mjordan2@sdale.orgHar-Ber High School senior Nora Shitandi discovered a passion for fashion design through a little couture and a whole lot of tulle.

Shitandi, 18, said she was inspired to first delve into the art of fashion when she saw a dress created from layers of tulle on social media that was perfect for prom.

The approximately $2,000 designer dress was well beyond Shitandi’s prom dress budget, though, so she said she decided to make it herself.

“It was kind of an off-the-cuff decision,” Shitandi said. “I've always loved clothing.”

Shitandi began what was dubbed the Couture and Tulle project with some instruction from YouTube and social media and the support of Betsy Allison, Har-Ber High School art teacher, she said. She had two months prior to prom to learn how to sew, as well as make the dress.

“I had no idea where I was going to start, but I did know that I wanted it to be out of tulle,” Shitandi said of the net-like fabric made from silk, nylon, rayon or polyester yarn.

mjordan2@sdale.orgAllison gave Shitandi space in her classroom to create a pop-up fashion studio to design and make her dress.

“I loved having that space,” Allison said. “That really brought the feel of what an art studio really is, where people can work with their own autonomy.”

Shitandi said the project was a true learning experience.

“I got a little bit worried, especially as it got closer to the deadline,” she said. “I was still figuring out how to make body proportions just right, how to make things even, how to make things have full coverage, especially with tulle.”

Her fabric of choice was a challenge in itself, she said.

“Working with tulle is extremely difficult,” Shitandi said, explaining the dress required what felt like miles of the thin and transparent material in multiple layers.

mjordan2@sdale.orgAlthough the dress was inspired by social media, she said she modified her design to make it her own.

“My dress was heavily inspired by the idea of originality and something that you don't necessarily get off a shelf,” she said. “I think that my dress really reflected myself in it."

Shitandi said she changed the original color of the dress from green to a warm and vibrant orange, added a V neckline and layered the tulle to emulate a jellyfish she saw when on vacation.

“I kind of mimic the way that the tentacles just floated in the water,” she said, adding that what look like random ruffles in the design are actually strategically placed to resemble the movement of a jellyfish through water.

The final result was a dress no one else at prom was wearing that she said had a mere $60 price tag, about $1,940 less than the original.

mjordan2@sdale.orgAllison said she’s proud of the work Shitandi put into the Couture and Tulle project, describing the student as “fearless, brilliant, strong, humble, very, very kind and very caring.”

It’s important for educators to give students the freedom to learn as they explore their creativity, she said.

“That's important as an artist art educator, knowing when to step in and when to let them figure it out,” Allison said. “Without them having that space to discover or to mess up a little bit, then what are they learning?”

Shitandi said a person can’t know what they’re truly capable of accomplishing without an element of risk.

“It's one thing to dream about something or want to do something, but it's another thing to make your ideas into reality,” she said. “This project showed me that I do have the dedication to, not only start a project, but finish that project."

mjordan2@sdale.orgShitandi said she’s heading to Columbia University in New York City to study economics following graduation, but she hasn’t put her newfound talent for fashion out of her mind as she looks toward the future.

Her next project may be within a large bag of neckties she said she was inspired to buy due to her experiences with high school speech and debate.

“I was just drawn to the bag,” Shitandi said. “I could not tell you why.”

She said she just so happened to see a dress made of neckties on social media.

“I want to modify that design and make it kind of my own and make it an homage to how much time that I spent like in formal wear in speech and debate,” she said, adding fashion may remain a lifelong hobby.

Allison said the sky is the limit for Shitandi, now and following high school.

“I'm super proud of her,” she said. “Whatever she wants to do, all she needs to do is just figure out how to do it, and she'll do it.”