Heart leads science student to fashion
Dan Wittenberg, a SAIC, School Art Institute Chicago student will attend a fashion show that will be held April 19, 2012. I Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: May 13, 2012 8:04AM
Dan Wittenberg got it right.
The New Trier graduate headed to McGill University in Montreal to study geochemical engineering, a decidedly left-brain sort of endeavor. But he soon discovered that while he had the head for the advanced sciences, his heart had a mind of its own.
And a right-brain kind of mind at that.
“I really enjoyed the humanities, but my parents and I decided I should follow a more conventional path. Math and science were my other areas of interest, but at that level I found I really didn’t like that work,” he said.
He transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue fashion design, a path he first explored while studying weaving with his mentor, master weaver and North Shore Weavers Guild member Irene Suyeoka of Evanston.
“She was a family friend, and she taught me how to weave,” Wittenberg said of Suyeoka, who died in 2010. “I miss her so much, and I came to this school because she studied here.”
Now a senior, Wittenberg is showing five looks April 19 in the Walk, the School of the Art Institute’s annual fashion show.
One of those looks will harken back to Suyeoka.
“One of my garments [in the show] features a technique she pioneered,” he said.
Guests at the show also can look forward to his take on menswear, which incorporates 20 different pieces, many more than a designer who shows womenswear. He has pants, undershirts, jackets and mantles. For those who don’t know they need a mantle — it’s Wittenberg’s fashionable take on what he describes as a handwoven snuggie. But don’t get too attached, as the designer has the distinct advantage of having the gift to construct his own clothes.
“It’s my ideal wardrobe,” he said. “I designed it, it fits me and I’m very happy with it.”
Many fashion designers approach their lines with a specific inspiration, but Wittenberg has a larger vision for his collection.
“I am exploring uncharted male sexuality,” he said. “We all have an idea of the perfect male we see in Hollywood. But my collection is not about masculinity. It’s about how a man wants to approach the beauty in his life.”
The harried senior is frantically finishing his line for the runway, so he’s uncertain of his plans upon graduation. But he wants to use both his right and left brains — and potentially work as a pattern maker rather than a fashion designer.
“It’s a very technical discipline, much like engineering,” he said. “I truly enjoy making pieces happen — the illustration, the construction — and it’s a viable career.”