UHS to kick up this year's senior prom with style and flair
● By Richard Gaw
There is not a single individual who, when asked to think back to his or her high school prom, is not filled with the remembrance of dread, nerves and fear. For many, it's the social equivalent of leaping headlong into a shark tank while uncomfortably squeezed into a rented tuxedo or a gown that looked spectacular in the four-way mirrors of a store's fitting room.
For young people who identify outside of gender orientation and norms, that fear is often magnified, but for some students at Unionville High School who are marking off their calendar toward the big day, help in the form of empathy and design is on its way.
In collaboration with Courtney Harrison and Victoria Inverso of Textile, a Kennett Square clothing store, local clothing designer David Ferron is currently working with members of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance Club (GSA) on “Project Prom,” a creative forum for LGBTQ students to express themselves through art, as they prepare for the school's senior prom on May 18 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.
The idea to offer students a creative outlet came to Ferron soon after he returned to Chester County – where he was raised and graduated from UHS in 2007 – after eight years in the design industry in New York City. He had just opened his Unionville Saddle, his custom garment shop on Doe Run Road, and was brainstorming ideas on how best to market his business.
“So often with small businesses, owners can either choose the wine and cheese route in order to get their name out there, or they can engage in causes that have power and meaning,” Ferron said. “For me, it was a connect-the dots thing: how do I help get the word out about my business, but also be able to impact the people in the LGBQT community? The prom is such a difficult time for any student, gay, straight or otherwise. How do I help these students navigate this social stigma surrounding the prom?”
As he began to cultivate the project, Ferron met with Pat Clark, his former football coach at UHS, who is also coordinating this year's UHS senior prom.
“Coach Clark was walking in Unionville Park last summer behind my shop, and I invited him in to take a look, and we just began talking about my idea, which hadn't been truly formed yet,” Ferron said. “It was really the first time I vocalized my ideas for what I wanted to do.”
As part of the project, Ferron, Harrison and Inverso invited students to present a creative representation on the theme of “Love is Love,” using any medium they wished – painting, photography, film, writing or performance. In addition, those in competition were asked to submit a “mood board” that contained three to five images that reflected the finished product of their prom theme.
The competition took place on Feb. 14 in the school's auditorium, and the winning entry came from a student who performed an original song and presented a prom theme invoking David Bowie's masterful creation Ziggy Stardust, whose message spoke of spreading acceptance through peace and love. Working from these images, Ferron will design the winning student's prom wear.
If one half of the project illuminated the creativity of students during the competition, then the other half will promise to frolic in the playroom of fashion and design. Ferron will host a pre-prom party at his studio, which will be open to every UHS student who applied to the “Project Prom,” their prom dates, members of the GSA Club, and friends and families. Catering will be provided by Catherine's Restaurant in Unionville, non-alcoholic cocktails will be donated by the Kennett Brewing Company, and the event will be captured through the lenses of professional photographers.
Prior to the event, Ferron, Inverso and Harrison will help students create their unique and personal Lewk, defined in several urban dictionaries as an item of clothing or apparel that becomes one's consistent, personal and signature style, like sporting a variety of hats, for example, or choosing a particular kind of eye wear.
“The Lewk is the first moment you walk out on a runway, when you present your head-to-toe look to everyone,” Ferron said. “It's not the dress on the rack or the accessories on the table, but the reflection of you. We're helping these students cultivate their prom Lewk.
“You can use clothing to express yourself in so many ways, particularly at important moments like a prom, and this event will allow students to get a little more imaginative than simply wearing a tuxedo.”
While “Project Prom” at Unionville High School promises to be an event accented by the bells and baubles of fashion and design, it also connects three local young professionals to students who aspire to carve their own paths, and look for role models along the way.
“If someone had walked into my high school and offered to do this for the LGBQT community there, I would have freaked out, but I would've also realized that 'Wow. I'm not the only one,'” Harrison said. “Our message to these students is, 'We're just like you.'”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.