Shell-inspired evening dress wins best in 2013 Fashion Show


Photo: Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Nicki McLellan won best in show for her collection “Papillion Coquillage” at the Fashion Show on April 13, 2013.

Mariah Wellman

Nicki McLellan said she could not think of a better way to be recognized after all of her hard work at Iowa State. 

McLellan graduated in December 2012 with a degree in apparel, merchandising and design, with a minor in business. She created a collection called “Papillion Coquillage,” meaning butterfly shell in French. The collection consisted of three garments, one of which took the celebrated best in show award at the Fashion Show 2013. 

McLellan’s design process started last July with her trip to visit a friend in Los Angeles, while on a break from her internship in New York. “[My friend and I] were walking along the beach and we saw these butterfly-looking seashells,” McLellan said. “They’re dark on the outside and this really pearlescent blue on the inside. I was immediately inspired by it.”

As soon as McLellan was on the plane back to New York, she began sketching what would later become her senior collection. She worked on the collection from August to the end of October. 

McLellan’s original garment was not the same as the one seen on the runway, however. “Initially [the best in show garment] was just a low open back,” McLellan said. “But once I turned in my collections, [peers and professor, Sarah Bennett] [corrected from: the judges] talked about how it needed more cohesiveness with the collection all together. So, after fitting it and thinking about it, I decided to add the back yoke with all of the geodes and the pearls.” A back yoke is a section of fabric that connects the back of a garment to the shoulders. It allows the garment to lay flat and drape nicely. 

The winning dress McLellan sent down the runway was a long gown made from fabrics she found at Mood Designer Fabrics in New York, as well as stone and bead embellishments, reminding McLellan of the shells and jagged cliffs she saw while on her trip. The show’s adviser, Sarah Bennett, helped McLellan digitally print an ocean picture that pulled the garment together. 

Completing the final touches on the garments this semester was more difficult for McLellan than some other designers because she currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, working as a technical designer of dresses and skirts at Abercrombie & Fitch. The experience of creating her own line for this year’s show was different than what McLellan does for her job every day, sparking her interest in creative design. “[Creating my collection] was exciting because this was more creative and it gives me a little bit more help in getting a creative job,” McLellan said. “I love my job now, but I think hopefully in the future I want to have my own line and this helps me know I can do it.”

Living in Ohio, McLellan was not able to be close to her models leading up to the show. She handed the garment in not knowing exactly how it would look going down the runway, but was pleasantly surprised. “It looked really good,” McLellan said. “I was really excited because I wasn’t able to see everything come together.”

The experience of watching her garment go down the runway was rewarding for McLellan, as well as her model, Teresa Dinh, junior in kinesiology and health. “It was amazing working with Nicki,” Dinh said. “Her work is absolutely gorgeous, and I feel very honored to be able to wear two of her garments.”

Although McLellan went in hoping she would place in a category, she did not expect to win best in show. Dinh disagreed. “I was not surprised one of her garments won best in the show,” Dinh said. “She worked very hard, and she deserves to be acknowledged for her work.”

The Fashion Show 2013 Exhibit Grand Opening will be at the Mary Alice Gallery from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. April 29.