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How a high school student’s hand-painted graduation dress went viral

PRI logo PRI 27/04/2019 PRI's The World
a person sitting on a bed: Ciara Gan wearing her gown © Courtesy of Ciara Gan Ciara Gan wearing her gown

When 17-year old Ciara Gan arrived to her high school graduation ball on an emerald-green, hand-painted gown, her classmates were in awe.

She had kept it a secret that she was making her own dress. The gown is tailored at the top and waist and features a folded skirt with hand-painted flowers.

"My classmates got shocked because I kept it a secret from them and they told me, 'Wow, I didn't know you were gonna paint your dress, I thought you were just gonna make it,'" Gan said.

a woman in a blue dress: young woman wearing a green gown looks down as she poses for a photo © Provided by Public Radio International young woman wearing a green gown looks down as she poses for a photo

Gan and her mother worked together for about a month at their home in Manila to create the dress. They designed it, cut it and sewed it out of 13 yards of satin, pellon, boning, crinoline and regiline, using skills they learned by watching YouTube videos. 

"There wasn't much talking. More working, but we talked openly. Unlike with seamstresses — it's kind of hard to tell them what you want,” Gan said. “When we made the dress, I told [my mother] I wanted it green, I wanted to have these flowers. And we had some [disagreements], but eventually, we came to it and we made it completely personalized for me.” 

Gan's mother encouraged her to hand paint the orange floral design on the skirt since she knew about her daughter’s artistic skills.

"I just [thought] of it as another canvas that I can work on," Gan said. 

The photos of Gan's dress went viral on social media. Her post has almost 400,000 likes and more than 80,000 retweets. 

 She says she is surprised by people’s reactions and by the fact that she has received dozens of requests from people in the Philippines to make them gowns and hand-paint personalized designs on it. 

a close up of an umbrella: model of a gown made of white paper. © Provided by Public Radio International model of a gown made of white paper.

Could this be a career for Gan? Possibly, she said.

“But right now I'm focusing on my first year in college," she said. "I'm going to be studying computer sciences completely far away from art.”

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