CCAD fashion designer profile: Dawn McLaughlin

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From the May 8, 2014 edition
  • Photo by Meghan Ralston

Possibly the most distinctive designs in this year’s CCAD Fashion Show come from Dawn McLaughlin, who created a line — titled “Bullet” — inspired by a screenplay she’s working on. McLaughlin has a clear talent for design — not to mention illustration and the written word — even if she’s doesn’t necessarily consider herself a “fashion designer.”

“I came into this major much more costume-oriented than fashion-oriented. I already design, make and wear costumes … [and] compete in different costume competitions at conventions across the East Coast and throughout Ohio,” McLaughlin said of something that started as a hobby and she hopes will become a career.

McLaughlin fell in love with costume design through film. She’s enamored with anything by Guillermo del Toro — especially “Pan’s Labyrinth” — and the period costumes in “Interview with the Vampire” and “Les Miserables.”

Going off her “macabre war story” screenplay is a valid source of inspiration, partly for its mid-18th century, period-wear setting, but also because the narrative is rife with themes (subtle and overt), complexity and beautiful bloodshed.

“It’s a series of ‘what ifs’ and … the two main characters are homosexual. I wanted to make a screenplay that has this deep war setting and lots of interesting character interactions, but the main focus isn’t on the fact [the leads] are homosexual,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of the movies made now, that would be the main plot point, the main focus. I don’t think that’s how it is in real life.”

The costume piece is constructed of soft materials, and contrasted with a theme of violence. To convey the look of massive burns, the entire right side of the over-dyed red sweater is slashed, like exposing the tissue beneath the scorching. A mannequin piece McLaughlin created is based on a decapitation — a satin-stitched vest with blood dripping down the front of it.

“Bullet” is rooted in unconventional inspiration, forming an aesthetic out of a narrative and characters rather than high-fashion.

“It’s based off the characters and the bittersweet ending each character gets,” McLaughlin said of the line. “I think it’s important to see what’s behind the look, not just what the garment is, but who is going to be wearing it. Because if you want to create a strong look, it has to define the person.”

McLaughlin has certainly created strong looks (her sketch book is filled with them), and it’s surely because she wasn’t afraid to let her personality, words and stories be the creative force.