A curtain of blue and yellow fringe fluttered in the wind as Professor Mava (aka Manuel Vazquez, ’06) sauntered onto the stage as drag queen Missy Take. Wearing a sequined silver top, neon green leggings, stiletto heels, and a wild wig of black hair, he welcomed the crowd outside of the Washburn Arts Center on May 3 to “Holy Sew,” a fashion show featuring the work his students created this semester in Art 495.01, “Special Topics: Fashion Design.”

“I want this to be an opportunity to showcase that Gallaudet has potential in this field,” says Mava, a sculptor with a strong interest in fashion theory, history, and sustainability. It was his first time teaching a fashion course, and his 12 students had very little background in the topic. So he has been blown away by what they have accomplished over the course of the semester, which has been focused on 3D printing on fabrics.

Audience members and the three-judge panel of Tara Miles, Wade Green, and 2023 National American Miss Virginia Zoila Goya were treated to 48 different looks, including a tank top armored in bottle caps, a hoodie reimagined with oversized denim sleeves, and a slinky red dress paired with a “Star Wars”-esque hood and belt. They are the result of several assignments, such as “upscaling” three existing garments into a single new one and learning how to do a pattern cutting, which involves precisely measuring a design so it will work in 3D on a human body.

A yellow and blue curtain blows in the background as a man in drag walks on a stage in front of a crowd.
Professor Mava wears drag to host the “Holy Sew” fashion show on May 3 that featured student designs created using 3D printing techniques. At top, the students pose with the judges after the show.

“We forget that clothing is basically sculpture,” Mava notes. He operates the high-tech makerspace, “Tinkerlab”, which is supported by the Art and Media Design program, the Center for Science and Technology Research, and the NASA Space Grant. Many people think of 3D printers as exclusively making objects, but they are also able to print on fabric. “So you can wear the clothes that they print,” Mava explains.

A highlight earlier in the semester was a visit from guest presenter Justin Dougan-LeBlanc, an accomplished and renowned deaf fashion designer, who was a finalist on “Project Runway” and currently serves as an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. “He is one of the first fashion designers who did 3D printing back in 2017,” Mava says. And he has been involved in many fascinating projects, including creating the clothes for the popular act, Deafies in Drag.

Dougan-LeBlanc shared his remarkable journey, including his work with Alexander McQueen and Nick Cave, and demonstrated some of his 3D printing techniques for students, who were thrilled to have one-on-one time with him. “He was amazed to see how quickly our students picked up the field,” says Mava, who hopes several of them will continue on in fashion design.

“I see their skill, and I see their passion. I feel like a light bulb went off for them,” Mava says. That is why he was excited to pull together their work in a way that would bring attention to their accomplishments. There have been student fashion shows at Gallaudet before, he notes, but never one that was part of the academic experience. To prepare for the show, they worked together to figure out how to promote it and who to put on the guest list. “We discussed influencers — lots of deaf folks are movers and shakers in fashion,” he says. They also helped figure out the DJ, lighting, staging, and other logistical elements.

“I want to make sure students learn how to build their brand and promote their careers as artists and designers,” Mava says. “It’s nice to have a deaf ecosystem where students can present their work. I think the audience will be potential clients for these students.”

Congratulations to Vernicole Agustin, who won first place in the competition. Jihad Johnson came in second, and Lou Cherena Santiago finished third.

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