen a deeper burgundy or a pastel color, but I really thought about the heart being strong and bold, [and] that’s how I chose this red for the dress.”
Betty Chen, a fourth-year design major, and Heaji Richards, a fourth-year design major, worked collaboratively with Barbara Ross, a cardiovascular disease patient from UCDWCMP. Ross will model at this year’s show and also has her dress displayed at the exhibit.
“It’s rare that fashion designers can work with health care patients because… In the fashion industry, a lot of people [are able to get] couture if they have money to make the gowns,” Chen said. “But because of [this exhibit], normal people can have that special feeling of having a couture well-fitted dress too.”
After spending time with Ross, Chen and Richards designed the dress to be one shoulder and asymmetrical in order to clearly display Ross’ scar on the left side of her chest caused from the surgery to insert her heart pacemaker. The pacemaker, which is not functioning properly but is too dangerous for doctors to remove, represents Ross’ powerful journey and emotional surgery.
“She has a pacemaker. Unlike other patients, she wanted to really show that,” Richards said. “She wanted to show what she went through and that she feels strong and confident about that.”
The dress, which is made out of chiffon satin, is adorned at the top with beaded trim to mimic the blood veins. According to Chen, the chiffon, which starts off darker at the dress’ base and lightens through layers, is meant to represent the body’s healing process.
“I feel like a brighter red shows positivity and hope,” Chen said. “The brighter red is colored by the darker red. The positivity will overcome this and your blood will be healthy.”
Because of the ubiquitousness of clothing and its ties to identity, Zhang believes design is a powerful medium to help raise awareness.
“This collection serves the purpose that design is not just for beautiful appearance. Design is also for social issues and improving our life quality,” Zhang said. “The meaning of design can be broadened not only to make beautiful things, but also we can make meaningful things.”
Photo courtesy by Barbara Molloy