Certain Yale extracurricular organizations are so established they don’t need a booth at the Activities Bazaar. Want to sing? Go rush a cappella. Want to put on a play? You’ve got the Dramat. Want to debate world issues? Join the Yale Political Union. But if your extracurricular tendencies veer more towards showing off design sketches, putting on fashion shows or even learning how to sew on buttons, the right organization may be a little less clear.
Enter YCouture, a year-old addition to Yale’s extracurricular scene aiming to fill the fashion void that has plagued the campus for the past 300 years. With some lofty goals and an already dedicated core group of members, the organization hopes that soon, if the question is “Fashion at Yale?” the answer is “YCouture.”
Uyen Le ’06 founded the organization in November 2004 after spending her first couple years at Yale struggling to get support for her independent fashion shows.
“I had always been interested in fashion and design and I’d never really seen any sort of outlet here at Yale,” she said. “It seemed to me that people here were quite fashion conscious, but there was nothing really out in the open.”
YCouture established its presence in a fashion show that became the finale of the January 2005 Winter Arts Festival. The show featured work by six Yale designers who each contributed three or four pieces. For many, including Brynne Lieb ’07, it was their first opportunity to show their work and actively pursue fashion.
“I hadn’t met anybody at Yale who was interested in fashion until I came to the first meeting of YCouture,” said Leib, who is now the group’s director of design. “It was really remarkable to go to that meeting and see all these people who I somehow managed not to meet over the past two years.”
The group cemented its reputation last April when Lieb decided to put on a solo show of the lingerie pieces she devoted her spring break to making. The show, which was held in the Silliman Common Room, received a “tremendous” response, said Mona Elsayed ’08, the show’s director of production. Even with two showings and a room capacity of 150, Lieb and Elsayed said they had to turn away over 300 people.
Using last year’s momentum, the leaders of YCouture are now building a comprehensive network of fashion opportunities at Yale. This year, the organization has an e-mail list of over 150 people and a series of departments that aim to bring fashion to Yale in a variety of ways, Elsayed said. Along with workshops for designers, photographers, fashion show producers, and style writers, YCouture has a group working on bringing professionals in the fashion industry to master’s teas and other events on campus. Last week, they held their first event, a Berkeley Master’s Tea with noted designer Anna Sui.
YCouture will also be holding several fashion shows over the course of the year. Lieb will be following up her remarkably successful debut with another lingerie show next February during this year’s Sex Week, a week-long discussion of love and sex. The show, financed completely by the Sex Week sponsors, will be a much larger undertaking than Lieb’s first show last April. This time, Lieb will trade a bare-bones budget for generous funding, the Silliman Common Room for Commons, and an all-female show for a co-ed extravaganza.
“Every activity we do is top of the line,” Lieb said.
Perhaps indicative of its future success, YCouture also has a spinoff project, a new magazine called stYle. The semiannual publication, scheduled to debut Nov. 28, will feature typical fashion components like photo spreads and style tips, along with more serious articles attempting to legitimize and intellectualize style and design.
“It has a distinctly Yale feel, but it also definitely relates fashion to larger issues in the rest of the world,” stYle editor-in-chief Orly Friedman ’07 said.
Even in its youth, the leaders of YCouture think that their organization has a distinct advantage over Yale’s other extracurricular offerings. Elsayed said because of fashion’s ubiquity, YCouture has a more universal appeal than other groups.
Lieb has an even more specific vision for the organization.
“I hope YCouture is something that freshman have heard of before they come here,” she said. “I want them to say, ‘I can’t wait until I can come to Yale and join YCouture.'”