UC Davis Red Dress Collection inspires women of all ages to be serious about cardiovascular health

UC Davis Red Dress Collection © Carolyn Thompson
UC Davis Design Program students' dresses were unveiled at an education and awareness forum on Feb. 5. Photograph courtesy of Caroline Thompson.

Posted Feb. 10, 2010

A gladiator’s strength, the tradition of quilting and a mother’s struggle with cardiomyopathy are some of the inspirations for nine red dresses designed by UC Davis students in honor of National Heart Month. Commissioned by the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program, the spirited collection aims to raise awareness for women’s heart health across generations.

"Although awareness is improving, there is more work to be done to make sure that all women regardless of age have clear and current information about heart disease, including preventive measures," said Amparo Villablanca, a UC Davis cardiologist and director of the first program in the nation to focus on heart disease in women. “Commitment to heart health needs to begin well before symptoms become noticeable later in life.”

The dresses were unveiled to more than 200 participants at the Women's Heart Care Education and Awareness Forum for Community Leaders on National Wear Red Day — Friday, Feb. 5 — at the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento. The event was hosted by the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program.

Dr. Villablanca © UC Regents“Commitment to heart health needs to begin well before symptoms become noticeable later in life.”
— Amparo Villablanca

The UC Davis Red Dress Collection was the brainchild of Villablanca, who is also a national spokeswoman for the Heart Truth Campaign that in 2002 launched Wear Red Day and a national red dress collection by world-famous fashion designers. Wearing red — in particular, red dresses — has since become a powerful symbol of empowerment and solidarity for women in making the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce their risks of heart disease, which is the number one cause of death for women in the United States.

“It is difficult at times to get women to ask about heart disease,” said Villablanca, “but red dresses have helped initiate those important conversations. They symbolically and successfully bridge the unique experiences and interests of women with awareness for cardiovascular health.”

Different from the formal look of the national collection, the UC Davis dresses incorporate youthful styles, textures and silhouettes, while representing the individual perspectives of each designer. Some have creative links to health care, including the use of medical gauze for the gladiator-inspired gown and an EKG tracing on the cocktail dress from the designer whose mother has cardiomyopathy. Raena Rice, however, was inspired by quilting.

UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program

Red Dress  Go Red trademark of AHAThe Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program is a comprehensive program offering state-of-the-art cardiovascular health care for women, education services and studies on women's heart health issues. The cornerstone of the program is the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic, which provides dedicated care for women who are at risk for or have heart disease.

Physicians and nurse specialists employ a multidisciplinary approach that emphasizes preventive measures and attention to heart issues unique to women. For more information, visit the program Web site.

“I used this long-standing tradition of women to show how intelligent and resourceful they were and continue to be when times get tough,” said Rice. “I wanted my dress to be much more than a typical, sophisticated red dress. I used a historic technique in a new way to pique people’s interest, make them curious and raise awareness.”

Rice and her fellow students in the winter quarter fashion design course were guided in finalizing their creations by their teacher, Adele Zhang, a lecturer and collection curator with the UC Davis Design Program and freelance couture designer.

Play video: Click above to hear guidance from Amparo Villablanca on the key symptoms and preventions of heart disease in women.

“I’m so proud of these students for taking on this challenge with such energy,” said Zhang. “They have delivered an optimistic and powerful message about how precious our hearts are. At the same time, they have learned a great deal about how designers can be more socially responsible and positively influence people’s lives.”

Villablanca hopes this will be the first of many times that student dress designs are included in her program’s outreach activities.

“What we started could become an important way to make heart health a bigger priority for women in our region, since these dresses come from our own community,” she said.