WINTER HARBOR — Schoodic Arts for All’s annual “Wow!” Award for artists and performers is intended to recognize just that factor: someone whose work makes one stop in one’s tracks because of its special power to bring wonder, insight and enjoyment.
This year’s recipient of the $1,000 award is clothing designer Brianna Saad, who has made the unlikely journey from her Maine hometown of Steuben to the London College of Fashion and recently concluded a six-month apprenticeship with Nepalese designer Prabal Gurung in New York. Gurung has dressed celebrities such as the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, Nicki Minaj and Michelle Obama and is considered one of New York’s most socially conscious luxury women’s brands. At last month’s New York Fashion Week, Gurung’s diverse models all wore a pageant-style sash with the words: “Who Gets To Be American?”
Saad was only 17 when she started college in London and was filled with trepidation.
“I still do have self-doubt, but the internship at Prabal made me realize how many skills I actually have,” she said last month before heading back to London. “Through a lot of hard work I was able to do really well at Prabal.”
Among her many tasks there were tweaking garments on PhotoShop, such as sleeve length and colors; testing designs out on a particular client by superimposing their image on a design; attending fittings, and then, the crescendo of helping to organize the fashion house for New York Fashion Week. Saad and another intern played a role in selecting the wording on banners each model wore in the final walk.
Saad has been involved with Schoodic Arts for All from the earliest age possible — bouncing in a carryall on her mother Sheila Saad’s back while her mom played the fiddle during the inaugural season of Schoodic Arts for All 21 years ago. Sheila, who lives in Steuben, co-founded the arts group.
“She has attended all of the Schoodic Arts for All festivals since she was little and was an exemplary student,” said Executive Director Mary Laury. “Her creativity has always amazed me. And her skill in the arts was beyond her youthful years.”
Saad was nominated for the Wow! Award by SAFA Board Chairman Colleen Wallace, who said she was an “outstanding young woman and artist.”
In her last year, Saad is now studying women’s wear design in London and said she will use the award money toward buying materials for her final designer project.
Saad first became interested in clothing design when she saw the Alexander McQueen “Savage Beauty” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011.
“I was struck with the potential fashion has as an art form as well as its ability to impact people in a way no other art form can,” she said. “I then learned how to sew from my grandmother (Darthia Farm owner Cynthia Thayer and SAFA co-founder) and since then I’ve loved the art of clothing construction.”
A 2016 graduate of George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Saad said she was fortunate that she had so many people around her, especially her very art-focused family, who believed she could gain a toehold in what she describes as “this, honestly, insane industry.”
“Fashion is not a smart choice for a career,” she laughed. “I’m really glad to be able to do any of this.” Her experience at the London College of Fashion was not what most college students experience. The school places great emphasis on learning technical skills, such as working with pattern makers, but there are no dormitories or traditional campus life.
Saad has never had the warm and fuzzy atmosphere that many new college students might enjoy.
“You go to school and then go home,” she said. She plans to return to the States once she graduates and live where she finds a paying job, hopefully in New York.
Her older sister, Leila Saad, is a costume and wardrobe designer in the television industry and has an apartment in Manhattan. Saad said the internship at Prabal Gurung has enabled her to affirm for herself that she is in the industry to which she belongs and in a business in which she can succeed.
“But don’t get me wrong, this industry is not a healthy one,” she said. “We worked 10 hours a day and occasionally on weekends, completely unpaid. But, somehow, I still loved it. You really have to be passionate to endure the industry.”
An avid reader, she draws inspiration from fictional and historical characters with whom she identifies. She is fascinated with outer space and the vast mystery it continues to be. The craft also appeals to her.
“I love couture techniques and taking the time to create a well made garment,” she said. “We are losing that in the age of fast fashion. I think couture techniques are a big part of making the fashion industry more sustainable.”
Her formative years in Maine, she said, taught her a good deal of respect for the natural world as well as practical skills, which she finds are surprisingly rare in the fashion industry. Her grandmother spins fleece from her own sheep and then weaves the yarn into scarves and other clothing.
“Having grown up with a grandmother who spins and weaves, I tend to use a lot of natural textiles and color schemes in my work,” Saad said. “I also value my trips home to save me from going insane from the constant stimulation of living in a city.”
In addition to McQueen, Saad enjoys the dreamlike creativity of Japanese designers such as Rey Kawakubo and Tomo Koizumi. At the other end of the spectrum, she also admires Phoebe Philo at the House of Celine. Saad said Philo makes clothing women want to wear and is a rare voice in an industry dominated by men.
Saad believes fashion, overall, has fallen into a rut and is not changing fast enough to produce a designer who can revitalize the runway and change the industry’s business model to meet the demands of the new millennial market.
The dilemma with millennials, she said, is that they love quickly evolving clothing trends, yet are also concerned about climate change. The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The production and distribution of the crops, fibers and garments used all contribute in differing forms of environmental pollution, including water, air and soil pollution.
“We need to get back to more natural fabrics,” said Saad. “It is so much more important to save the environment, but the fashion industry is so far away from it at this point. People have to be willing to buy less and buy quality.”
The Wow! Award is one facet of SAFA’s program to support and encourage artistic and cultural growth and expression. The organization also provides studio and gallery space for artists; art education; business and artistic technical assistance for aspiring artists and opportunities for artists to network and collaborate.