Newman’s New Wave

Senior Pursues Fashion Design

Newman+poses+in+dress+that+she+designed+and+created.+Photo+courtesy+of+Emma+Newman.

Emma Newman

Newman poses in dress that she designed and created. Photo courtesy of Emma Newman.

By Harry Lowitz, Francis W. Parker School

“I think things that make sense are not interesting,” senior Emma Newman said. “So why discuss them?”

If you ever walk by art room 121 and you hear the beat of a sewing machine, the scrape of a pencil in a sketchbook, or Bob Marley blaring, the person working in there is likely Newman. She may be creating a dress with massive shoulder puffs with a layer of black feathers, or with sleeves connected to the dress at the bottom.

A graduate of a three-week summer program at the Parsons School of Design, Newman is an aspiring, and in many ways already practicing, fashion designer. She has a website at the address byemmaaudrey.com where she uploads photos of her designs, and people can purchase some of her pieces or make custom orders.

Her first official fashion collection is titled “La Femme,” a phrase Newman came up with while searching for “a timeless expression of identity” that also fit with her focus on dress-making.

As a young kid, Newman and her nanny would make clothes for her Barbie dolls. Newman described her nanny as an “elderly Polish witch in the best way.”

In Elementary and Middle School, Newman participated in plenty of artistic activities like theater and singing. However, at some point she became concerned with fitting in socially and lost touch with her creativity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when Newman was ending her freshman year stuck at home, she found herself drawing and her “love for art” was rekindled. “I think for a while I just forgot that my life was most enjoyable when I was doing things that I loved and not things that made me look good,” Newman said. 

She soon began exploring fashion design. “Fashion is the most supreme form of art, because you live in it,” she said. Newman started with recycling old clothes into something new by hand sewing. This process is known as upcycling. 

Eventually she was motivated to look for help. She reached out to her old nanny who connected her to her best friend who sewed and owned an atelier (private professional studio) in Lakeview. The nanny’s friend began teaching Newman to sew and let Newman help with her projects.

At the end of sophomore year and throughout her junior year, Newman took classes in sewing and construction at The School of the Art Institute every Sunday for three hours.

According to Newman, her work was not good as she was getting started, and she thinks it was not perceived as well as her current work. However, after some practice and an increased sense of comfort with her ideas and materials, she feels more confident about her designs.

Each piece of clothing that Newman makes has a story. For example, her “Black Swan Dress” is based on the movie Black Swan and focused on the strong emotions of the film. 

Another is her dress “018” which she initially made for a friend’s birthday. Her friend had sent her inspiration pictures of glittery ball gowns, and Newman was set on huge poofy sleeves. She described the process of starting her design and changing directions after putting together her “practice piece.”

Newman has even done some studio shoots of her pieces in the photo room with the help of Cross Divisional art teacher Katherine Palmer.

This semester, Newman has been in Cross Divisional art teacher Kay Silva’s fashion class. Silva had Newman in her class last year and already knew her to be a talented artist having completed several large paintings. Despite already knowing her as an artist, Silva did not know about Newman’s interest and experience in fashion until she entered the fashion class.

Silva said that she has been treating Newman as if she is doing an independent study, allowing her to work at her own level and ask for help as needed. Silva studied and worked in costume design.

“She’s very driven,” Silva said, while also adding that she is humble and non egotistical about her work. “She just lets it speak for itself.”

Since she started upcycling clothing, Newman has shared her work with friends. Now, if you look at Emma’s fashion Instagram page or her website, you would see pictures populated by Newman’s friends wearing her designs.

Sophomore Jane Lennon became friends with Newman through mutual friends. Lennon recalled seeing Newman working on various fashion projects and being fascinated by her work. “I was just like, ‘wow, the fact that your mind can do that is really impressive,’” she said.

Lennon and Newman began collaborating when Lennon asked Newman to teach her how to sew. Lennon also started modeling for her after one occasion when Newman was wearing a pajama set she had upcycled and spontaneously told Lennon to try it on so she could take photos.

“It’s like the light pink girly chic vibes mixed with the messy not trying too hard,” Lennon said, attempting to describe Newman’s style, “I love it.”

Lennon sees Newman working in fashion despite the competitive nature of the industry. “She’s just so driven,” she said. “She just loves what she does. I just have so much faith that she will become a famous fashion designer.”

Newman plans to study fashion design at college. She described the admissions process for fashion school as “grueling.” Newman had a lot of work already in her portfolio but said that some friends of hers had nothing and got very little sleep trying to get their work done. “That’s fashion,” she said.

According to Silva, not many students from Parker choose to go to art school, so she and the other art teachers, who are all graduates of art schools, try to support the few students that do. Newman’s portfolio for applying to art schools was already underway before the year began but Silva was able to make some space for her in room 121 to continue her work.

The portfolio has since been completed, but while Newman was working on it, Silva said she would work for several hours in room 121 every day in addition to class time. “She was here constantly,” Silva said.

Silva described art and fashion school as intentionally difficult. “It’s very harsh,” she said. “They’re hard on you in art school because they know the art world is going to be hard on you too.” However, Silva is confident that Newman is ready for it.

“I’ve been excited for like two years,” Newman said about being eager to get to art school. “I’ve been ready.”

Newman hinted will have more work to share in the coming months. “I have more ideas,” she said. “There’s always more.”

This story was originally published on The Weekly on December 16, 2022.