What could a Christmas entertainment historian possibly have in common with a college sophomore at Kent State University? A dress. A Christmas dress, to be more specific. A Christmas dress made from more than 1,500 red paper Netflix DVD envelopes.
Joanna Wilson, author of the Christmas encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, as well as three other books, is responsible for launching the dress project. She’s been collecting the red paper Netflix.com sends with its products.
“I’m a crafty sort of person,” Joanna admits. “I sort of pay attention to paper. I noticed the texture of the paper envelopes was unusual. I thought I’d save a bunch of these for a future project.” The thickness and color of the paper intrigued her. The envelopes felt more substantial, more like fabric. She began collecting them in a box.
Thirteen years later, she had over 1,500 of them but no project in order. Until Netflix.com announced their 20th anniversary and said they were looking for interesting subscriber stories.
Joanna contacted them and mentioned her collection. When asked what she planned to do with all of these envelopes, she replied that she “always dreamed of making a piece of wearable art with them.”
Cue Kent State. Joanna knew the university housed one of the top fashion design programs in the entire United States. With Netflix’s help and sponsorship, she sought a prospective designer who might be interested in her project. WKYC even helped advertise for the right designer. Twenty fashion students from around the country expressed interest. Joanna interviewed ten.
“Alyssa Hertz stood out,” Joanna exclaims.
Alyssa had worked with wearable art before. In fact, at Copley High School, she was a bit of a celebrity, having made a wedding dress out of Styrofoam that garnered a lot of media attention. She readily gives a shout out to Copley art teacher Mr. Antoine Pastor, from whom she continues to receive advice and correspondence. Mr. Pastor helped guide her interest in art and fashion.
Joanna broke the news that the young woman had been selected as the designer over coffee at Akron Coffee Roasters. The college sophomore immediately embraced the project with enthusiasm.
From the moment she saw it announced on Facebook, Alyssa says she thought, “Wow! That’s perfect for me. I love doing projects like that.” She was thrilled to be the chosen designer.
The two met and discussed their ideas. “We decided to take our inspiration from—wait for it—” Joanna’s smile broadens as she builds anticipation in the retelling of the dress’ journey, “Rosemary Clooney’s red dress in the finale of the 1954 movie White Christmas.”
Alyssa enjoyed working with Joanna, saying of the author, “She brings a new meaning to the whole—find something you love and get paid for it.”
The biggest challenge, as in any project for Alyssa, was to find out how to get the material to work to her advantage. “You can have the colors all you want,” she says. “It’s not fabric though. You have to make something out of this paper.” The first time she made one of the many paper roses on the dress, she was more than a little stressed. She twisted the paper and manipulated it, but she admits that the result “wasn’t pretty.”
The first acceptable rose took her around seven minutes to make. To the paper rose-making amateur, that may not seem so bad, but Alyssa knew that pace just wouldn’t do. She needed two hundred for the sleeves alone and at least five hundred for the rest of the dress. Eventually, she figured out a technique that required less time. She also allowed for a little bit of assistance.
She enlisted the help of Abbie Linnick, her best friend and a nursing major at Kent, to help cut the paper strips while Alyssa’s fingers worked out the ornate roses. Meeting her deadline of early October has kept her fingers moving nearly nonstop. As a fashion design major with a minor in costume design, Alyssa knows what it’s like to work with a tight deadline.
As for Joanna, she’s eager to see how the dress turns out, but she has hardly had an idle moment either, working hard at an updated version of Tis the Season TV. Author John Hargrave refers to her as “The Ken Burns of Christmas TV.” Each Christmas brings a fresh batch of films and programs, giving her ample material for her work.
The Netflix DVD Christmas dress, with Alyssa’s skill, will be an important part of Joanna’s Christmas collection. Netflix has yet to announce the dress’s unveiling but has hinted at a possible debut late in October or closer to the Christmas season.