Students model for Congo at UNITY Fashion Show

    Silk boxers, feather earrings the size of a good-sized pancake, and gowns with cleavage that rivaled J.Lo’s infamous green dress were on display at the Louis Room of Norris on Sunday night — all modeled by Northwestern students.

    Since 2008, the UNITY Fashion Show has displayed the modeling skills of Northwestern students while also giving proceeds to a good cause. This year, UNITY picked up where it left off, putting on the biggest show in its four-year history.

    A total of 28 Northwestern students modeled in this year’s show, which benefited Falling Whistles, a charity which supports and rehabilitates children of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

    “Each year it’s been growing. We had to increase [seating] from 300 to 350 seats this year,” said Communication senior Kia Jones, who has worked for UNITY since her freshman year.

    Falling Whistles aims to help kids in the Congo support themselves so that they do not have to rely on the army for food and shelter. The kids supported by the army are sent to war front lines with only whistles used to notify soldiers of invading enemies, resulting in massive child casualties. The charity allocates money so that children do not have to rely on this dangerous tactic for survival. UNITY Co-President Weinberg senior Stephanie Leung expected to give around $3,000 to $3,500 to Falling Whistles this year from 100% of proceeds from ticket sales.

    The clothes and accessories displayed on the cat-walk were donated from designers and businesses throughout Chicago, including AKIRA, Urban Outfitters, Steve Madden, Francesca’s, LEADERS 1354, and designs from SNITCHES, a Chicago fashion design and photography group that was started at Northwestern in February 2010. The crowd yelled catcalls and cheers for modeling friends, and did not shy away from giving applause for impressive outfits.

    Besides displaying the latest fashion trends, the three-hour show featured a four-song set by YouTube discovery Kina Grannis, an acoustic guitar performance of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” by McCormick sophomore David Harris and Weinberg freshman Jen Lima, and a short film about Falling Whistles. Throughout the show, jams by artists from Kanye West to Lykke Li blared through speakers from DJ Midori. Free merchandise donated by Urban Outfitters and gift cards from Downtown Evanston were raffled off as well.

    UNITY, an organization of 13 student groups on campus aimed to promote cultural awareness and diversity at Northwestern — including Alianza and STITCH — held model auditions at the beginning of Winter Quarter. Originally, sixteen male and sixteen female models were chosen from over 80 hopefuls. Criteria for models, according to Leung, included “how well they walked, how confident they [were], personality, and ethnic diversity. People of all shapes and sizes. We wanted people who were willing to put themselves out there.”

    Jones, the Model Head, was one of the UNITY committee members in charge of preparing the models for their runway debuts, which included sets of two to three hour rehearsals, two days of fittings and a final dress rehearsal. Models also took part in five training sessions.

    “We just want to make sure everyone is comfortable on stage,” Jones said. “These training sessions allow everyone to meet each other and feel comfortable with each other because backstage you see everybody’s everything.”

    Backstage, UNITY’s Clothing Committee was helping models switch outfits.

    “We are just here to help and keep chaos to a minimum,” said sophomore Kirsten Kennedy, a member of the Clothing Committee. She and others were responsible for dressing the models, including teaching them how to dress in exotic clothes like the hijab and other ethnic garments for the show’s “cultural” themed segment, coordinated by the International Student Association.

    But a model’s time with his or her clothes for the show is short-lived. In fact, UNITY began using model contracts this year to ensure no article of clothing would be harmed during the show, since all clothing must be returned in perfect condition.

    “Models had to sign a contract saying ‘you’ve got to get invisible deodorant. Ladies, you need to make sure your foundation and makeup doesn’t get on the clothes,’” Jones said. “If you get anything on the clothes, you are responsible to pay.”

    Despite such concerns, models are still in it for the fun.

    “Modeling is this ridiculous thing. It should be fun, but it’s kind of silly at the same time,” Weinberg junior Sam Lozoff said. “I think there are two mentalities. There’s making sure that we are professional, but also having a good time.”

    For sophomore model Vickie Johnson, it’s all about the attitude. “You gotta get your inner Top Model going on!” she said with a laugh. ”As long as you pose and you’re fierce, you’re fine!”


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