Discovering Identity Through Fashion At Queens College

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

Leather skirts, an Indian Kurta, a hijab and pink short-shorts all hit the runway Monday night at Queens College.

“Fashioning Our Identities” was the third annual inter-cultural fashion show put on by the Queens College Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding (CERRU). Seventeen models worked with six stylists and designers under the direction of Batya Septimus, the fellowship coordinator at CERRU, who conceived the idea of an inter-cultural fashion show as a senior at Queens College.

Meera Desai models her second look.

Meera Desai models her second look.

Among CERRU’s missions are fighting intolerance, overcoming stereotypes and encouraging dialogue between and among diverse groups. The organization accomplishes these goals in a variety of ways, from conflict negotiation to community service volunteer work to artistic and cultural events.

“Fashioning Our Identities” fits into the CERRU mission by highlighting the complexity of identity and how individuals negotiate their identities, according to Septimus.

“Usually at a fashion show, the model is a human hanger,” Septimus said. In this show, however, “the models were the focal point.”

Each model wore two outfits, or “looks.” The first looks illustrated assumptions made by others about the models in their daily lives. Debbie Okeke modeled a sundress and carried shopping bags to imitate the prima donna that others often assume her to be; Meera Desai wore a sari to reflect the Indian heritage that she is sometimes judged by.

The second looks, or “actual looks,” illustrated how the models define their own identities. This time, Desai wore a modern Indian print as well as a flower in her hair, to symbolize her environmentalism.

In putting on this fashion show, students were required to address the fundmanental question of who they are. For many, it was a complicated but liberating experience.

Michelle Jackson said that she grappled with “embracing [her] African roots without being stereotypical.”
Desai said, for a long time people having been “calling me cute, or little, and I’ve never gotten a chance to explore how that made me feel” until this fashion show.

Wendy Moscow, a Flushing resident who works on campus at Queens College, said she could relate to the message of the show.

“Sometimes people make assumptions about me that are not necessarily true,” she said. “There’s so much more to everyone than you might first assume… I really loved how we got to see outwardly the inward identities [of the models.]”

“Plus,” Moscow added, “they looked great. They all looked fabulous.”

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.