Tonight, the Silliman common room is almost unrecognizable. The couches and chairs have been carted off and stored elsewhere; the rugs have been rolled up and removed. The only traces of the room’s previous incarnation are two old portraits on the back wall, from which prim dead white men stare sternly out at the proceedings. The severity of their gazes seems to indicate tacit disapproval.
Before the immobile eyes of the Silliman masters long gone, tech crew members in black shirts have assembled a large stereo system, arranged around 150 chairs in long rows and erected a long runway lit with bright stage lights.
Tonight, Yale will be treated to a fashion show. And it’s not just any fashion show. It’s a lingerie show. And I’ve got what every Beta brother would gladly sacrifice an entire keg of Natty Ice for: a backstage pass.
I arrive a few hours before the first show of the evening, just in time to watch the final preparations. In the dressing room (the fellows’ lounge), the atmosphere is chaotic. A large table in the center looks like a page from an “I Spy” book, its surface littered with hair pins, mascara, curlers, baby powder, lipstick, wet wipes, bottles of water and cotton balls. In this room, the sweatpants come off and the stilettos are strapped on.
They all seem surprisingly composed for women who are about to be seen in their bras and panties by hundreds of their friends and acquaintances. In fact, far from feeling anxious, several of the girls tell me they are looking forward to the show.
One model, Ting Ting Yan ’06, says she’s glad to have a chance to shed her academic persona.
“Usually I’m a nerd, studying all the time,” Yan admits. “I want to present a different side of myself.”
Their calm might be due to the weeks of preparation they’ve undertaken. After their initial selection (based on the recommendations of the discriminating members of the Saybrook 12-Pack, according to one of the organizers), the women were taught how to walk down a runway.
The staff grows more panicked as 8 p.m. approaches. Mona Elsayed ’08, who is the show’s producer as well as a model, is constantly running around, making sure every part of the show is in order. When she learns that two of the models are in the bathroom applying their own make-up, she is aghast.
“It’s not okay!” she exclaims, brushing aside an assistant’s reassurances. “They have to take it off.” She rushes off to the bathroom to stop the damage before it’s too late.
Designer Brynne Lieb ’07 is also fairly wound up as the final preparations commence. She flits between the dressing room and the common room, consulting with the sound crew, watching the models take their final practice runs on the runway and steaming the wrinkles out of the pieces of lingerie.
“I have no doubt that I’ll cry tonight,” she tells me as she tries to wolf down a few bites of clam chowder before the show. It is, after all, her night. She spent virtually every hour of spring break sewing these pieces, and now she anxiously awaits the public’s reception of her work.
When I walk out of the dressing room and into the common room, where last-minute preparations are nearing completion, I’m surprised at how indifferent the largely male crew seems to the fact that only a pair of wooden doors separates them from a room full of models in various stages of undress. Even when some of the models emerge from the dressing room to practice their steps on the stage, hardly a head turns.
“I’ve seen it all before,” Christos Mangos ’07, the show’s DJ, tells me nonchalantly.
When I return to Silliman for the first show of the evening, it is immediately apparent that not all the men of Yale share Mangos’ cool detachment. Although couture-lovers are usually predominantly female, the crowd for this show looks to be about 90 percent male.
Enthusiasm is high. Despite the ban on photography, several guys have snuck in their digital cameras. When the first model steps out onto the runway, several audience members are no longer able to restrain their excitement. There is yelling, there is whistling, there are shouts of “I love you!”
Even after the show ends, the male audience members seem a little shell-shocked.
“They were pretty hot,” Jonathan Koenig ’08 tells me breathlessly. “I’d hate to have to rank them.” He isn’t talking about the designs.
But the artistry of Lieb’s work isn’t entirely lost on Koenig. Although he and his friend Davis Lindsey ’08 didn’t come for the fashion, they didn’t leave untouched by the artistry of Lieb’s work.
“We’re pretty manly men,” Koenig confides, “but during the show Davis turns to me and says, ‘This designer is pretty good.'”