Design professor’s vision for Mr. Commodore’s makeover

by Amy Wolf

When it comes to getting a stellar makeover, Mr. Commodore goes straight to Vanderbilt fashion design professor Alexandra Sargent-Capps.

“I like the idea of the tradition of Vanderbilt being highlighted in Mr. C’s costume,” said Sargent-Capps. “But Mr. C has to move and dance and show his spirit!”

Sargent-Capps worked with Mr. C’s “manager” Danielle Eckert to create a traditional Commodore tailcoat—with a twist—marrying form and function.

Well, of course as a theater designer, I really sort of envision Mr. C covered in sequins and sparkles,” laughed Sargent-Capps. “But we’re going for something more classic that looks like a tailcoat but acts like a dance costume.”

When she’s not rubbing elbows with the Commodore, Sargent-Capps teaches fashion design and fashion history and manages the costume shop for all Vanderbilt Theatre productions.

Creative start

Her love of sewing started very early.

I have been obsessed with sewing since I was about 5. My mom is a beautiful seamstress, and she used to set her sewing machine up in our formal living room and I would just sit next to her and watch,” Sargent-Capps said.

“Honestly, my whole life I actually have rather done my crafts than just about anything else,” she said.

Tactile over technology

Today she’s driven to help students put down their technology and pick up fabric.

I’m convinced that with the preponderance of student anxiety and stress, that if students could get out of their heads and do something with their hands, I think they could really relax and get fulfillment from doing something that has a tactile nature,” Sargent-Capps said.

Special partnership

Next Steps student Nila Huddleston (left) took Sargent-Capps' costume design course, and the two collaborated on a quilt. (Vanderbilt University)
Next Steps student Nila Huddleston (left) took Sargent-Capps’ costume design course, and the two collaborated on a quilt. (Vanderbilt University)

She put this theory into practice with a special quilt made in partnership with Next Steps graduate Nila Huddleston and a group of Vanderbilt students.

Huddleston loves drawing animals, so Sargent-Capps helped her turn those drawings into quilt squares.

“Nila had a student ambassador in our class, and a she and a group of traditional Vanderbilt students came together with Nila to make an amazing quilt,” Sargent-Capps said. “It’s been one of the highlights of all of my teaching.”

The quilt is now hanging at the Center for Teaching. Sargent-Capps and Huddleston also gave part of the keynote address at a recent conference for students with developmental challenges.

“The idea that creating inclusively between all different kinds of people can come from crafting and making things—I kind of think it’s the great equalizer between different groups of people,” she said.

Pioneering DIVE

Sargent-Capps has also been a leader in incorporating the DIVE (Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience) philosophy into her teaching.

The goal of DIVE is to teach human-centered design thinking to students so that they may solve complex, real-world problems, develop critical thinking skills, and work in multidisciplinary teams during an immersive, faculty-guided project.

“Working with a team of diverse people, building empathy for the people for whom you are solving problems, and then finding creative ways to solve those problems is what I’ve been doing in theatre for a long time,” she said.

“With DIVE, I think a whole world of new educational possibilities has opened up.”