Harrisburg, PA – Arielle Salkin has a large supply of black, stretchy, long-sleeved shirts. Worn under every outfit, they allow her to dress modestly, in accordance with her Orthodox Jewish faith.
But dressing modestly can conflict with dressing fashionably, and Salkin, a Susquehanna Twp. native and sophomore at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, hopes to bridge that divide.
“As a religious Jewish person, we have stricter codes of dress, more modest codes of dress,” Salkin said. “Once I’m out of school, I’d like to design for women who would like to be fashionable and maintain some sort of modesty. It’s not just for Orthodox Jewish women but for anyone who wants to dress more modestly.”
During the weekend, Salkin’s more conceptual designs walked the runway at the high-profile Fusion Fashion Show, the 10th annual showdown between Parsons and rival NYC design school the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Salkin’s avant-garde, five-outfit collection, titled “Exoskeleton,” depicts clothing as social armor, with spikes and heavy beading reflecting the way porcupines and puffer fish use their outer defenses. The collection was one of 15 chosen from 100 submissions to represent Parsons.
Last night, judges named Parsons the winning school, for its sixth win in Fusion’s 10-year history. The victory means that Parsons students will “continue to have a superiority complex” over their Fashion Institute peers, Salkin said.
Salkin learned to sew when she was young.
“She always wanted to make things, but she never wanted to use a pattern,” said her mother, Oleasa Salkin of Susquehanna Twp.
After graduating from Beth Tfiloh High School in Baltimore — a school attended by a number of the Harrisburg area’s Orthodox children — Salkin spent a year in Israel. Her rabbi in Israel was “wary” about her decision to enter fashion, she said.
“We’ve continued to talk about it in the past few months, and he really is very supportive of me and has a lot of faith that I will do well and be able to maintain my religious identity,” she said. Salkin believes that her idea for modest, fashionable clothing will fill a niche. Some Web sites offer modest clothes, “but they’re not very interesting,” she said.
“All of my friends — we all have a thousand long, black, spandexy shirts that we wear under everything,” she said. “It’s so ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to wear these black stretchy shirts under absolutely everything.”
The trick will be incorporating texture into her designs and understanding proportions, she said.
“This is one area where I think she can make a difference, and that’s one reason it’s important to her,” Oleasa Salkin said. “Modest dress is very important to us, so there’s a little bit of a struggle. How you can be fashionable and do it in a way you can stay covered up?”
Arielle’s mother and father, Jon Salkin, plus 20 friends from the Salkins’ synagogue, Kesher Israel, went to New York on Sunday for the show. They included Niema Schertz of Harrisburg, a 1998 Parsons graduate who worked in the New York fashion industry for eight years. Schertz called Salkin’s career goal “a good idea.”
“If you look dowdy and dull, you can come off that way,” she said. “What you wear definitely affects how people see you.”
Reality television fans recognize Parsons as the home of “Project Runway,” the fashion designers’ competition. Last year, Salkin was a dresser for the program’s final runway competition. That was valuable experience, because Fusion designers had to dress their own models.
Fusion judges also named a best designer, but Salkin called that award “so not important” for her.
“The whole journey of making this collection has been amazing,” she said. “People my age don’t get this opportunity.”