From the Summer 2017 Gallatin Today
Top: Victor in Ghana, photo by Kaila Krauser; Bottom: Victor's designs for the 2017 fashion show, photo by Em Watson
“When I first visited Gallatin and heard that there was an annual fashion show,” says rising senior Victor Leonard, “I knew I wanted to get involved, so I taught myself how to sew.” Fast-forward three years, and the DC native has completed a semester in London through Gallatin’s Program in Global Fashion; exhibited two of his collections at Gallatin; acted as the student chair of the 2017 fashion show, emPOWERed; and visited a Ghanaian batik center as a fashion intern.
“Victor came to Gallatin with multi-pronged, cross-disciplinary interests in fashion and environmental science,” says Leonard’s adviser Lise Friedman. “He’s unique among my advisees in that he has focused on the sciences as well as the arts and has maintained these interests throughout his time here.” The conservation-minded Leonard uses recycled and secondhand fabrics and scraps in his designs, a reflection of his environmental studies background. “Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world,” says Leonard, “and the majority of the waste in fashion is from scraps left on the cutting-room floor.”
Leonard’s first collection, for the 2015 Gallatin fashion show, Odyssey in Fashion, made reference to Homer’s epic poem, focusing on specific characters—from Athena to Penelope—and testing out his early inspired designs on the catwalk. His time in London gave him a grounding in fashion theory and the history of fashion. The London course “Fashion, Culture, and the Body,” taught by Royce Mahawatte, explored the relationship between ideas and the body and how fashion can mediate between them. The course marked a turning point for Leonard and enlarged his thinking about fashion to include concerns about society, race, and gender.
Umoja, his 2017 collection, takes its name from the Swahili word for unity. The pieces he created for it reflected his thoughts on black womanhood and sought to subvert norms of gender and control. Rather than finding models who could wear his designs, Leonard instead designed his pieces for specific women friends and sought to reflect their personalities in the designs. In lieu of imposing his vision on the models, he instead drew inspiration from them as women and as individuals. By working with Gallatin’s events team as the student chair of the 2017 Gallatin fashion show, Leonard was directly involved with developing the show and with the marketing, PR, and behind-the-scenes logistics of making the show a reality.
Directly on the heels of that show, Leonard traveled to Ghana. In the spring of 2017, through an embedded internship with NYU Stern, he joined the business school’s social entrepreneurship and business development seminar “Stern International Volunteers: Ghana.” While in the town of Woadze Tsatoe, he learned the basics of the art of batik printing from local women and worked with them to identify batik products that they could sell on the open market—all while developing his concentration, Designing the Impact: Fashion Design as a Considered Process.
To his experience in Ghana, Leonard brought together all that he had learned about fashion and conservation during his years at Gallatin. Says the young designer, “I came back from Ghana with a ton of fabric—and inspiration.”