What are you wearing right now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown people’s lives into disarray.  From China to Europe to the Western Hemisphere, virtually no one will be unaffected by the pandemic in some way.  I sit down to write this questionnaire on a gloomy Friday afternoon in Chicago on March 20, 2020. 

As of today, the California and New York governors have instructed residents to avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary.  I took a long walk along the lakefront this morning anticipating a similar directive for Illinoisans. 

UPDATE (3/30/2020): Much has changed in the 10 days since I wrote the preceding sentences.  Illinoisans have been instructed to stay indoors.  Thankfully, I can still gaze out at the lake from the rooftop of my apartment building.   

A recent story in The New York Times (3/17/20) put fashion critic Vanessa Friedman into conversation with retail reporter Sapna Maheshwari about what they were each wearing now that they’re working from home.  The conversation made me wonder what one fashion professor, Stephanie Carlo, is wearing now that classes have moved online.  How is she teaching her classes?  What does she do to stay sane?

 

Who is Stephanie Carlo? 

In her own words: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean. I have a BFA in Fashion Design from the School of Fine Arts and Design of Puerto Rico and an MFA in Fashion Design from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Through the years I learned that in order to survive in this industry, you have to be capable of learning how to do *everything. That’s why I am a fashion designer, graphic designer, textile designer, product developer, fashion illustrator, printmaker, professor and artist.  www.stephaniecarlo.com

 NB: The following has been lightly edited. 

 

  1. What is your official title at Stephens?

    SC: Assistant Professor and Chair of the Fashion Program

     

  2. How long have you been teaching fashion and art classes?

SC: Art classes 13 years and fashion 6 years
 

  1. What are you teaching this semester?

          SC: Denim and Weekend Wear, Draping Fundamentals, and Advanced Fashion Illustration
 

  1. How do you teach a hands-on class such as Draping online? 

SC: I have been creating content and demo videos, I haven’t started teaching the classes officially until next week (3/30/2020). I’m teaching finishing techniques for swimwear on a domestic machine, the idea is to show them the possibilities with the resources and tools they have in their homes.

LH-A: I love that you’re teaching students about how to use what they have on hand.  It’s a great lesson in making do and presents a good opportunity to be creative and resourceful.  (NB:Check back for a video from Professor Carlo soon!)
 

  1. Since construction and technique are important to the Stephens Fashion Program, how will you review students’ work?

SC: I will have to lower my expectations since the only way I would be able to see the samples will be through photos and videos. There are some specific things I will be looking at: finishings, being able to see that the fabric stretches without ripping and if the garment piece is wearable.
 

  1. Now that you’re teaching online from home, are you making any changes to the background before you turn the camera on?

SC: Yes! Students can be easily distracted by what you have in the background, I’m keeping it simple but stylish. For the demo videos I’m trying to use close-ups to focus on the technique, but when I have the zoom sessions with them I place myself with a nice background (art and plants).
 

  1. What are you wearing to teach online and is it any different from what you would wear to campus? 

SC: I am dressing like any other work day, I wake up and do my daily routine as usual. I do my makeup and dress up. I know they are not able to see my whole outfit but it influences my mood. I say to myself: You are a fashion designer and fashion educator, you better work it!

LH-A: I agree with this attitude!  It’s important to try to maintain some degree of normalcy when so much is uncertain.
 

  1. What are you wearing these days when you’re hanging out at home?

SC: Comfortable clothes but I pay attention to what I wear daily, these days the conversations with friends, family and colleagues are done more often from FaceTime. I want to make sure my face is ready for whoever calls me (how vain right?)

LH-A: It’s not vain at all!  Grooming for yourself and for the pleasure of others happens throughout the animal kingdom so why not us too?  I’ve been getting cleaned up and dressed every day too.  Last week I prepared my wardrobe for the week, which included ironing clothes, etc.  I’ve also been handwashing winter clothes and preparing to put those into vacuum-packed storage bags.  Soon it’ll be time to pull out clothes for warmer weather.  There’s still the rooftop after all!

 Stephanie Carlo at home
Stephanie Carlo at home
 

  1. Now that most of us are spending more time at home than we’re accustomed to doing, I’m wondering if you have any creative projects underway or in the works that you’re excited about?

SC: I am working a lot on my illustrations but I am also working on personal projects related to what I’m teaching in class. For example, I’m making my own swimsuit while teaching them. I am also working on my research project of the revolutionary women of Puerto Rico, my goal is to be able to publish by the end of the year. (Let’s see how that goes).

LH-A: Wow!  You’re an inspiration.  Can’t wait to learn more about your Puerto Rican revolutionary women project as it unfolds.

Of course, I’m busy with my book and other academic writing projects but I make time to work with my hands.  I recently made a rug out of old tights and am re-visiting a project I began 16(!) years ago; a quilt of fruits and vegetables as Medieval icons. 

I also love cooking so my kitchen is in constant use.  This past Saturday I spent the better part of the morning preparing a North African/Middle Eastern- inspired lunner of sautéed greens, a potato/tomato/chick pea dish, misr wot, and an onion, rosemary, cumin flatbread.  Dessert was a rosemary tea cake.  I want to compile my recipes with hand drawn illustrations that might find their way to The Culture Hustler.

 

A recent meal
A recent meal of misr wot, potatoes/tomatoes/chickpeas, sautéed spinach, and flatbread.

 

  1. What’s the last movie you watched?

SC: An awful movie! I couldn’t even finish it! It was called The Platform.  This jail-like place where, depending on the floor you’re at, that’s the amount of food you get to eat. The smaller the number the bigger the feast, the bigger the number you only get what the other floors left. Every prisoner can bring one thing, anything of their choice. A woman decided to bring her dog with her and that’s when I stopped watching the movie.

LH-A: I can only imagine the direction the movie was going to take between food scarcity and a dog . . .  I haven't watched any movies lately.  Mostly reading (Hilary Mantel's latest) and working my way through the German series set in Weimar Berlin: Babylon Berlin.  If you can tolerate the dubbing, it's a fantastic show.
 

  1. What’s your favorite creativity playlist right now?

SC: I made my own, you can find it on Spotify, it’s called Sweet and Low. It’s mostly latinamerican Indie pop artists.  I’m also digging a lot J Balvin and Bad Bunny (Both have new album releases) both latin trap artists… WEIRD RIGHT!? I love them!

LH-A: Thanks for the tips!  I’m out of touch with current music so I look forward to checking out your recommendations.  I listen to plenty of old jazz tunes, some Philip Glass.  I recently started reading Prince’s memoir, The Beautiful Ones, so I’m on a serious Prince kick (not that I’ve ever not been).
 

  1. What are you doing to stay at peace and remain inspired?

SC: One hour walks every morning before breakfast, eating healthier and cooking every day.

I also closed some of my social media pages, I kept Instagram because I follow a lot of artists and social justice pages and I kept Tik Tok because my niece uploads lots of videos and I have to support her (I also like watching animal videos there, dogs are funny).

Some recommendations to follow:
WorkingClassTeacher
Naziejoon
Decolonize This Place
Unapologeticfeminist
Shagey_
Colossal
TheGreatWomenArtists

LH-A: You’re so lucky to be able to take walks!  My neighborhood in Chicago is one of the city’s most densely populated.  Even though people are staying indoors someone is always walking the dog, picking up groceries, etc., so it can be difficult to maintain a safe distance.  I meditate daily and have been doing yoga, tap dancing (in socks only and with the downstairs neighbor’s blessing), and running up and down the stairs of the apartment building. 

I’m not active on social media so I wrote a letter to a friend in San Francisco the other day.  Anyone who wants an art letter, please reach out!
 

  1. Do you predict any fashion trends emerging as a result of the pandemic?

SC: The death of capitalism, consumerism and fast fashion.

LH-A: We can only hope.
 

  1.  Fashion production and purchasing are likely to decline like so many other industries.  Do you see this decline as having any long term effects on the fashion industry as a whole?  I’m thinking here of the movement already under way to be more socially responsible in the fashion industry.  Maybe resource scarcity will encourage people to re-think their relationship to fashion . . .

SC: Oh yes! and I hope it does so that corporations have no other choice but to change their ways. People will get more into the DIY projects, and I believe it will change not only for the fashion industry but the whole lifestyle industry. We cannot keep on living the way we are. People need to learn how to cook, how to sew, how to survive. Home economics will be one of the most important classes to be taught.

LH-A: That’s an interesting observation.  Home food preparation and sewing are associated with traditional gendered expectations for women, right?  Women cook and sew while men are the most acclaimed chefs and fashion designers.  Such skills, when done in the home, often go unpaid and tend to be undervalued.  It’ll be interesting to see if you’re right about people empowering themselves and exploring doing those things for themselves. 
 

  1. How has COVID-19 affected the Fashion Program at Stephens (programming, classes, etc.)?

SC: Greatly, it has been very disruptive. None of us were ready for this and we all had to change everything in a weekend. Now is the time to be innovative and creative, this should lead us to the future of the programs and the college. It wasn’t good for the students or for us but we needed this shake to understand that things can change this quick and we need to be able to adapt.

LH-A: I love your attitude!  Can’t wait to see the exciting changes you’ll lead us towards as the Chair of the Fashion Program.

 

  1. With the cancellation of the Stephens College Annual Fashion Show, does the Fashion Program have any plans to offer some other means for showcasing student work?

SC: We are currently working on it, we have some ideas flowing but nothing established yet. I have high hopes that we will be able to do something amazing for them.

LH-A: Me too.  We have a lovely community of students.  It’s disappointing to have to cancel the show but as you mentioned previously, perhaps this is an opportunity to be nimble and change with the times.

Thank you for your time and stay safe!

 

 

 

 

About me

I’m Assistant Professor and museum Curator at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.  In January I temporarily re-located to Chicago for the spring semester where I am a Visiting Scholar in the Museum and Exhibition Studies Program at University of Illinois-Chicago.  I am currently writing the book The Missing Body from the Carmen Miranda Museum, which revisits my field research in Brazil, reflects on my own Latinx identity, and addresses the implications of communication via the body, dress, and performance. 

 

Check back soon for more on culture, fashion, and museums.

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