Emma Rubinson: Washington University’s next top designer

Leah Hardgrove | Contributing Writer

Washington University sophomore Emma Rubinson made fashion history last week as the youngest designer featured in the Pins & Needles by Brainchild fashion competition. Her stunning eight-piece collection RESONANCE wowed the crowd with its deep wine red and navy coloring, winning her the People’s Choice Award. As the models walked the runway in Rubinson’s designs, it was easy to see how unique and intricate each item of clothing really was.

“I typically tend to try to pick an inspiration for a big project that’s a culmination of my entire life, but for this collection, I focused on what was inspiring me right now. I was so obsessed with this Netflix show ‘Sense 8’ that I had to use it,” the designer remarked.

RESONANCE centered around the show’s use of empathy, color and lightning. Driven by her passion for “Sense 8” and its characters, Rubinson was able to let go of any grand expectations she set for herself.

Rubinson found her love for fashion as a kid while tie-dyeing shirts at summer camp. As she pulled out her shirt, she was shocked by how ugly it was. To fix it, she cut it up and did ties in the back. Inspired by her new creation, two weeks later for the camp talent show Rubinson upcycled a dress out of candy bar boxes and elastic string, a creation she still has in the back of her bedroom closet.

Since then, her love for fashion has only grown; she cites Alexander McQueen as her biggest influence. His dark, out-there style inspires Rubinson to create abstract pieces that don’t entirely fit into the modern cookie-cutter fashion chic. As a singer and dancer herself, she is also drawn to the way McQueen used performance art in his runway shows, that he told his story not only through his fashion but also in how it’s presented. Most recently she launched her brand RESOUND, giving herself a platform to share her instillations, designs and illustrations. By launching RESOUND’s website and social media platforms, she hopes to grow and become an inspiration to others as McQueen is to her.

Creating RESONANCE for Pins & Needles was a four-month long endeavor that started with picking out the color scheme. Once satisfied with her wine, navy and sunset-accented theme, Rubinson then moved on to picking fabric.

“I picked up scraps I had left over from other projects and just played around, seeing how I could manipulate it and what effects I get with it.” This time, the designer chose two-toned organza ribbon and painted satin. She then drew over 20 different silhouettes and sketches, eventually combining the elements she liked into eight final designs. Each look had multiple garments, so she’d divide the pieces up, draw out patterns and create. Rubinson in the end had all her looks linked together through a central theme of ribbon flowers, bringing the collection together.

“The biggest challenge was for sure dying the fabric,” said Rubinson. She worked with satin that was woven with colored fibers instead of dyed natural fibers, so color remover wouldn’t work on this fabric. “I tried honestly every method under the sun to try and dye it. I used literally Clorox, which burns holes in your clothes, and it did nothing! I even painted it with paint!” In the end, Rubinson ended up first airbrushing the fabric white to not ruin the softness of the fabric, and then painted each garment by hand with printing ink. “it was horrible! A solid month was spent figuring out how the heck to dye this fabric.”

All the misery and stress paid off, as her pieces turned out beautifully on the runway. First in the line-up, RESONANCE and its models filled the room with excitement and set the bar high for the following collections. Rubinson lowered the lighting to fit with the music and vibe of her collection, fully immersing the audience in her creations.

“I’d never had a collection out before. I got to see it on eight different models at the same time, which was very cool. I hadn’t seen it live before that night. All these girls in my collection standing in front of an audience? That’s exciting,” reflected Rubinson. “At the same time though, this project has been on the forefront of my mind for such a long time, so when it was all out there, it was like, ‘Yup, that’s what I’ve been working on for months. This is happening exactly as I thought it was going to happen.’”

Pins & Needles was only the first step. While the pieces are important, she wants to be in control fully of how they’re displayed. She wants to design the room, pick the models’ choreography, play with lighting and much more. The fashion show is more than just the fashion; it’s about the audience’s experience of the show, too.

For Emma Rubinson, “fashion is telling a story, like having a narrative and hopefully and eventually expanding that into more than just fashion. I’m interested in interactive art, collaborative art and environmental design—that people can come together and step into some fantasy world I have created, but that they can also contribute to and put their own story to.”

RESONANCE’s debut was an incredible success, inspiring its designer to keep pushing herself and RESOUND to new heights, working to create more unique, thought provoking garments. For her, fashion is more than just basic, necessary clothes shopping. It’s about being disruptive and weird.