Several times during Thanksgiving break, Dior Delophont awoke at 4 a.m., arrived at the Kent State University fashion school at 6, found the front door locked, and called the campus police.
That’s how desperate the senior track and field star was to show her designs at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Beijing March 25-30. On some of those early mornings, she wasn’t alone, but was always the designated dialer.
“I would be the one to call the police officers, ‘You haven’t opened the school yet. You’re 10 minutes late,’?” she said. “They really hated me. They were like, ‘It’s not even time yet,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, it is.’?”
When fashion school director J.R. Campbell threw open a competition that would allow six students to show their senior collections alongside others from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and Taiwan’s Shih Chien University, Delophont canceled a planned visit to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. The muslins, copies of her designs made in the thin fabric, were due about 10 days after the break.
Time management has always been crucial for Delophont, who competes in the long jump, high jump and triple jump for the Golden Flashes. She’s won 10 Mid-American Conference championships and been a three-time All-American in the indoor and outdoor seasons. For this project, she was allowed to skip some of the team’s conditioning sessions, but the pressure was still intense.
Delophont, 21, plans to move to New York in June to find a job in the industry and knew participating in the show would be a major addition to her portfolio. After living with her parents in Japan for two years as a youngster, she’d always wanted to return to Asia.
“All my friends were like, ‘Oh, you’re crazy. You don’t have time,’?” Delophont said Monday. “Even my parents, they’ve always supported me, weren’t so sure. I worked every day without sleeping.”
That was just to make the cut to 12. Over Christmas break, Delophont had to produce the final garments. She lugged a 50-pound suitcase full of nothing but fabric home to Nancy, France. After she located a professional sewing machine, she commandeered the living room.
“My dad says, ‘To this day, I’m still picking up all the threads that you left. It’s a nightmare,’?” Delophont said.
The nightmare was worth it. The thrill of seeing her designs walk the runway in Beijing was a huge boost to her confidence.
“In Beijing, the students work very hard and they had great clothes,” she said. “I was scared that my clothes weren’t going to look as good, but when they came out, they all looked great. That’s the feeling I’ll remember. The whole trip, I couldn’t believe I was there.”
Her outfits, some made from self-created prints inspired by face painting of the Maasai tribe of East Africa, will be shown as part of Kent State’s annual show April 29-30. While her designs will be there, Delophont can’t attend.
She hopes to compete through the NCAA outdoor championships June 8-11 in Eugene, Ore. If she improves her personal records, she could qualify as a member of the French team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Seeing the Bird’s Nest, the site of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, served as inspiration.
“I’m already registered. If you make the standards, you get to go,” Delophont said of the Olympics. “I’m still targeting it with my coaches, but it’s very, very high. It’s every athlete’s dream; you never know.”
Delophont is just as competitive for a future in fashion and one day hopes to have her own label, something she’s sought since she was 12. Ironically, her first name has nothing to do with the famous fashion house, instead popular among the Senegalese.
During the fall semester of 2014, Delophont interned in New York designing yoga wear for Phat Buddha, a maker favored by Madonna. Now she’s drawn to menswear, which she believes offers more opportunities for innovation.
The trip to Beijing, financed by a donation to the Kent State fashion school by former Macy’s chief administrative officer Tom Cole, a KSU alum, and his wife, Barbara, can be an important professional step.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Campbell said, referring to the six chosen. “When the students are interviewing for positions and they ask, ‘What’s this, you got to show your work in China?’ there’s a story there and an experience that is really relevant in our very global and culturally diverse industry.”
He was not surprised Delophont called the campus police, reduced for the Thanksgiving holiday, to perfect her designs.
“The cool thing about Dior is she’s 100 percent willing to take advantage of what’s on offer and run with it,” Campbell said. “That’s a good example of how she handles these things. She works hard and she knows what’s possible.”
Delophont’s artistic streak also includes playing the piano for 10 years and painting or glittering her high jump spikes. Her seminal moment came during her junior year of high school, when she told a friend from the track team she would make her prom dress.
“Oh, my God, what a promise. It was a rough journey, but I finished it on time,” Delophont said. “I bought the patterns and read all the instructions. I knew nothing what they were talking about. I guess I taught myself.”
Representing France in 10 international track competitions, Delophont made her college choice based on the fashion school rankings of Division I track programs, with her decision coming down to Cincinnati and Kent State. KSU sealed it by sending horizontal jumps coach Phil Rickaby to recruit her in France.
Once she graduates, Delophont will have a year before her student visa expires and she must apply for a work visa. After learning to get by on three hours of sleep a night for a week — except when she’s competing in track — Delophont is prepared to put in that kind of time for a career she loves.
“Sometimes I look back and I wonder, ‘How did I do it?’?” Delophont said. “Last semester I never slept; I was so motivated by the opportunity. When it’s something you like, you really don’t count your hours.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
©2016 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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