Look But Don’t Touch! Langara Students Create Gowns Made of Paper

Couture designs crafted from an unlikely material.

Couture designs crafted from an unlikely material.

Let it be known: I can barely sew a button back onto a shirt. I probably only passed my textiles class in high school because I knew the teacher growing up (nepotism at its finest, folks). And I still get my mom to hem my clothes when I visit the Okanagan. That’s why Langara’s Paper Couture Exhibition at Oakridge Centre is all the more impressive to me. 

This is the sixth time that Oakridge will showcase gowns—24 are on display this year—that are made from paper, tape, glue, twine and other raw materials. The gowns are created by students who are enrolled in Langara’s two-year Design Formation Program, and each one is inspired by pieces from designers such as Chanel, Elie Saab and Versace. Students had just four weeks to finalize and create their designs, although most spent extra hours during spring break working on their projects.

Original design by Alexander McQueen. Recreated by Emma Craig.

“The challenge was the texture,” said Juliana Shih, one of the students in the program whose main interest is in graphic design. She was inspired by a Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel gown. “The human body has curves, so that’s a difficult thing to work with paper because it doesn’t turn smoothly like fabric does.”

And working with paper comes with other challenges. She had to re-do the bottom of the dress due to water damage, and some of the dress’ pleating disappeared with transportation. Altogether, Shih thinks she spent around 50 to 60 hours putting the dress together.

Another student, Cassidy Gee, struggled to decide which dress to re-create. After considering her own Canadian-Chinese heritage, she ended up mimicking a 2015 Zhang Zhifeng for Ne Tiger dress, which she felt reflected both her cultures. And although she plans to steer clear of fashion in her career and focus on landscape architecture, she really enjoyed the process of making the paper gown.

“I know I can do this now, and I learned so much about myself. So seeing it done is just kind of a symbol of how much I’ve learned within a month and a half,” she said. 

Original design by Versace. Recreated by Carolina Rocha.

Instructor Kevin Smith also talked about how exciting it is to see the students go through the process. It’s Smith’s twelfth year as an instructor in the Design Formation Program, and he says that building the dresses is a practice in problem solving, creativity, and patience: “It fosters a willingness to try new things.”

Cassidy Gee with her Zhang Zhifeng for Ne Tiger paper dress (left), Kevin Smith, Langara instructor (middle), and Juliana Shih with her Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel paper gown.

“One student asked to use rhinestones to put in the centre of flowers on the dress. Someone had broken into a car in my parkade, so I scooped up all the glass from it, and that’s what she used,” he said. 

“It just gets better and better every year, and this year just blew me away,” he said. “This is their journey. It’s for them.”

Check out Paper Couture at Oakridge Centre until May 20. Vote for your favourite design for the chance to win $500 at oakridgecentre.com; the student with the winning design will also win a $500 bursary.