Letters to Her Father

Using grief as inspiration, fashion alumna Noël Watt will showcase her collection at New York Fashion Week.

Noël Watt’s father, Bob, passed away from tongue and lung cancer over winter break her freshman year, and throughout college, she navigated through, negotiated with, and eventually, became inspired by the five stages of grief. These waves of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (DABDA) drove her artistry, says Watt, noting she wanted to bring a message of optimism to a sometimes-taboo topic.

“It’s OK to be sad and acknowledge death,” explains the 2019 fashion design alumna. “It made me stronger.”

In Watt’s “Leftovers” collection, she took the encouraging words family, friends and coworkers sent her dad as he underwent cancer treatment and transferred the email excerpts to the pants’ fabric with a heat press. “He could step into a room and make anyone laugh,” she recalls. For a puff jacket in the senior collection, Watt embroidered the acronym “DABDA”—for the five stages—on the front. And throughout her pieces, she uses the silhouette and texture of an egg to symbolize life and when her father couldn’t eat solid foods and required a feeding tube.

The South Jersey native describes seeing the looks go down the runway at the University’s annual Fashion Show in May as a “pinch-me moment.”

“All the hard work. All the sleepless nights,” she says. “This collection was all for my dad. He definitely would be proud.”

“Leftovers” also will be presented Sept. 7 at New York Fashion Week as part of the Designers’ Premier Show. Along with fellow Jefferson fashion design alumnus Tommy Heidebrecht, they will be the only two student collections featured in this program.

Now an associate fashion designer at Abercrombie & Fitch after a successful internship there last summer, Watt says she owes much to the University’s faculty. “They always pushed and supported me.”

Jefferson Fashion Design Professor Carly Kusy calls Watt one of the most widely creative students she has ever taught and says her approach to concept and design development melds cerebral and abstract.

“She used her personal experiences with grief to communicate a larger, more universal message that resonates with so many in a beautiful and positive way,” Kusy says. “In this collection, in particular, there’s thoughtful intention behind every detail, line and shape. The result is a forward-thinking, interactive collection full of symbolism, hope and playful details.”

Through “Leftovers,” Watt looks to provide new perspectives on family, life, grief and, especially, the potential of fashion design.

“It gives people the ability to create something that we don’t always have the words for,” she says. “I could tell my difficult situation simply through clothes, and every color, shape and print became the pages of my story.”

On this puff jacket in her collection, Noel Watt embroidered the acronym “DABDA” for the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.


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Mike Bederka

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