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Designing for Dolly

Five fashion design students create outfits inspired by Dolly Parton for one-of-a-kind exhibit.

Courtney Grable/Y'Alexia Robinson | 

fashion designs made by Lipscomb's fashion students

Fashion design student Ashley Izquierdo Renteral's design is in the foreground and Annabel Brown's design is in the background, both welcoming visitors to the "Dolly Parton and the Makers" exhibition.

Thousands of Dolly Parton fans have flocked to Lipscomb’s campus this fall to see the one-of-a-kind “Dolly Parton and the Makers” exhibit of 25 of Parton’s iconic fashions on display, but before they even enter the John C. Hutcheson Gallery, they are also getting a glimpse of the work of Lipscomb’s top fashion students through five outfits positioned at the entrance and inspired by the global superstar. 

Student involvement was a top priority from the beginning stages of the exhibit, showing on Lipscomb’s campus through Dec. 9. So, it makes sense that fashion designs by Lipscomb students Youssef Nagib, senior; Annabel Brown, junior; Ashley Izquierdo Renteral, senior; Kalissa Finn, junior; and Blossom Omeje, senior, should be among the first things the exhibit visitors see upon entering the John C. Hutcheson Gallery, said Sissy Simmons, associate professor of fashion and design. 

Five fashion design students with Sissy Simmons

The five students selected to create Dolly Parton-inspired outfits: (l to r) Blossom Omeje, Annabel Brown, Ashley Izquierdo Renteral, Associate Professor Sissy Simmons, Youssef Nagib and Kalissa Finn.

Blossom Sketch for Dolly Design

Sketch by Omeje

“The students don't typically work with rhinestones and sequins, so learning those techniques was a new experience for all five of these students,” said Simmons. “We were aware that over 6,000 people would pass by the garments and have an opportunity to inspect the quality of the work on display. We wanted to make sure the work presented the best of our program.”

The exhibit provided a unique opportunity for Lipscomb’s fashion design students to proactively use their skills to research the evolution of Dolly's fashion, noticing style lines, colors, materials and embellishments through their craftwork, said Simmons. 

“For my piece, I wanted to combine the old Dolly Parton style with what it has morphed into today,” said Finn, a  fashion design major and entrepreneurship minor from Houston, Texas. “I used inspiration from the softer, more flowy shapes seen in some of her earlier dresses with the rhinestoning and shimmery Dolly outfits we know and love today.” 

The result was a white satin dress with a rhinestone western motif neckline, shimmer chiffon sleeves and overlay on the skirt, and a beaded tassel fringe. 

“I hope that people who saw my dress were reminded of the sweet Southern bell that Dolly is. She is elegant in her way, and using the inspiration from her earlier outfits shows the breadth of what Dolly’s style can encapsulate,” said Finn. 

Blossom working on her design

Omeje at work on her outfit.

The process was not quick or easy..  Students were required to propose sketches and a proposed budget for approval, to create a list of materials needed to create the outfits and to attend weekly meetings with professors to monitor each student’s progress. Parton’s former seamstress Iisha Lemming, who is serving as an artist in residence this fall, also mentored the students’ work.

“This project was a learning curve with all the beads and rhinestones. Since they are not part of my design style, I had trouble figuring out the best way to go about adding on all the beaded tassels… In the end, the result was worth the struggle since the rhinestone tassels scream Dolly’s name!”

While Finn’s design focused on  Parton’s career, Blossom Omeje’s design encapsulates her childhood, drawing inspiration from the designs of Christian Dior. “While researching Dolly’s journey, I was struck by how her childhood and upbringing play such a big role in her work. No matter what height she reaches in her career, she never forgets where she came from,” said the senior fashion design major from Houston, Texas. “I tried to capture this by making the overall silhouette very mature and the detailing playful. I was also heavily influenced by Christian Dior’s new look. Its characteristic nipped waist reminded me of Dolly’s style.”

Omeje’s design featured three separate pieces: “A sunrise-pleated inner collar with multicolored rectangular detailing, a fitted outer jacket nipped at the waist and fanning into a peplum, and a pencil skirt with silver rhinestone trimming at the hem.” Both jacket and skirt display a print with a young Dolly Parton and her mother running through a field of lavender. 

Close-up of Blossom Omeje's oufit

Print created by alumna Madison Williams (’22) for Blossom Omeje's outfit.

Nagib and McQueen taking a photo with his design

Lipscomb President Candice McQueen and Nagib

The project presented Omeje with several challenges and learning opportunities. “I’ve never made anything as structural as that jacket before,” said Omeje. “First, placing the patterns just right on the fabric to maintain the integrity of the print was a nerve-wracking process. Then, making the peplum shape stand out and keeping the lining from bulging unattractively underneath was a fun challenge. The wisdom of our fashion professors and artists in residence was so helpful during this time!” 

Youssef Nagib, a junior from Egypt double-majoring in fashion design and business merchandising, used Parton’s look and aesthetic to create a design encapsulating the hope and glamor she represents for many.

“Dolly inspired the world with beautiful words and incredible aesthetics. I made this look to represent the hope, glamor and ambiance that she was able to gift to the world,” said Nagib. 

“I learned a lot about how to work with fabric and enhance my design ability,” said Nagib whose design features quotes and images embroidered and rhinestoned onto a pink cape. “I added some quotes that represent Dolly, such as ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,’ and ‘If you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain.’ I also added makeup brushes, music notes, butterflies and more,” he said.

Nagib's Outfit Sketch

Nagib's sketch

Nagib also had the opportunity to showcase some of his work in Nashville’s Latin Fashion Week and work alongside stylist Kennedy Tracy to dress up-and-coming country music artists Twinnie and Carter Faith. 

This project provided the five fashion design students with a unique opportunity to engage in different styles and expand their craft outside of their comfort zones. “I think this project strengthened my construction skills and helped me create something in a style I probably wouldn’t have otherwise designed,” said Finn. “It was also a challenge to try and make a glamorous Dolly-style gown given the time limit and our budget, but I think some of the most fun and creative designs happen when given limitations to work around.” 

“Through this process, I’ve learned that collaboration makes the artwork more beautiful,” said Omeje. “I am grateful to my professors and teammates for their feedback and to the talented alumna Madison Williams (’22) who designed the print for the look.” 

Youssef's Rhinestoning

Nagib's rhinestoned portrait of Parton on the cape he designed.

Kalissa Finn's oufit

Finn's outfit combine's aspects of Parton's fashion of her youth (soft Western beauty) and aspects of the iconic outfits she wears today (tassels and bling).