When we think of high-end fashion, we don’t typically think of recycled household items like plastic bottles and paperclips, but that’s just what Glen Cove High School junior Natalia Monsale brought to the world’s stage. After months of designing and reimagining recycled materials, Monsale presented an outfit for the Junk Koture finals in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, on Jan. 27.
Junk Koture was created as a safe space for youth to express themselves creatively and showcase their designs on a global stage. The sustainable-fashion platform that hosts regional design competitions, is for high school students 13-18 years old. Every garment was created using 100 percent recycled materials.
Monsale’s journey to Dubai started in the high school’s fashion class, taught by Leeann Palazzo. Last year, while researching different ways for students to express themselves artistically, Palazzo received an email that looked like a phishing scam. Although she felt hesitant, Palazzo took a leap of faith and responded to the Junk Koture organizers. When Palazzo realized the email wasn’t a scam, she knew the Junk Koture competition would be a great experience for her students.
Monsale, alongside her fellow designers Virginia Papasidero, Betsy Mejia, Lizbeth Rojas and Anoushka Glouchkjov, also students in Palazzo’s fashion illustration class created the dress titled “Grandstar.”
The outfit was an asymmetrical top with a duct-taped dress frame and a cape fastened by paper clips. For the finishing touches, they decorated and painted the outfit with cosmic patterns inspired by the night sky. Palazzo said that although students used technology like their Chromebooks and phones to structure their ideas, she urged them to cross reference their feelings and thoughts with colors and textures, to come up with something that stood out.
The dress was created with materials like cardboard, paper bags, water bottles, paper clips and recycled clothing.
Originally, Monsale and her teammates didn’t know what to think about the competition. But after discussing the contest, they decided they had nothing to lose from competing.
Monsale competed in the New York City final in June 2022 and was selected to advance to the Dubai finals alongside her fellow designers. Although the dress was a collaborative effort, Monsale was the only student left from her original team after the June event. Her other teammates either graduated or moved to other districts, leaving her the as the only student to represent the high school.
After a 12-hour flight, Monsale and Palazzo only had one day to relax and meet other competitors. On day two of their three-day adventure, she needed to prepare for the competition.
After hours of adjusting the dress post-flight, hair, makeup, and a brief rehearsal, Monsale modeled for celebrity judges, industry experts and a cheering audience at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island. She faced off against 59 other artists from secondary schools in London, Paris, Milan, the United Arab Emirates, and Ireland.
Although Monsale wasn’t the final winner of the competition, she said she was able to take away so much from her brief trip overseas. She bonded with some of her competitors and experienced the competitive world of high fashion.
At the Feb. 8 Board of Education meeting Monsale’s creative spirit was recognized. Maria Rianna, the district’s superintendent, said she was in awe of Monsale’s creative journey.
“Who knows, we may be standing in the midst of the next Versace or Armani or Dior,” Rianna said. “But the creativity that this young lady has shown should be recognized. She’s truly outstanding.”