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One day at a time in the life of Eileen Pappas: knitwear designer, Trekkie, and closeted rock star.

Olympic Costume

I hadn't realized it until now, but the Olympic Games seem to have a recurring significance in my life.

It all started in 2004, with the Athens Olympic Games.  I had just completed my junior year at Brown University, and had stayed in Providence, RI over the summer to take an MCAT preparation course and following that the MCAT itself.  My 21st birthday took place the day before the opening ceremony for the games - the games that after so many years were once again returning to my birthplace, with the entire world watching.

I'm not going to lie - I, too, was nervous about whether Athens could pull it off.  But I soon found myself watching the opening ceremony on a tiny TV set with tears in my eyes, astounded at the beauty, the simplicity, and the millennia of history that was presented with such clarity and grace and... poetry.  It was a celebration of my country, but also of humanity.  I was filled with pride and joy but also heartbroken that I was thousands of miles away from it.

The following morning, I went to take the MCAT.  Later that evening, my parents and I were out celebrating when my mom said, "I have a confession.  I had been given tickets to the opening ceremony of the games, but I didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd be upset you couldn't be there."

I did not say anything.  Instead I broke down in tears.

 

I took my longing and disappointment and turned it into inspiration.  My senior thesis was about the city of Athens and its transformation in preparation for the games.  (I majored in Architectural Studies.  Some of the things I wrote, now almost a decade later, have turned out eerily prophetic.)  That December, I got to go back home and even visited the Olympic sports complex, which was already becoming a ghost of its former glory.  I snuck into Calatrava's stadium (there were padlocks and chains on the gates, but they were unlocked), walked around, and took pictures to my heart's content in complete solitude.  Four months ago, this giant steel rib cage had enclosed the heart of the entire world.

 

I did not know then that my thesis was actually a 50-something page love letter, a love letter to the place that I had called home for 17 years, that I hated living in and did not in a million years imagine I could miss until I no longer lived there, to the place that I did not know I loved as much as I did until it broke my heart. 

Fast forward to the spring of 2012 - another Olympic year, and my junior year at Parsons.  The CFDA scholarship project was upon me, during the most difficult time that I have ever faced in my entire life (my grandfather's passing, and inability to be there, in Athens, to pay my respects).  There was nothing to do except look back to the most touching, moving, and inspiring experience I could muster: watching that 2004 opening ceremony:

And so I came up with a collection inspired by the rhythm of the zeibekiko, the rhythm of the heartbeat, and what being Greek meant to me.

 

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Then, last week, in a conversation about running the marathon (helloooo Olympic Games), I also mentioned to a friend my guilty pleasure love of professional wrestling.  (Yes, it's 100% true.  I came out of my senior thesis photoshoot just in time to take a bus to New Jersey with my dad for Wrestlemania 29.)   And she astutely observed that wrestling, long before it became "soap opera in spandex", was an Olympic sport.

I let this sit with me.  I let it all sit with me this week.

Until this morning, when I had another thought - a thought that I later realized was a dream: I want to design the Olympic uniforms for Team Greece one day.  It should have been obvious to me sooner, but I did not see it until now.  (Sophia Kokosalaki had the honor of designing the costumes for the opening ceremony in 2004.)

I have already put the wheels into motion.

On the other side

This weekend, I met up with a student at Parsons who is working on her senior thesis and asked me to take on the role of knitwear consultant for some of the pieces in her collection.  I was very excited to start work on a new project and even more so after I met the student, who turned out to be sweet, creative, and motivated.  I'm already getting a number of ideas for ways in which we can explore her concept and create some beautiful garments that will set her senior thesis apart.  Although I am not entirely sure how I'm going to go about doing all the things I'd like to do (like so many areas of my life right now), I've thrown myself into this 100% and can't wait to see where it goes.

It was also interesting for me to look at the process of developing a senior thesis collection from the other side.  I saw so many of the same concerns and anxieties that I was having this time last year, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be there and support someone in an empowering way.  I found myself telling her that it would all work out in the end, even if she can't see the possibility right now.  And the best part is that I believed every word I was saying, just as my senior year instructors kept telling me.

So yes, I'm incredibly inspired and excited, and can't wait to share her work with all of you when it becomes real.

It's also reminding me how much I like working with students.  I liked it when I was in school, and I'm loving it now (a second student collaboration may also be in the works)... Which is also making me think about the possibility of teaching years down the road when I've accumulated more work experience.

 

In other areas of life, work is pretty crazy at the moment with market week and having to spec all the samples of the spring collection by the end of this week.  My mentor (and boss) keeps reiterating how specking garments is an art, and she's absolutely right.  You would think measuring clothes would be a pretty straightforward task, but even with predetermined points of measure, it can get tricky.   (And I can tell you right now, when I have my own brand someday, my tech designer will get lots of respect... especially with the kind of stuff I like to design.)  So I am practicing, and practicing patience while I'm at it.

I am also making space in my life - space for new opportunities, new people, and new projects.

Any of you that know me know about my current living situation, which is not ideal to say the very least.  Moving into a new place of my own is one of the things I've taken on, but until that comes to pass I must find ways to do the work that needs to be done with the resources currently at my disposal.  So last weekend, I cleaned out my yarn stash, donated a bunch of machine and hand knitting yarn to Parsons, and was able to free up my knitting area and the wall behind it.  I have a number of inspiration images and swatches to put up for a personal project I'm working on, but for the time being I am loving looking at this clear space.  It's not much, but I am thankful for it.

One of the things I really want to do is make some clothes for myself.  I can't tell you how many interviews I've been to where I was asked if I designed what I'm wearing (because it's arguably awesome!) and I hated having to say no.  The ultimate goal would be to dress exclusively in clothes I've designed and live my vision.  So even though I knew I wouldn't have the time to make this happen today, I did manage to get back on the machine for at least a little while and create two new swatches with some of the new yarns I purchased.  Like having attended my Weight Watchers meeting this morning, I did what I said I was going to do, and even the most humble of actions felt good.

 

Parsons/Central Saint Martins Dual City Fashion Design Course

And so the blog begins!

For a while now I've wanted a space to share my creative world and adventures in fashion design (and beyond).  It's finally time to make that wish come true. 

This summer was largely uneventful.  Post-graduate life, though filled with interviews and lots of promise, was also filled with lots of uncertainty.

One highlight happened on June 24, 2013, when I was invited to come in as a guest lecturer in a fashion design class taught by Geoffry Gertz.  Geoffry, a professor of mine at Parsons and fashion illustrator extraordinaire (check out his websites here), asked me to come in and tell the tale of my design education and how it was shaping the start of my career. The class was a part of the Parsons/Central Saint Martins Dual City program targeted for adults with an interest in fashion.   I think a story is always told best with visual aids, so naturally I brought in samples from my portfolio as well as some key garments from my senior thesis collection.

So on the afternoon of the 24th, after making a quick dash into DSW and buying a completely unnecessary pair of shoes to make up for that morning's unfortunate footwear choice, I arrived at the 7th floor of 2 W 13th Street where I met Geoffry and his group of 9 students.

I've always found that sharing work is one of the most inspiring things that can happen in school, and it's something I wish there were more opportunities to do in "the real world."  Any setting that can expose students to possibilities, raise questions, and inspire them to try something they might never have thought to do, and yes, even show the breakthroughs that come from perceived "failures"...  This is an invaluable tool in any kind of education, and especially in the realm of design.

I will never tire or refuse to be a part of events like this; it's an honor and a privilege.

 

All images below courtesy of Geoffry Gertz.

Flipping through one of my croquis books

Walking through my single seam pant

Students looking at my thesis linesheet

I gesture a lot when I talk.

Snapshot of "A Woman Apart" collection process work

 "Women in States of Undress" thesis collection process work

Snapshot from my draping journal