Group photo of PA Ballet dancers wearing student designed costumes

Jefferson Fashion Design Students Collaborate with the Pennsylvania Ballet

Six Jefferson Fashion Design students collaborated with members of the Pennsylvania Ballet to create costumes for performances of “Celtic Fire”. In two separate events, one hosted by the PA Ballet and the other by the Barnes Foundation, professional dancers donned festive costumes designed and constructed by these students. At both events, crowds were mesmerized by the dramatic movements of not only the dancers, but also the beautiful costumes.

For fashion design students Robin Skodi, Jillian Smith, Morgan Fitzpatrick, Brooke Kaplan, Katelyn Adamson, and Tatiana Smith, preparations for this design collaboration began in the previous spring semester, when they visited the Academy of Music to learn more about the ballet and the differences between traditional versus modern ballet costuming. For this project, they focused on more modern costumes, which utilize interesting shapes and vibrant color unlike the more traditional neutral toned tutus that are synonymous with ballet dancing. Students also visited the “Celtic Fire” dancers during rehearsal, taking note of the types of moves their dancers performed and gathering initial measurements. Through multiple fittings with the dancers, student designers perfected the overall fit of the garment and made changes according to the needs that arose. This project also challenged students to communicate with one another in some instances, making sure dancers that had duets or featured dances had costumes that coordinated well with their partner or other dancers on stage.

Female dancers from the PA Ballet in Jefferson fashion design costumes

On Thursday, September 26th, PA Ballet dancers showcased their talent as well as Jefferson fashion design student talent at the Performance Garage. Male and female dancers alike were dressed head to toe in embellished leotards, chiffon ruffles, cascading draping, and exciting trims such as beading and fringe, accenting their dynamic movements. Following the performance, a panel of six judges interviewed the students about their designs and gave some compliments and critiques. Judges included PA Ballet Artistic Director Angel Corella; Philadelphia Trunk Show Founder Colleen Wyse; Philadelphia Fashion Incubator executive director Elissa Bloom; Barnes Foundation curator of public programs Kathleen Greene; PA Ballet Director Eddy Tovar; and Jefferson’s own Program Director of fashion design Sheila Connelly.

During the judging portion of the night, students were given the opportunity to explain and defend their design decisions, as well as speak about what it was like to design for a specific customer, in this case a professional dancer. Students talked about the importance of communicating with their dancer to make sure costumes were both comfortable and functional, in some cases changing their original designs to incorporate feedback from the dancers based on concerns about flexibility and safety. In addition to ensuring the garments’ functionality, designers also had to consider how their designs would look at all angles while twirling and jumping through the air. For many students, this performance was the first time they saw these designs in motion. “Everything was so beautiful on stage; it was completely different than just seeing my design on a form or on them in the studio. It changed everything!” said senior fashion design student Robin Skodi. First and second place awards were decided by the panel of judges, with the audience choosing a 3rd award- “Peoples’ Choice”. Robin Skodi won both the 1st place and People’s Choice awards for her looks worn by two male dancers. Both looks featured dramatic hand-dyed and painted chiffon pieces with intricate fabric manipulations and just a touch of shine. Jillian Smith, another senior design student, received 2nd place for her gorgeous dress with hand-draped details on the bodice and a multi-tonal layered skirt. Jillian appreciated how this project took her out of her normal design comfort zone. Usually someone who likes a more structured, classic silhouette, she said, “the process of making something that was very soft and had a lot of movement to it, that was very helpful to me.” Katelyn Adamson even remarked during judging that this project helped her realize her dream of becoming a costume designer.

Senior designer Jillian Smith’s design dazzled during a solo performance. Jillian’s multi-color layered skirt was on full display as the dancer gracefully twirled.
Two male dancers showcase senior Robin Skodi’s winning designs at the Barnes Foundation. Robin was awarded both 1st prize and “People’s Choice” for these two looks.

On Sunday, October 6th, the PA Ballet brought two fifteen-minute performances of “Celtic Fire” to an outdoor terrace at the Barnes Foundation in Center City Philadelphia as part of “Free First Sunday Family Day”. Here, students’ costumes again twirled and leaped through the air while a crowd of students, families, and children watched in awe. Following the performance, attendees were invited downstairs to the auditorium for a panel discussion on costuming. Leading the panel was Holly Hynes, award-winning costume designer and former costume director for the New York City Ballet. Other panelists included Angel Corella, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator; and our own director of fashion design, Sheila Connelly. Panelists discussed the process behind designing industry level costuming, from first understanding the artistic direction laid out by the program director, to explaining the thought process behind certain fabrics and how the garments need to be constructed for optimum functionality. Overall, Jefferson fashion design was thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Pennsylvania ballet. We would like to congratulate all of the students and dancers involved, and are already looking forward to our next collaboration with the dancers of the PA Ballet!


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