Exhibiting lives through the art of fashion design

Filomena Natale Gasparro went beyond the requirements of her MA program with her fashion thesis.

She asked 14 women to design dresses that showcase biographical writing — then she made an exhibit out of it.

Each unique dress on display represents a woman’s personal life story or experience.

The exhibit that emerged, Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story, is currently at the Design Exchange, a non-profit design museum in Toronto. Gasparro says landing her exhibit there allows her to experience the curatorial aspect of fashion for the first time.

One story from the exhibit's exclusive magazine. (Caroline Dinnall / Ryersonian Staff)

One story from the exhibit’s exclusive magazine. (Caroline Dinnall / Ryersonian Staff)

“I’m trying to tap into feelings and emotions, and I think that because clothing sits close to our skin unlike any other object, and that we are forced to wear clothes, it is the most obvious medium from which we can start to say this is what I’m feeling, this is what happened, this is who I am,” Gasparro said.

Karen Chowansky Natale, Gasparro’s cousin, was one of the women chosen to create a dress for the exhibit. She travelled from New Jersey to Toronto to tell her colourful Italy-inspired story on the exhibit’s opening night Feb. 10.

“Every day I would walk past the Piazza del Duomo,” she said. “The moment that I saw that part of Italy, I wanted to burn that moment and not only rely on film or camera. So I used these colours because I thought it kind of had to do with jewel tones and the flames and just that impact of the architecture and that creativity.”

Over the span of two weeks, Natale painted onto her dress the picture of the building imprinted in her mind. She embroidered words that came to mind while on her adventure and sewed on colourful leaves for detail.

One of 14 dresses on display at Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story. (Caroline Dinnall / Ryersonian Staff)

One of 14 dresses on display at Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story. (Caroline Dinnall / Ryersonian Staff)

“As I was doing it I actually sometimes got tears in my eyes thinking about my trip,” she said, “I would think about what I would embroider onto the dress (a word) and it would bring tears to my eyes — remembering how much fun and how peaceful it was in Italy.”

Gasparro graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from York University. Her passion for fashion and art started eight years ago after she had already shown her work in galleries in Toronto, New York City and Rouen, France. During this time in her career, she experimented by painting on women’s clothing as they wore them.

“I thought that it would be best for me to explore women’s stories because as a woman I can relate better, and perhaps better understand what is being shown and what is being expressed,” she said.

In the future, Gasparro hopes to include men and women from different cultures in the same exhibit.

Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story will be open to the public from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Design Exchange until March 6.

This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb. 25, 2015.



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