MassArt students get creative with Wearable Art 2012

Jessica Tenczar’s dress is made of birch bark.
Conor Doherty
Jessica Tenczar’s dress is made of birch bark.

It’s a chic initiative, to take design terms and apply them outside of the classroom. And students at MassArt took up the challenge, altering, embellishing, and designing pieces for Wearable Art 2012.

The stylish exhibit, now on display at Copley Place, features 36 garments, each crafted by fashion design students from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design undergraduate and fashion certificate programs. Dotted throughout the center court of the Copley mall are five platforms that showcase ensembles constructed with materials ranging from the traditionally luxurious (silk, chiffon, and lace) to quirky (tree bark and paper clips).

“We have the unconventional and incredibly interesting non-textiles, but we also have elegant eveningwear and bridal wear, beautiful tailored pieces and very fashionable ready-to-wear, too,” explained Jayne Avery, associate professor of fashion at MassArt and curator of the event. “It covers all the areas that the MassArt fashion design students study.”


Back at the mall, foot traffic slows and halts when shoppers come upon the exhibit. As a pair of women hovered at the non-textiles platform, scrutinizing Faith Garland’s gown made from Aquafina water bottles, one wondered aloud: “Can you imagine the time that went into this?”

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“People were stopping even as we were putting pieces on the platforms,” said Avery. “They were marveling over them.”

It takes about three weeks, Avery estimates, for a piece to go from conceptualization to completion. While students busily worked to meet design deadlines throughout the school year, Avery was carefully surveying their creations, searching for perfect craftsmanship and ingenuity.

“Each individual piece has to be amazing,” she says. “The quality and the scope of the pieces is equal to a professional exhibit, yet all this work was done by students. Some of the pieces look like they’re pulled right off the rack from Neiman Marcus. The construction has to be impeccable, because [the exhibit offers] an up-close-and-personal view of things.”

Though the display is representative of most every field of study at MassArt, it’s the non-textile platform that really stuns.


“Some of the non-textile pieces are actually elegant, beautiful pieces but made from ordinary products that you would normally discard,” said Avery.

For Jessica Tenczar, that meant tearing sheets of bark from dead birch trees to piece together a surprisingly graceful gown.

“It definitely was not easy,” said Tenczar, a junior at MassArt who hails from Lowell. “People were saying I was crazy because the material is so hard to work with. There were times when I took chunks out of my hand with a glue gun and I was like, ‘OK, is this going to happen?’ But it all came together from there.”

Tenczar spent two weeks in December harvesting frozen bark before beginning the 50-hour creative process that resulted in the much-buzzed-about garment.

“I’ve always loved white birch trees, and I knew it was going be my first big project so I wanted it to be more symbolic than just a tree dress,” explained Tenczar. “I wanted it to appear as if [the dress] was rooted into the ground and ever-growing, so that the wearer looks like she’s growing and changing, a reflection of what I want my career to be.”


For other student designers, inspiration came from a variety of places, from nature to cartoons. Amy Plante and Nyima Smith, who collaborated to create a featured menswear garment, were influenced by “the glistening effect of water rolling over black stones.”

Sarah Maloof, a senior majoring in fashion design, created “The DeVil,” a costume that channels Disney’s fashionable villain.

“I took something from a childhood show that’s kind of fun and scary and made it into a dress,” she said. “[When you see] the finished result, you’re happy to connect your inspiration with the actual piece that came out of it.”

Students who have garments on display have high hopes for what the exposure might yield.

“It’s nice to have hard work recognized,” says Tenczar. “To be featured and hope that people will recognize that dress and then recognize your name is very exciting.”

Maloof shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s an honor to be in the exhibit in Copley, in a more populated venue right in the middle of Boston,” she said. “It’s definitely a great place to get into and be shown, and for the students to get their names out there — I’m hoping to be recognized as a designer.”

Avery maintains that though fashion is integral to the exhibit, there’s an especially artistic flair.

“At MassArt, being an artist is an important part of being a fashion designer,” said Avery. “For students who are still in college to produce such an array of creations — from ready-to wear to red carpet couture to show-stopping and ingenious non-textiles — is extraordinary.”

Wearable Art 2012 is on display through Sept. 27, with a runway show featuring garments on Oct. 3 from 6-8 p.m.

Jessica Teich can be reached at