AUP Community Blog

Why I Designed President Schenck’s 60th Anniversary Gala Outfit

Shannen with President Schenck

Shannen Henry ’19 founded sustainable luxury fashion brand Kaylia after completing her master’s at AUP. She returned to the fold for our 60th anniversary with a special, bespoke design for our very own President Schenck. 

By Shannen Henry ’19 

I arrived in Paris in September 2018 to pursue an MSc in International Management. Quintessentially Parisian, my apartment was directly above a café, so I awoke to the sound of plates clanging and the smell of coffee brewing and fresh-baked croissants every morning. Just a few months earlier, I’d graduated with a BSc in Biology/Pre-Medicine. I pushed myself hard. My schedule was filled with science courses, general studies and labs, and I worked at a luxury boutique on evenings and weekends. When I decided to take a gap year before applying to medical school, AUP seemed like a great choice. I came to Paris with the intention of fully immersing myself in the experience, which I did. It changed my life.  

The MSIM program offered courses that allowed me to explore outside the bounds of traditional scientific thinking. In particular, the Sustainable Development Practicum in India meant I could practice ethnographic research. I was directly confronted with the harsh realities of the world, and I realized that I personally did not need to become a medical doctor to make a difference. I welcomed my passions for garments and culture and accepted those passions as tools for shaping my career. I saw the waste I was contributing to as a consumer. I also realized how valuable my background in science could be to fashion, especially with the growing importance of environmental sustainability in the industry. 

This ultimately inspired the creation of my sustainable luxury fashion company, Kaylia: a space where my love for design co-exists with my training and passion for bioscience. In 2022, my studio Bottega Kaylia was established in the lush hillsides of Biella, Italy. It’s a place full of natural beauty with an incredible heritage of Lanificios (wool manufacturers). It is also home to some legendary designers. My studio is now a place where I collaborate with other young artists, innovators and generational craftsmen to bring my creations to life. I hope to bring students from around the globe, starting with those from AUP, to experience the magic of Biella and engage in the studio’s mission.  

I always imagined that Kaylia would be the kind of brand you stumble upon, maybe in the boutique of a small luxury hotel, at a pop-up shop on the French Riviera – or adorning the body of an impactful woman. For this reason, I planned to create bespoke garments for impactful women to help launch my brand. AUP President Celeste M. Schenck was the epitome of my clientele: someone who lives an intentional life, who has cultivated and refined tastes, who seeks knowledge and who appreciates art. It happened that President Schenck would be hosting AUP’s 60th Anniversary Gala on May 21, 2022. It would be a great opportunity to create a bespoke item. 

President Schenck and I spent many afternoons together in Paris. I learned about her personal style, then I created sketches, developed a prototype and conducted fittings. We shared stories and brainstormed ideas for the future of Kaylia. I was honored to spend such quality time with such a profound and impactful leader. I sincerely thank President Schenck for this incredible opportunity.  

Developing bespoke garments and limited edition collections is fun, but it is also necessary for a much greater cause. Firstly, there are incredible artisanal communities that are dying out due to modernity. Supporting these communities means investing in their craft and contributing positively to their wellbeing. One way Kaylia does this is by sourcing our embroideries from craftswomen throughout northern India. The bird embroideries featured on President Schenck’s silk organza overcoat were designed by me and hand embroidered in Mumbai. 

Secondly, research is the backbone of Kaylia. We conduct research every day into innovative textiles, especially those which transform organic waste into usable fabrics. My choice to create a 100% silk garment for President Schenck lies in the incredible history of this fabric, which is the transformation of silk moth waste into a luxury textile. We are also in the process of conducting research for the development of our own textile, produced from the by-products of organic waste.

Lastly, Kaylia builds community. AUP gave me the opportunity to explore the world and identify how I could make a difference. My hope is to use Bottega Kaylia as a tool to do the same for others. Today, you can find the artwork of AUP student Gisele Luiz printed on a limited-edition collection of silk scarves for the Kaylia brand. Gisele’s hand-painted watercolor now adorns pure silk, woven in Padova and printed on Lake Como, an area known for its silk textile artisanship. This is the kind of opportunity, innovation and collaboration to which Kaylia aspires.  

Today, I awake every morning to the sounds of birds chirping and a flowing river. I watch the sunrise over the lush greenery of Biella from my bedroom window. Every day, I make a direct connection between science and fashion: living and researching in the land of wool, developing products that have a positive impact, and dedicating myself to creating opportunity for others. As Kaylia continues to practice environmental and social sustainability, I sincerely hope you will keep in touch with us.