Fox Lane junior stitches together his own course of study
It was the ultimate throwaway assignment, but it led Conner Ives to what he hopes will be a long career.
When Ives was a freshman, the art department at Fox Lane High School held a “Trashing Competition,” a challenge where students had to make a dress out of items from the trash. Ives took the lead as he and three other students created a gown from a garbage bag and bubble wrap.
Teacher Lindsay Lappin remembers standing around their creation with her colleagues.
“This thing was so far above and beyond what anybody else did,” she recalls. “We were doing it for kicks and he produces this beautiful dress! It was one of those situations where the art teachers were like ‘Who is this kid?’ Two years later, here we are.”
Lappin is in the art gallery at the Bedford high school, where Ives has displayed some of his creations for a visitor.
There’s the hand-stitched “Dress N°. 1, 2012,” (“like Chanel N°. 5,” the 16-year-old junior says), a mesh base appliquéd with bits of lace from a tablecloth, vintage French lace, swatches of crochet from his grandmother’s collection and long-flowing strands of pale horse hair. Some of the horse hair has been braided atop the right shoulder. All of the appliqué elements were stitched by hand, including a form-fitting headdress that attaches to the dress to form one continuous line.
“This piece was inspired by the writings of Elie Wiesel and his stories of the Holocaust and then it tied into the heritage and your past and then it accumulated into this one master piece: combining the heritage of the cloths and the torn and re-sewn idea of rebirth. And the horse hair gave it sort of a ghostly feel, with translucent material that isn’t used a lot in fashion. I like to use unusual materials,” Ives says.
As if to prove the point, he strolls over to his eye-popping “Macnamay Dress.” Named for his maternal great grandmother, it has the look of a bygone age but is another trash-to-treasure piece — with a train made from 2,500 coffee filters hand-dipped in coffee and a bodice covered in hundreds of paper doilies painted with coffee.
In the corner is Ives’ most-recent work, “The Yoshizawa Dress” (“I came up with the name last period,” he says with a laugh), a tribute to Japanese origami master Akira Yoshizawa, a form-fitting mesh dress that is covered in delicately folded recycled paper, sometimes cranes, sometimes other figures.
“Yoshizawa would use origami and make it much more expressive, a real pioneer,” he says. “Eventually, this dress will be covered in other origami pieces.”
This work-in-progress marks the start of an ambitious year ahead for Ives, whose father, the Rev. Dr. Tim Ives, leads the Scarborough Presbyterian Church and whose mother, Dr. Ann Guerra, has a pediatric dental practice in Briarcliff.
The junior convinced a Fox Lane board to grant him a year of independent study, during which he’ll work with Lappin as his mentor, charting his design process, even as he learns it. Lappin — whose background is art, not fashion — says she and Ives will be learning side-by-side, but it is her job to keep him on task, to challenge his process, to make him defend his choices.
Having taken some classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology to give him the basic tools of the trade, Ives spent a week last summer at London’s prestigious Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, the school that turned out fashion icons Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. He came back driven to apply himself to the goal of attending the school, but without a high-school course to channel his ambition.
“We kept trying to find a place for him in our courses for this year,” Lappin says. “He’s aspiring to go to this prestigious school and we wanted to match our curriculum to support him the best we could, but we don’t offer fashion courses here. He was going to take an advanced studio art course that we would modify for him, but that didn’t fit his schedule. Over the summer, he emailed me and suggested we try an independent study.”
Getting an independent study isn’t easy at Fox Lane. It requires the green-light from assistant principal Robin Schamberg and a board of teachers and counselors. In October, he made his pitch, “Fashion Design: From Concept to Garment.” He showed a portfolio slide show, explained his week-long course at Central St. Martins, and asked the board to place their faith in him as he would document the process of creating four designs this school year. They bought it.
If Ives hadn’t gotten the green-light, he would have had a free ninth period. Now, he’ll have anything but a free ninth period.
This year will be about the process, charted in a sketchbook, where ideas are begun, refined and completed.
“It’ll be a lot of me floating all these ideas and Ms. Lappin helping me figure out a way through all of it,” Ives says.
“His ideas get to be so big, they sometimes outrun the process,” Lappin says. “There’s a lot of reining it in. ‘OK, that’s a fantastic idea. Document it. But we have to get back to the original idea and move on.’ Otherwise, there’s a middle part of the process that gets lost. Central St. Martins wants to see the process, every step of the way.
“His aspiration is high, but I honestly feel that, 10 and 20 years from now, Conner is going to be one of our alumni that we are praising, who has followed their passion and gotten somewhere.”
One of Ives’ biggest struggles has been to find a structured time in the day for fashion. With this year’s independent study, Fox Lane has made fashion, his passion, a part of his school day.
In a bit of role reversal that Ives talks about with an ever-present gentle smile, Ives mentions that his sister Abbie, a Fox Lane freshman, likes to play hockey, while he likes to design dresses.
“It’s not often that I have a student who so clearly knows this is what they want to do,” says Lappin. “You have students who may say ‘I’m thinking about doing this,’ but two weeks later they’re on to something else. Conner doesn’t waver. He knows this is exactly where he wants to do.”