Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
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TFD Student Story: Isaac Cech discovering fashion through history



photo of Isaac CechIsaac Cech is a junior in Textiles and Fashion Design with an apparel track. He transferred to UW-Madison from UW-Whitewater, where he was studying Art History. This is his third year in the program and he is scheduled to graduate in May 2019.

SoHE: How did you find out about the TFD major?

IC: I was just looking at what degrees were available at UW-Madison. Then my dad and I came up and did our own tour of the department. (Assistant Faculty Associate) Maria Kurutz pulled us into one of the classrooms and told us what was going on. I loved it. I thought it was interesting and there was going to be a lot of room for me to find my voice within this program. So I applied and got in. For the first year, I was still doing historical stuff, all made by hand. When that wasn’t really feasible, I started looking at modern fashion more. Last year, I started making modern clothing and fashion. So my path here was a little bit convoluted.

Clothing is wonderful in the sense that it has the ability to communicate so much.

SoHE: Did you have a background in fashion?

IC: My interest in clothing developed from an interest in history. I have been researching and recreating 16th and 18th Century menswear for about eight years now. I’m fascinated by the narrative ability that clothing has to communicate stories. When it comes to historical stuff, I think fashion is a really interesting way to broach the topic, because it’s not all just names and dates, there’s much more personal stuff about it. Clothing is wonderful in the sense that it has the ability to communicate so much.

Two summers ago, I was part of a special team at Colonial Williamsburg. We made a hand-sewn copy of one of the tents George Washington used during the Revolutionary War. The original is at the Smithsonian. We got to study it, take measurements, and look at the stitch counts. We had to custom-make fabric and a team of six of us put together that tent in about a month. That thing was 28’ long, 18’ wide, and 12-16’ tall.

SOHE: What is your career goal?

IC: I’m still figuring that one out. Going through SoHE and kind of developing this interest in modern fashion and menswear, I feel like that’s another path that’s open to me now. Before I was thinking of doing something in the museum field. Right now, I’m thinking maybe grad school after college. The University of Alberta in Edmonton has a really great material cultures program with a focus in textiles and clothing. So that’s definitely an option. I’ve got an interest in outerwear, so designing outerwear—coats and jackets, specifically menswear—is probably where I think I’m going to end up.

SOHE: What are you looking forward to in the next year?

IC: I’m looking forward to putting together my thesis, developing that and figuring out what I want to do, and just kind of honing the skills that I’ve started to develop and working with the amazing resources that we have here at SoHE.

My thesis is probably going to be more focused on more modern stuff, so working with the teachers. We’ve got some great professors here with extensive backgrounds. Just that kind of support and network that SoHE has is really special.

SoHE: What are some highlights you had so far at UW-Madison?

IC: Discovering an interest in modern fashion. I didn’t really know that I had that in me. Learning how to make patterns–I’m really interested in process when it comes to creating and making stuff, so the coursework has always been really interesting. I’ve made some great friends and connections. Those were definitely highlights for me, some people that I consider really incredible makers and have really incredible aesthetics. One thing that I really love about this program is that there’s a lot of room for developing your own voice.

One thing that I really love about this program is that there’s a lot of room for developing your own voice.

SOHE: What kind of made you teeter over to modern fashion?

IC: At first it was literally time concerns. All of my historic stuff was hand sewn and that’s just not feasible with taking other classes and working and all of that, so I knew I would need to make something by machine and I knew it wouldn’t be historic because I just couldn’t sacrifice that, so it was literally time constraints to begin with.

SOHE: At what point, did you go, “oh, I like this”…? Was there a specific garment or anything?

IC: Yeah, it was my deck jacket, so the navy blue jacket that was in the gallery. All of the pieces kind of fell together and I was really proud of how it turned out. In the fashion show, it won “Best Ready to Wear“, so that was kind of a sign of encouragement that maybe I was headed in the right direction.

SoHE: What advice can you give new students?

There’s a lot of room to find yourself within this program. It’s a great launching pad for anything because it’s small. You know your teachers well and they help you develop your voice, develop your aesthetic. It’s an incredible program that’s very comprehensive and interesting. It’s great that Madison offers this. I would heartily recommend it.