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Brenau students winning dress helps a good cause
Kristie Carlson, left, stands with model and friend Megan Chafin during the Night of Spectacles event. Chafin is wearing the dress Carlson designed using eyeglass frames and lenses.

When the challenge came as a class assignment, Kristie Carlson took it seriously.

She began sketching ideas for the dress last fall, when her fashion design professor, Lori Gann-Smith, had the class come up with ideas for entries for the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation's Night of Spectacles fashion design competition. Inspired by the work the organization does donating eyeglasses and hearing aids to the working poor and uninsured, Carlson pulled three-dimensional ideas together with Elizabethan fashion to create a sweeping, mermaid-shaped golden gown, adorned in eyeglasses.

The sketches were accepted into the competition, which was open to a few select schools across the state. And when the catwalk was rolled out on April 30, Carlson's dress won the overall awards and raised more than $300 for the charity when a doctor bought the dress that night.

"I was inspired by the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation and what they did, so I wanted to make my dress very elaborate and over the top because I wanted it to represent what they did with people," said Carlson, a senior at Brenau who is a graduate of West Hall High School. "I was also inspired by the Elizabethan era ... The dress has a huge collar, like a ruff.

"And I incorporated tiny bells on the dress because they not only donate eyeglasses but they donate hearing aids, too."

But what makes the dress truly unique is the sculpture of eyeglass frames dancing around the skirt of the dress, and the mosaic of eyeglass lenses covering the queenly ruff at the top.

Carlson said she constructed the network of frames around the bottom of the dress, then attached them to it.

"These are the arms of the eyeglasses, and all of these are the bent eyeglasses," she said. "And the (lenses) are all glasses that can't be used and are damaged, otherwise they would be giving them to people."

The dress ultimately sold to Dr. Maria Aaron, the head of the opthamology residency program at the Emory Eye Center, who will wear it to the residency dinner next year. Part of the credit for selling the dress - and helping it win both the People's Choice and First Place awards at the Night of Spectacles - goes to Carlson's model and friend, Megan Chafin.

Chafin is also a senior at Brenau, studying fashion marketing. The two met in the fall semester, and when Carlson asked her to model that year for her, Chafin was instantly on board.

"It just turned out so pretty. She did such a good job. I felt like royalty," Chafin said.

Christina Lennon, executive director of Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, said the dress was one of a variety of designs shown that evening, but ultimately the panel of judges - including former "Project Runway" star Michael Knight - settled on the royal design.

"They were all very different dresses," she said, adding that the garment's new owner will get some looks when she wears it.

"I'm certain it's going to be a serious, businesslike dinner, so she's going to jazz it up."

Along with the recognition of having the winning dress, Carlson also won $1,000 from the foundation.

Carlson's mother Julie said her daughter has been creating her own designs for years, coming up with unique pieces for her mother to sew for her. But now, Carlson is starting to focus on one main goal: her senior collection.

Students have the fall semester to come up with a concept and sketches for their final collection, and then the following semester to create them.

"I've got one more year to focus on my final collection, and I'm going to spend the whole year working on that," she said. "And we have a final show at the end of the year for the seniors, and that's a big deal."

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