Student-designed red dresses inspire awareness of heart health for all women

Slideshow: use arrows to view next slide. Above: UC Davis student Mary Guillen prepares her dress for display.



The five dresses represent unique heart-health messages.



Student designers modeled their dresses for the crowd.



The education program included healthy eating tips from dietician Marie Barone.



Cardiologist Amparo Villablanca (left) with Johanna Suarez, event emcee and Univison 19 news anchor.



Posted Feb. 9, 2011

UC Davis Design Program students recently unveiled red dresses they designed to raise awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. The dresses were displayed and modeled at the sixth UC Davis Women’s Heart Care Education and Awareness Forum for Community Leaders, which is held each year in Sacramento on National Wear Red Day during American Heart Month.

Five students in the Advanced Fashion Design course chose to create red dresses for the Feb. 4 forum in the second year of a unique partnership between the UC Davis Design Program and the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program.

“The design program strives to emphasize social responsibility in student assignments,” said Adele Zhang, the instructor who mentored the red dress collection. “These are not just designs created for the sake of design. In addition to being creative, they have strong real-world and personal connections.”

The outcome is a series of dresses that are unique interpretations of each designer’s own heart-disease prevention message.

“It was an unexpected inspiration for me, since I didn’t think I had enough of a personal story to do a meaningful red dress,” said design student Ellen Griesemer. “But I talked with a relative, and she gave me a more detailed family medical history than I’d ever heard before, including plenty of information about women’s heart health. The project encouraged me to get informed and then share my realization through design.”

Griesemer’s experience highlights the primary reason why National Wear Red Day was launched: to help families, friends and communities openly address heart disease.

About the UC Davis Design Program

Photo of winning dress design © UC RegentsThe UC Davis Design Program emphasizes design as the nexus of culture, science, technology and creativity. The program includes courses in exhibition design, interior architecture, textile and fashion design, and visual communication. The design major is the only professionally-oriented, design driven undergraduate and graduate program in the UC system. For more information, visit

“Heart disease isn’t an easy subject for many women as far too many falsely believe that they are immune,” said Amparo Villablanca, the UC Davis cardiologist who launched the community forum, the student red dress collection and the nation’s first program dedicated to women’s heart health. “The color red, especially red dresses, really helps get those conversations started. The fact that these red dresses engage younger women and men in those conversations is especially significant.”

In her clinic and outreach, Villablanca educates women about the importance of thinking about their hearts — even in their 20s and 30s, because “heart disease develops over the course of decades,” she said. She emphasizes lifestyle changes, because most heart disease is preventable.

“It is critical for all women to know the importance of adopting healthy habits that include exercise and a healthy diet,” said Villablanca, who holds the Frances Lazda Endowed Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine and is a West Coast spokesperson for National Institutes of Health “The Heart Truth” campaign.

Griesemer’s creation — which she calls “Thread as a Metaphor” — represents the importance of knowing family history as a risk for heart disease. Her classmates’ dresses range in style from playful to elegant to modern and express in various ways the importance of protecting the heart.

The nearly 260 forum participants voted for the dress they thought best represented the heart-health message. The winner was David Lee’s “Tins of Love,” which he constructed in part using cupcake liners.

The entire collection, paired with an educational program, will also be exhibited as part of the design program’s student fashion show during Picnic Day — UC Davis’ annual open house in April — and at other venues.

Red Dress designers © UC Regents
Five UC Davis students designed red dresses for the 2011 Women's Heart Care Education and Awareness Forum. Pictured at the event are (back row, left to right) Ellen Griesemer, design program instructor Adele Zhang, Mary Guillen, (front row) Lucia Carrousel, David Lee, Heidi Lo and model Vanessa Chin.

“Our partnership with Dr. Villablanca has been very beneficial to our students, since it helps them understand the wide range of topics that design can cover,” said Zhang. “At the same time, it’s great that our students can use a visual language to further the cause of women’s heart health.”

Photos of the five red dresses can be viewed here.

Helpful heart-health information is available on The Heart Truth campaign website and on the Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program website.

The UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program offers state-of-the-art and comprehensive cardiovascular health care for women, including education, community outreach and translational research. The program’s Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic provides dedicated care for women who are at risk for or have heart disease. Physicians and nurse specialists in the clinic employ a multidisciplinary approach that emphasizes prevention in addressing heart issues unique to women.