A Step in the Right Direction

1 Mar 2018
ByIngrid Sabogal, Fieldston Middle Technology and Ethics Coordinator

Sophomore Ella Dassin has had a keen interest in fashion, particularly streetwear, as long as she can remember. When she learned about the Stuart Weitzman Footwear Design Competition from her visual arts teacher, Nancy Fried, earlier this year, she was intrigued and decided to submit an entry. Although the entire 3-D art major class had to complete an assignment that involved making a shoe, however whimsical (see banner photo in today's issue of FieldNotes), Dassin was the only student from Fieldston who ultimately entered the competition.

Sponsored by the New-York Historical Society and open to all high school students in the tri-state area, the Weitzman contest invited participants to submit entries in one of two categories: Socially Conscious Fashion or Material Innovation. Dassin elected Material Innovation and was tasked with designing a shoe that significantly incorporates at least one unconventional material (echoing the theme of the annual Fieldston Fashion Show, which Fried initiated 15 years ago), considers functionality and aesthetic, and is inspired by the collections of the New-York Historical Society and/or Stuart Weitzman.

Dassin designed a stiletto sandal whose heel comprises three Crayola crayons that come together in a point (see photos below). The crayons are various shades of red and pink, colors that figure prominently in the Eloise picture book series by Kay Thompson, a favorite of Dassin's childhood and the focus of an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society last year.

The sole of the sandal consists of a thin layer of corrugated cardboard to which layer upon layer of melted wax crayons has been adhered. While working on her piece, Dassin experienced a minor setback. Competition rules forbade entries to have any logos or writing that refers to a brand, so she had to carefully black out all references to the "Crayola" name with a fine paintbrush. In the process, her shoe acquired a recurring oval design element that adds visual interest to the finished product.

Fried admires Dassin's tenacity with her shoe design. "Students sometimes get lazy after they finish a piece," she explained. "They feel satisfied and move on. This was not the case with Ella. She stepped back after she was done and asked, 'Does it work? Is the composition strong?' She also addressed issues of scale, going back and making the sole thicker. In doing so, her shoe became a very powerful piece."

That tenacity paid off, as Dassin was named one of five finalists in the Material Innovation category. On January 20, she presented her shoe design before the four other finalists, as well as New-York Historical Society curators, educators, and trustees and Stuart Weitzman himself. A self-described "shy person by nature," Dassin found the experience "nerve-wracking but really cool."

The grand-prize winner in each of the two shoe categories will be announced by the New-York Historical Society on April 17, at the opening reception for "Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes," to which all 10 student finalists in the competition have been invited. The exhibition will explore the story of the shoe from multiple perspectives, including consumption, collection, and production, with a focus on women's contributions as designers, makers, and entrepreneurs. The shoe designs of the 10 finalists will be featured as part of the exhibition.

The two grand-prize winners also will have their footwear produced by Stuart Weitzman, and each will receive a cash prize to be given to the charity of his or her choice. Should she win, Dassin has elected to donate the proceeds to Charley's Fund, a non-profit dedicated to the development of life-saving treatments in the fight against Duchenne muscular dystrophy.