By Christine Sampson
About 20 Pierson High School students spent the last year transforming their school district into a fashion district of sorts, with a professional designer as a mentor and a fashion show complete with a runway to display their work.
Students in the Pierson High School Fashion Workshop say it served as a place for them to discover new talents and passions, express creative ideas and get hands-on in a fun after-school activity.
“Once I was in the workshop for a few weeks, I decided this is what I want to do in life,” said Gianna Ekstra, a Pierson freshman who spent the winter and summer of 2016 and this past winter in the fashion workshop. “It was challenging at first, and it definitely pushed me to try new things.”
Gianna designed three outfits that were modeled on the runway on Saturday at LongHouse Reserve. Two of her looks – a sleek black dress with an asymmetrical hem and purple fringe accents, which she wore herself, and a black leather jacket with a black tulle train, modeled by freshman Maylee Konak – were inspired by the witchy character Regina on the TV show “Once Upon a Time.” A third look, with bright swaths of color on top, a long green skirt and a crown of flowers, modeled by freshman Ava O’Shea, was inspired by the gardens at LongHouse Reserve itself. It was inspiration shared by several of Gianna’s peers in the fashion program.
Junior Catheliya Reed designed and wore a black dress covered with a layer of flowing white organza and a sprinkling of small, pastel flowers. Her inspiration was the rose garden at LongHouse, Jack Lenor Larsen’s preserve for art and landscaping design in East Hampton.
“Walking through the gardens, it was almost like a flower tunnel, which was really nice,” she said. “I wanted to do something almost like that.”
Others took inspiration from life experiences and real people.
Senior Carolyn Hallock’s bold combination of a short skirt and top in moody shades of blue was inspired by the band Halsey and was modeled by her sister, sophomore Emily Hallock.
Senior Ella Parker’s visit to Santa Fe inspired her to create and model a sassy tan jacket over an iridescent navy blue dress with warm, gold highlights and an asymmetrical hem. Junior Gabriella Knab’s love of Italy inspired designs fit for Roman goddesses – and shown off by two tiny models, 10-year-old Evelyn Carrillo and 8-year-old Tilly Frisbie.
Sophomore Ivy Basseches designed a classic sapphire-and-black dress inspired by the look made famous by Audrey Hepburn, modeled by eighth grader Valerie Duran. And senior Alex Kamper, the lone male student in the program, designed a sharp, dramatic take on a suit, part mesh with unexpected splashes of color, that was inspired by a real person in American industry who escaped the Japanese crime syndicate, arrived in the U.S. as a college student and has risen through the ranks in the world of business.
Sophomore Simone Kessler’s dressy take on modern active wear was inspired by designer Tommy Hilfiger and the late singer Aaliyah. She said the workshop was a phenomenal experience, and that combined with her art teachers at Pierson have inspired her to want to attend art school in addition to law school.
“I loved it so much,” Simone said. “The fact that as a school we got an actual fashion designer to work with us was so much fun. We did quick draws and learned a lot of different techniques.”
The atmosphere at Saturday’s show was an excited one. Guests admired additional student-designed fashions that were set up on mannequins throughout the room, accompanied by the sketches from which they originated. And as the models strode down the runway, camera after camera flashed to capture the students’ achievements.
The workshop was led by Pierson art teacher Elizabeth Marchisella and Monica Frisbie, the founder, designer and creative director of the Mondrina Handbags collection. It was funded by the Donald Reutershan Educational Trust in collaboration with LongHouse Reserve, with the help from Kathryn Reid of SewHampton and Bernarda Ochoa, a local seamstress.
The students said they spent countless hours sketching and stitching, learning valuable lessons as they began to understand how to transform their two-dimensional designs into actual fashions.
Ms. Frisbie said she enjoyed seeing the students’ personalities come through in their designs.
“Watching them progress, seeing how good they were doing and seeing them bloom into these little fashion gurus was amazing,” she said.
Peter Solow, a Pierson art teacher who coordinates the Reutershan Trust, thanked two late community figures for their legacy in making the fashion workshop and other similar opportunities: Hobie Betts, the trust’s founder, and Bob Schneider, a former Pierson principal and Reutershan trustee.
“I’m sure that both of them are looking down now with a big smile on their faces,” Mr. Solow said, “because the thing that unified them, Monica, Liz, and the rest of the people who work for the trust is the belief that the kids from our small school on the East End of Long Island can make magic. They can create beautiful, wonderful things and they can make the world a much better place.”