Milagros Diaz, a junior fashion design major, is sitting in the living room of her apartment on Euclid Avenue. She is gluing hard candies, such as peppermints, PEZ, and lollipops, onto a soft toy dog for her Introduction to Fibers class assignment.
“The assignment was to create something soft out of something hard and then create something hard out of something soft,” said Diaz.
British artist Robert Bradford, who is known for using unconventional objects, such as toy soldiers, to create canine sculptures, inspired her project. In addition to the candy-covered dog, Diaz is recreating a hard dog bowl by cutting and sewing fabric into the shape of a dog bowl, and then stuffing the inside with cotton.
The skills that Diaz is applying to the fibers assignment only showcases a small portion of the skill set that she has amassed throughout her life. Born and raised in the Bronx, NY, Diaz, 20, has been drawing and designing ever since she was a young child. She used to draw still life portraits of people and animals every day, learned how to sew by hand at seven, and got her first sewing machine at 10.
“I used to outline my mom’s drawings of horses and animals,” said Diaz. “I was just playing with the machine.”
During junior high school, Diaz and her friends decided it would be fun to make paper dolls and paper clothes for the dolls over the summer. But Diaz was the only one who returned to school with dolls and clothes.
“No one came back after the summer with dolls except for me,” said Diaz. “I had pajamas and dresses and I would just tape the clothes onto the dolls.”
However, it wasn’t until high school that Diaz went into fashion design (on a limb) and fell in love.
“All the signs were there but I just never put two and two together,” said Diaz.
Although she started designing because it was something fun to do with her friends, Diaz later realized that her designs had the power to dictate what people wore.
“I love being able to control what people wear,” said Diaz. “The fashion industry is so huge, we control everything. Without fashion, a lot of things wouldn’t be around.”
Diaz’s favorite part about designing is the drawing and sketching out of the designs. But while technology and digital media has found its way into every industry, including fashion, Diaz remains true to her childhood tactile design process by sketching her designs by hand.
“Designers design things in programs like Photoshop,” said Diaz. “But it just takes the fun out of designing and sketching.”
Diaz uses a lot of silk and charmeuse fabric to create flowy, yet body-conscious silhouettes, “so it shows the figure – not hug it.” She says her design aesthetic is “very girly.” Diaz’s designs include an off-white silk dress with seams and inverted pleats to pull in the fabric and create a feminine shape, and a black and paisley printed chiffon bubble dress for a fun and flouncy silhouette. Diaz’s designs have been modeled in several campus runway shows, including the annual Newhouse Fashion Show and Fashion’s Conscience Show.
“You just feel a sense of accomplishment when you see your work on stage,” said Diaz. “People ask me if I bought the clothes, instead of if I made them. That makes me so happy because it means I have amazing sewing skills and technique.”
Diaz has spent every summer as an intern to enhance her skill set, and by the time she starts her senior year, she will have completed eight internships. This summer she will be a design intern for designers Anna Sui and Narciso Rodriguez.
Diaz held two part-time internships while abroad in London last semester. Her roommate in London, Stephanie O’Brien, from Virginia Commonwealth University, called Diaz an “initiator” and said Diaz sought out internship opportunities on her own while abroad. Diaz interned with London-based label Neurotica, and designer Bryce d’Anice Aime.
“While she was in London, within the first few weeks of her arrival, she had already researched fashion designers showing at London Fashion Week and e-mailed various designers,” O’Brien said.
While Diaz has had several design internships with fashion houses, her internship with Anna Sui will be the most challenging yet. It requires Diaz to utilize her sewing skills and design techniques, as she will be in the sample room and assisting with creating the physical samples that will be worn by the models in runway shows.
“I’m really nervous about Anna Sui since I have a bigger responsibility being in the sample room,” said Diaz. “It will really put what I’ve learned all these years through a test.”