By STEVEN NALLEY
Search for Seoin Jeong on Youtube, and the first result that appears shows her transforming ordinary water bottles and bamboo into unique dresses.
She measures, cuts, and then makes finer cuts to a single piece of bamboo, and then she shows a dress she has made from dozens of similar pieces. Then she carefully crumples one plastic water bottle into the shape of a blossom, cuts another one into feather-like strips, spray-paints them both black, and shows another dress made from such pieces. She spends much of the video covering a wall with several samples of her artwork, and all the while, she talks about what being “New School” means to her.
“It means to challenge, to experiment, to push my limits, to think outside the box,” Jeong says in the video. “I want to be on the cutting edge of design, to generate fresh ideas and new creations. It means to be creative, to envision, to be inspired, to explore, to imagine, to dream, to express myself in bold and beautiful ways, to seek the extraordinary out of the ordinary.”
Jeong is pursuing her dream of studying fashion design at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City through an online scholarship competition where supporters on YouTube and Facebook can bolster her odds of winning.
Jeong said only comments submitted by Sunday will count toward the competition. The competition’s website says finalists for the competition will be announced February 20, and participants will receive notice of acceptance into Parsons and other participating New School colleges from Feb. 14.
“First, they choose 20 finalists for this fashion school, and then they choose the winner depending on the quality of (his or her) work,” Jeong said. “But first, to become a finalist, it really depends on how many supporting comments you get ... and the quality of the comments. It’s a very new, modern way of how people can support one’s dream.”
Jeong said first prize in the competition is a full scholarship to one of four New School colleges of the winner’s choosing, and second prize is a scholarship that pays half of all expenses. Total attendance expenses at Parsons reach $54,000 per year, she said, so she cannot attend Parsons without a scholarship.
“So many of the college’s students become world-famous fashion designers,” Jeong said. “It was nominated as the second-best fashion school in the world, and it’s the best in the country.”
If Jeong is able to win, it would not be her first time making an artistic splash beyond Starkville. Jeong won the Congressional Art Competition for Mississippi’s third congressional district in April 2012, earning the right to have her self-portrait hang in the U.S. Capitol for one year.
Jeong is a Starkville High School senior who came overseas from Seoul, South Korea in April 2011. Caryn Dampier said Seoin’s mother is a Korean English teacher and her father is in the South Korean army, and the latter attended naval postgraduate school with Dampier’s husband. As such, the families have been friends for years, she said, so when Seoin’s parents sent Seoin to America for her final two years of high school, the Dampiers were happy to become Seoin’s guardians.
It wasn’t Seoin’s first time coming to America, Dampier said. Eight years ago, Seoin’s father went to Auburn University to get his Ph.D., she said, and Seoin developed many American tendencies.
“When she got back (to South Korea), I think she started wanting to return to America ever since,” Dampier said. “She was interested in fashion design from the get-go. (Her parents) thought she would have a better chance of getting into an American university if she went to an American high school.”
At first, Dampier said, it was difficult for Seoin knowing few people and not knowing when or if she would return to South Korea. Life at SHS got better over time, she said, and seeing an exhibition of Alexander McQueen’s work at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art solidified her resolve.
“She was so in love,” Dampier said. “She said, ‘I think the greatest thing I ever did for myself was coming to America.’ She has such a creative eye that it’s sometimes just overwhelming with almost everything she does. Who would have thought of taking an ordinary water bottle and making a dress out of it?”
Jeong said the idea for the water bottle dress came from the idea of making something out of nothing, of using a material no one would expect. She said the bamboo dress came from a desire to express her Asian heritage.
“It took me two straight days to cut and sew the bamboo... (but) it was the exact result I was trying to have,” Jeong said. “The feeling of accomplishment was really worth it.”
As media director at First United Methodist Church, Dampier said she works with television broadcasts regularly. She said she lent some of her expertise to Seoin’s video, but not as much as one might expect.
“She picked the music; she picked the tempo; that artistic direction she did,” Dampier said. “She had pretty good, solid ideas about what she wanted to present. I was pleased. She knew exactly how she wanted to lay it out and what she wanted to do.”