Project Mozart

By Holly Stephens

Last February, the Boston Symphony Orchestra hosted Project Mozart, a fashion design competition
in which eleven young up-and-coming designers from local schools submitted a piece inspired by Mozart’s influential music of the eighteenth century. The eleven contestants competing in Project Mozart included Emily Hancock, April LeBlanc, Charles Neumann, Rheanna Oliver-Palanca, and Christian DiPietro, from with Lasell College; Christel Akouri, Ashley Marie Collett, Virginia Grassilli, Lowander Lee, and Paige Skinner, from with Massachusetts College of Art and Design; and Cam Yen Le, from Mount Ida College. Each designer was given $150 to produce his or her design, and two months to complete a garment.
On the big night of February 19, following the symphony, guests were escorted to a room featuring panels embellished with each designer’s inspiration and sketches, elegant food platters, and a carefully constructed raised runway. Judges positioned near the runway included Improper Bostonian’s Jonathan Soroff, Miss Massachusetts Alison Cronin, fashion designer Denise Hajjar, and Tonn, the executive director of Tonn Model Management.

As each model worked the runway, cameramen snapped photos and the audience roared with delight. After the garments were presented, the panel of judges took a few moments to gather their thoughts and announce the Patron Favorite. Lowander Lee, an alumna of Massachusetts School of Art and Design, was selected; she designed a cocktail dress adorned with purple, silver, and black metallic sheets of Mozart’s music. The runner-up awards were then announced, recognizing Paige Skinner for her beautiful cocktail dress with a fitted bodice beaded with Swarovski crystals and Charles Neumann for his a long blue taffeta gown complete with ornate jet-black beading and a exquisitely crafted wine-colored corset. At last, the winner of the Project Mozart competition was announced: it was once again Lowander Lee. Not only did Lee win Patron Favorite, but she was now able to walk away from the competition as the overall winner, awarded a $1000 check to Bloomingdale’s and a forthcoming feature article in Boston Common Magazine.

Lowander Lee responded to a few questions regarding Project Mozart:

How did you first become involved in the Project Mozart competition?

My friend, who is a graphic designer at BSO encouraged me to enter the competition. I was really excited to participate and thought it would be a great way to get my name out.

What was your inspiration surrounding Mozart’s music when designing your garment? Was there a particular piece by Mozart that moved you the most?

I know the event was surrounding the Mozart concert series, so I looked up the different pieces the BSO would be performing that night. Many of the symphonies were of Mozart’s earlier works and were rarely or never been publicly performed. The one I was most familiar with was Symphony No. 40. I listened to it over and over and found the very first theme very captivating and moving. It had lightness, speed, and intensity. I knew I wanted to make the dress out of paper and decided on creating “petals” to mimic feathers. I wanted to take a contemporary approach so I designed it in a cocktail dress length. Finally
I chose the purple color to represent the intensity that can be felt in throughout the piece.

How did you go about making each individual heart-shaped sheet of music that you adhered to the garment?

I first constructed a corset foundation with a skirt that is sewn along the empire seam out of fabric. Then I used 5 different size hearts and cut out at least 500 hearts. I stopped counting after the first 10 sheets I used. I used 50 sheets of paper which is the entire sheet music of Symphony No. 40 and it averaged about 8-12 hearts per sheet depending on the size of the hearts. The bust part of the dress is also from sheet music cut into little squares. I started from the bottom and glued layer by layer using the biggest size first with the smallest size ending at the top.

How long did it take you to finish the complete dress?

I worked on it over time for a month and a half but I tore apart the skirt section the night before the show because I was unhappy with the silhouette after gluing half the hearts on. The skirt body looked flat and not as trapeze as I had wanted. I re-cut a new skirt foundation and had to re-sew it onto the corset and cut out new hearts.

How did you go about choosing a model?

BSO actually sent us a list of models and their portfolios. In looking at the model’s portfolios, I know I wanted someone with curves since my dress was a trapeze a-line style. I felt my dress would look overpowering on someone that was too “skinny”. I chose Lindsay because she had an athletic healthy appeal.

What was it like when your model walked out with your garment on the big night of the show?

I was really nervous because by that time, it’s the third night she has worn it and I was afraid some of the hearts might fall off! I did feel a real sense of accomplishment when it was all done...

What was your initial reaction to winning the contest?

I was really, really excited and happy. I went to Mass Art’s continuing education program and never had the chance for a “runway” display of my design. I also felt a big sigh of relief that it was
all over.

Which of the other designer’s garments did you enjoy the most?

I really liked Paige Skinner’s short tulle corset dress. It looked so fun and pretty to wear. I also thought Christel Akouri looked really elegant and classy.

Is there anything you would have done differently looking back in retrospect?

I enjoyed every moment of it and I would have liked to have finished the garment sooner but I’m the type that gets my creative rush last minute.

What was the most valuable thing you learning out of participating and winning the Project Mozart contest?

That I am so grateful my family and friends are and will always
be there to support me with anything I chose to do.

What do you plan on purchasing with your $1,000 reward to Bloomingdales?

I am going to purchase an investment piece...a Chanel handbag!

Where do you see yourself in the future regarding fashion?

I would love to design my own line. Participating in Project Mozart gave me my creative passion back. Right now, I’m in merchandising. I’m going to try to start out small and start making designs for my friends to wear.

And just for good measure, who are your favorite fashion designers?

I love Luella Bartley, Valentino, Chanel, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Marchesa, and Oscar de la Renta. I can’t afford any of them though!


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