At the University of Chicago, fashion and intellect are considered mutually exclusive; it is assumed that having both–a sense of style and impressive brainpower–is impossible to achieve. Style and intellect form an antagonistic and almost paradoxical union, with each part needing equal attention to make the whole worthwhile. And here, at the University of Chicago, we know this to be scarily true. Typically, we find ourselves compromising the former of the two, rushing to class without taking a good look in the mirror after a short night’s sleep. Or filling our wardrobes with the one “safe” outfit in different colors and patterns as stylistic insurance. And if we were given the choice between keeping a sharp look or working to polish a 4.0 GPA, the decision wouldn’t be too difficult. Honestly, we’d wear anything to finish that reading and get to class on time. But Cindy Nguyen and Ariya Sasaki, organizers of this year’s MODA “Hyde and Chic” Fashion Show, explain that this paradoxical choice is not real; they contend that personal style never needs to be compromised for anything.
Fashion, as a manner of doing something, is a form of self-expression, Nguyen and Sasaki explain; superficially, it is what ultimately communicates elements of identity and personality. And “sociologically” speaking (Nguyen is a Sociology and Gender Studies double major), Nguyen describes fashion and clothing as functionalist symbols of human interaction. The relationship between clothing and our bodies is intimate in every way. We wear it, and are subsequently determined by it. How we present ourselves is how we are defined. And as such, it’s difficult to judge and describe the style of others without making it personal; to make a judgment about another’s fashion choices is insulting and incorrect. In fact, Nguyen and Sasaki are always careful about evaluating fashion that is not their own. They are correct in determining what they find fashionably pleasing or displeasing to themselves, but explain that they are hesitant to attack anyone else’s style. Because after all, fashion is personalized and the consequences of any judgment may be poorly received.
In following her own self-expressing philosophy of fashion, Sasaki made sure to only describe her own upcoming work at “Hyde and Chic” during an interview. Despite overseeing the production of three other MODA Design Boot Camp participants’ fashion lines, Sasaki was clear in preserving the integrity of other designers’ work by resisting premature criticism. Sasaki, debuting a bridal line of three looks, explained that her own personal style and fashion is closely informed by her own identity and experiences. The bridal dresses, inspired by Japanese junyi hitoe, or twelve-layered kimonos, are reminiscent of spring and what “makes people smile,” Sasaki describes. As she put it, “you never see a crying bride”; and setting the stage for a “happy atmosphere”–“a dream aspect”–was what she was going for. Sasaki possess an integrative approach to fashion, explaining “[fashion] is always on my radar. I’m always looking for new inspiration.”
“Hyde and Chic” is poised to showcase works of other designers who possess as keen a regard for fashion as Nguyen and Sasaki do. Designers and stylists, including Anna Fong, Artis JSN, staff from Akira, and participants in MODA’s Designer Boot Camp are pulling no punches for a dynamic evening of style and intellect. “Hyde and Chic” will be a display of both the physical and the cerebral; it will prove that we can have our cake and eat it too. Nguyen observes that a pervasive and “tightly circumscribed image of the University” dominates our campus culture. At a place “where fun comes to die” and where “the squirrels are hotter than the girls,” there is very little room for fashionable intellect; it appears to be limited to very few perspicacious individuals at the University of Chicago. “Hyde and Chic” hopes to augment this limiting perspective and “push the boundaries of what the UofC [represents],” as Nguyen explains. Because as both Nguyen and Sasaki clarify, “Hyde and Chic” doesn’t function to “define what Hyde Park fashion is. There’s a lot of diversity in how people choose to dress”; instead, it serves to reveal what is “Hyd[ing]” and what should be “chic[ed]” at the University of Chicago.
Hyde and Chic Fashion Show, Hutchinson Commons. March 7. Friday, 8 pm. Tickets $5, $10 VIP, on sale March 3-7, 12-3pm in Reynolds Club.