Alumnae Rhiannon Cassata is graduating this spring from Dominican University this year with a B.A. in Fashion Design. Her senior collection, entitled “Full of Grace,” was inspired by the Blessed Mother and debuted at Dominican University’s Spring 2023 Fashion Show, “At the Edge.”
“FULL OF GRACE”
The process of developing a senior collection was an intentionally spiritual one. Cassata used the vast array of ways that Our Lady has been depicted to draw inspiration for her collection, incorporating motifs, recurring colors, and other symbols. Her goal was to create pieces that were timeless yet original, as well as attractive to the modern eye. Ultimately, as her artist statement reads, she was “inspired by the strength, beauty, and resilience found in womanhood.”
Cassata began her college experience studying studio art at a different school. She quickly realized, however, that her artistic process and practical nature fit better with a field like fashion. She drew inspiration from a fashion course she had taken at the Art Institute of Chicago during her time at Willows. When she discovered that Dominican University–a small, Catholic liberal arts university just thirty minutes from home–had a fashion program, she immediately knew it was the place she needed to be.
The idea for her final collection was sparked by a gift she received the summer before her senior year: an image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn from Lithuania. She was captivated by the image and a theme for her senior collection began to take shape.
“It got me thinking about what she wears and how beautiful the images that we see of her are,” Cassata explains. “I wanted to make my senior collection on the variety of images, sculpture, artwork, visions that you see of Our Lady and pinpoint that into a four piece collection.”
The result was a beautiful collection of gowns that capture a wide variety of colors and fabrics. Cassata’s artist statement reads:
“Full of Grace is a collection where faith meets fashion. Pulling inspiration from a variety of aspects of the Blessed Mother Mary, these pieces are made to represent the beauty and femininity within women….Full of Grace is an expression of individuality, elegance, and a fine attention to detail.”
The program adds elsewhere:
“Inspired by the strength, beauty, and resilience found in womanhood, Rhiannon….aims to bring confidence and an understanding of inner beauty to the wearer.”
AN AUTHENTIC CATHOLIC ENVIRONMENT
Rhiannon remembers her time at Willows fondly and credits much of how she has discovered her own path to the influence that her teachers had on her during her time here. In particular, she credits Mrs. Michele Morris, current Willows art teacher, for opening the door for her to art and introducing her to fashion, in which she ended up getting a degree.
In addition, she recalls how Willows helped her spiritually as well.
“The very authentic Catholic environment has helped me stay true to who I am in college and to authentically be myself,” she says, explaining that Willows taught her to “immerse myself in the real and regular world…but at the same time keeping my identity as a Catholic woman in tact.”
Cassata has remained involved at the school through extracurricular activities throughout the years since her graduation.
Rhiannon will join the Willows faculty next year as the middle school art teacher. Her decision to officially consider returning began last summer as she led Camp Soar’s new fashion course. Seeing the girls leave with not only a new skill but a stronger sense of confidence and self-worth inspired her to consider teaching.
Returning to Willows felt like an obvious choice. Not only has Cassata stayed involved through activities such as coaching and stage crew, she knows how special Willows students are.
“The type of girls that go there have that ability to be confident in who you are and to find out your role as a woman in the world,” she asserts. She is looking forward to guiding students to meaningfully engage with fashion, from everyday styling choices to consumer ethics.
Cassata is honored and excited to return to an environment that she feels is unmatched in nurturing uniquely self-assured and virtuous young women.