Student Spotlight: Costume designer Celeste Jennings ’18

by Nalini Ramanathan | 9/24/16 12:57pm


Celeste Jennings ’18 has experience in fashion design, but she hopes to pursue costume design after graduation.

Source: Courtesy of Celeste Jennings

With her trusty X-Acto knife, a love for color and a distinct penchant for productivity, Celeste Jennings ’18 has already started to make a name for herself in the world of design.

Although she had always been very involved in art, receiving third place in the Clinton Foundation’s Curbside Couture fashion show, an event where students make fashion from recycled materials, was when she began to see her career path.

“It really made me think after college I could do something with art for a living,” Jennings said.

Thus, Jennings decided to major in art, rather than following her initial plan of environmental studies.

This year, she also won Mood Designer Fabrics’ Neoprene Design Challenge, where she created a pattern that incorporated both geometric and floral elements.

As a fan of the television show “Project Runway,” whose fabrics often come from the New York-based company, Jennings found out about the competition from an email. The project began during her spring break, when she decided to make at least one illustration per day.

“You know, if I see a cool design I can really draw it up, but I’ve never spent a lot of time creating my own designs,” Jennings said.

By the end of her break, she had about thirty different drawings. With some help from Dartmouth’s digital arts lab specialist Christopher Ivanyi, she learned how to scan these illustrations and duplicate parts of them on Photoshop in order to perfect and finish her designs.

As winner of the challenge, Jennings’ design will be printed on a neoprene fabric in a few weeks. Although the material was originally used for scuba diving suits and swimsuits, fashion designers are also using the fabric, particularly when it is thinner, to produce other types of clothing.

The material will be available for purchase in Mood’s New York store and Jennings said that it may be available online as well. Jennings said she currently plans to use this material to make herself a shirt, pants and a jacket.

When she first came to Dartmouth, Jennings planned on a career in fashion design. Now, however, she sees a future in costume design.

“I still get to be a fashion designer, except I’m applying it to theatrical pieces and still have things that I’m supposed to read about, analyze and like apply psychology, culture, their social class and what year it is,” Jennings said. “I don’t know, for me, it’s so much more exciting.”

This term, Jennings is interning for the Shakespeare Theater Company at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC. Currently, the company is working on a production of “The Secret Garden.” Jennings works in the costume shop, where she helps with sewing and observes some of the reasoning behind designers’ decisions.

Jennings was also a costume designer for Carene Mekertichyan ’16’s senior thesis production of “for colored girls” this spring. She said it was the largest production she ever designed for, as well as her first time working with a professional designer.

“It was initially intimidating, but I learned a lot and I grew a lot as a costume designer,” Jennings said, noting that the designer was always honest with her opinions.

Jennings hopes to remain involved in studio art in the future as well.

As an art major, Jennings said she tends to be drawn more to low-relief/mixed media art, a category of art which involves slightly raised textures on two-dimensional pieces. These works are often produced with one of her favorite tools, the X-Acto knife, although Jennings hopes to integrate sewing into her work as well.

One of her favorite art pieces is a low-relief, abstract profile of her head, which has things exploding from it. She did this piece in the fall of her freshman year in studio art professor Colleen Randall’s “Pursuit of Color” class. Jennings said this was one of the first times she felt freedom in her work.

Randall noted the great deal of work Jennings put into her pieces, noting the large scale of her works as well as a lot of meticulous gluing.

“She was very productive throughout the term, did more work than required and set a high standard for the rest of the class,” Randall said.

Much of this work, Randall noted, also dealt with her own emotions and identity.

Jennings similarly expresses her emotions and identity in many other fields of art. For her final project in studio art professor Zenovia Toloudi’s “Introduction to Architecture” class, Jennings created a house that served as both protection for a woman and acted as a prison.

“She had this capacity to unpack these neglected topics through her art,” Toloudi said.

These topics, Toloudi said, include class and the role of women.

Jennings has also been very involved in Soul Scribes, Dartmouth’s slam poetry organization, and was president her sophomore summer.

“A lot of her poetry deals with social justice, issues of race and her experiences as a Black woman,” Niamè Daffe ’18, one of Jennings’ close friends, said.

In the future, Jennings also plans to create a non-profit organization to provide resources in the arts for minorities of all ages. When she was growing up, she initially wanted to be a contemporary dancer. However, as an African-American girl growing up in the South, Jennings said that it was often difficult for her to find good teachers who were willing to work with her. Thus, Jennings said that she wants to ensure that other individuals have the right financial help and resources to be successful in what they are passionate about.

Her peers are supportive of her many endeavors as well.

“She’s really dedicated and always willing to improve,” Saadjo Sow ’18, another of Jennings’ friends, said. “To me, it seems like she’ll really go great places.”

The Last Word with Celeste Jennings:

Favorite artist: Alice Walker

Favorite poet: Elizabeth Acevedo

Favorite song I’m listening to right now: CRZY by Kehlani

Favorite color: charcoal gray