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Inspiration

Marist Designer Kristine Otero Wins with a Colorful Collection

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Marist College student fashion designer Kristine Otero, second from left, won the school's Senior Designer of the Year award for her vibrant collection.

Marist College senior Kristine Otero has won the school’s 2021 Senior Designer of the Year award to cap off Silver Needle Runway (SNR) 35, a fashion showcase created and produced by Marist’s fashion design program students.

A winning designer inspired by her roots

Kristine’s sunny designs, inspired by her home country of Puerto Rico, were judged the best by a panel of 10 fashion industry professionals, as part of the school’s annual fashion event.

She explains the significance of the award. “It means making my family and my people at home proud. It means representing Puerto Rico and our ancestors,” she says. “I couldn’t feel more honored to receive such an award for something so meaningful to me.”

Learning and competing

Kristine competed for the award with 17 fashion designer classmates following a disruptive school year of restrictions brought on by the pandemic. Despite those class interruptions and production delays, each senior student designer created a three-piece collection.

Respected industry leaders served as judges for the 35th SNR. They were: fashion designer and best-selling author Cynthia Rowley; House of Fluff founder Kym Canter; Anne Klein Senior Vice President and Creative Director Jeff Mahshie; artist and former fashion designer Gemma Kahng; fashion designer Peter Som; designer and fashion expert Ruthie Davis; Tomorrow Consulting President and Tomorrow Group Chief Development Officer Julie Gilhart; APOTTS unisex clothing brand founder Aaron Potts; founder of her namesake womenswear brand Marrisa Wilson; and Council of Fashion Designers of America Education and Engagement Programs Specialist Kevin Bass.

All the senior fashion design students’ collections were featured in the SNR 35 virtual fashion show and a livestreamed show from the school’s campus in Poughkeesie, New York.

Silver Needle Runway SNR35 along the Hudson River
The Silver Needle Runway (SNR) 35 fashion show was set up and livestreamed from the Marist College campus, along the east bank of the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York.

The students’ SNR production also included extensive online exposure, including interviews with the designers, a look book, social media announcements, a newsletter, and podcast.

Kristine took time at the close of her senior year to answer questions about the process of creating her winning collection, the challenges she worked through, and lessons she learned along the way.

Kristine Otero discusses her collection

Threads: How did you come up with a name for your collection, and how did you incorporate it into your designs?

Kristine Otero: The name for my collection was “Los Colores De Mi Tierra,” which means “The Colors Of My Home.” I got this name from a famous song by Alberto Carrión, a musical artist from home. I chose this name because the song mentions the beautiful colors of Puerto Rico, which formed a big part of my collection. We see a lot of those “happy colors” at home, and I wanted to make a collection that gives people joy when they see my pieces.

Designer Kristine Otero's winning yellow skirt ensemble
The yellow skirt in designer Kristine Otero’s collection is made from silk satin fabric. She says the garment is heavy because “I had to use large amounts of the fabric and cut really huge panels to form multiple layers for the gathered circle skirt.”

 

Threads: What part of your work are you most proud of?

Kristine: I put so much detail into my pieces that, a few years ago, I never thought myself capable of. I am proud of making pieces that are inspired by my culture, and although they are very meaningful and the history of colonization behind them is not so pretty, I chose to make my collection very colorful to show vibrancy and optimism of my home and my people.

Challenges and solutions

Threads: What did you find the most challenging about creating your collection?

Kristine: The most challenging part about creating my collection was implementing new techniques into my garments that I had never really done before. I had recently learned about painting and printing techniques in my Textile Design class, and I knew I wanted to use one of these techniques in my garments. It was a very time-consuming and challenging process to paint the four panels for my palazzo pants, but very much worth it in the end.

Also, I found it hard to make the ruffle details with the yellow fabric. Especially on such a heavy skirt, it was hard to keep the ruffles in place without having them slide off.

Kristine Otero design: Yellow ruffled top with painted palazzo pants
Kristine’s designs were made from all-natural fibers she sourced from Puerto Rico. The top’s white fabric, as well as the blue and yellow painted trousers, are a lightweight cotton. The yellow ruffle is a silk satin.

Threads: What were some of the sewing techniques you learned or incorporated into your garments?

Kristine: I practiced a couple of sewing techniques that I ended up using in my garments.

My yellow ruffle top was a very challenging piece to make because it took a lot of precision to sew such a big ruffle into a curved seam, and a lot of clipping into the seam to make it fall into place.

My long-sleeve top has cutouts on the elbows of the sleeves, and I was able to achieve a clean finish by making a facing and clipping the seams, as well. I then made cartridge pleats that circle around the cutouts, and these were sewn on by hand, I tacked them on around the edge as well as on the top edge of the ruffle for it not to fall over, because the fabric was quite heavy.

Kristine Otero design: Multilayered white miniskirt with coordinating appliqued white top with yellow ruffle-trimmed sleeve cutouts
Kristine sewed cartridge pleats by hand and did a lot of clipping to create a smooth seam finish on her design’s sleeve cutouts.

The big yellow skirt I made was probably the hardest garment I have sewn together; this fabric was quite heavy, and it took lots of it to gather the fabric. I learned to sew horsehair strips along the edges in the middle and bottom layers of the skirt to add even more movement to the garment. I sewed the strips on the skirt before turning the hem to the inside and topstitching the hem.

Yellow skirt design included horsehair strips
Horsehair strips sewn along the inside edges of the middle and bottom layers of the voluminous yellow silk satin skirt added body and movement.

 

For my appliqué pieces on the two tops, I traced the faces on a separate piece of fabric and then cut out the shapes from different fabrics and textures to form the faces.

Appliqued crop top coordinates with multilayered yellow silk satin skirt
Appliquéd textured fabrics created the face on this ensemble’s cropped top.

Takeaways from building a collection

Threads: What were the most important lessons you’ve learned in your senior year from this program?

Kristine: The most important lessons I learned this year:

Do not be afraid of trying out new techniques that may scare you at first. Practice really does help and trying out something new, like painting fabrics by hand, making your own print, or a new fabric manipulation you have never done before, might just end up being something you are really good at and will want to continue to do.

The importance of believing in yourself. It is easy to doubt yourself and your ability to do what you love when you are working under the stress of deadlines. However, it is really important to keep pushing yourself, to take breaks, and to remember all that you are capable of.

Stop comparing your progress to others. I find that a lot of people, no matter what major they study, can feel frustrated with themselves when they see others a few steps ahead. It is important to focus on your own progress and to keep reminding yourself that you will get things done. Be happy for others and their accomplishments, but don’t be hard on yourself for not being there yet.

Looking to the future

Threads: What are your plans after graduation?

Kristine: I am happy to be going home and seeing my family in Puerto Rico because it’s been months since I have seen them! I will continue my job search for assistant designer positions, while I continue working to create my own brand. The most important part of this brand, for me, is to make sure I give back to others. Building a collection or brand will take time, but I am very excited to go through this process.


Editor’s note: Threads was one of the event sponsors.

Photos: courtesy of Marist SNR 35.

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