“My style is taking unexpected materials and transforming them,” says Caroline Mae Heidenreich (B.F.A., fashion, 2009) as she tugs at the ripstop nylon wrap worn by student model Shiloh Smith (B.F.A., painting). Soon Smith is zipping on a moped down the corridors of Alexander Hall, gauzy garment billowing behind him to fabulous effect. The moment is part of a photo shoot documenting Mae’s collection-in-progress FLY, the culmination of her work as SCAD Alumni Atelier Ambassador 2021. “Mae fills the room with light,” says Smith. “As soon as she put me in the clothes, I felt uplifted.”

While a SCAD undergraduate, Mae created a senior collection of gowns made from military parachutes, mosquito netting, and hand-painted canvas that earned her the Jeffrey Fashion Cares New Talent Award. From 2013–2021, she worked as creative and executive assistant for Madonna, creating costumes for the Madame X Tour. When Madonna posted a video of her son David Banda wearing a Mae Couture dress to Instagram earlier this year, it scored two million views. “Madonna is an idol of our lifetime who believed in me and helped me believe in myself,” Mae says.

Mae is carrying that spirit forward. As a 2021 SCAD Alumni Atelier ambassador, she has mentored students, led virtual classroom workshops, and aligned with SCAD SERVE so that sales of her work will benefit the local community. During the new academic year, Mae’s capsule collection will be exhibited at SCAD FASH in Atlanta, while her epic oil paintings — emphasizing themes of higher consciousness and “the self as light energy” — will be featured in Savannah at Alexander Hall.

SCAD students Shiloh Smith and Emma Calverley model Mae, with assitance by Beckham Lin (far left) and Ann-Hammond Gift (far right).

Caroline Mae Heidenreich:

I’d always wanted to be an Alumni Atelier ambassador, but working full-time meant my schedule didn’t allow it. I stayed in touch with President Wallace, sending her updates about my work, and she connected me with Alumni Atelier director Tiffani Taylor. Then there was an opportunity for me to become one of the first digital Alumni Atelier ambassadors during winter quarter 2020–2021. Now I’m here in Savannah, completing my work in person. I had so many transformational experiences as a student at SCAD that being back in Savannah, a place where I learned so much, feels so right.

The ability to connect with students and classrooms virtually was eye-opening. I began mentoring a student who is now one of my assistants, Ann-Hammond Gift. Ann-Hammond was a fashion major who switched to a painting major, and I was a fashion major who now paints on garments, and I love the energy that’s come from that connection, and from working with talented, hardworking students, including Beckham Lin (B.F.A., fashion) who has also been an invaluable assistant to me.

For my Atelier, I found a massive, 66-foot parachute and realized, I can paint on this, this can be my canvas. Some of the garments are silk. The aim with the reversible pieces is for them to be black and white on one side and really colorful on the reverse. The language you see on the garments, like the word FLY, is about spreading your wings. That’s symbolic in Andean shamanism, where you travel above the tree tops and truly see from a higher perspective. I paint it and flip it, so the mantras face the body. The repetition of the word LIGHT means the collection recognizes my light within myself and the light within others.

I love the feeling of one-of-a-kind work. Big corporate designers are what everybody is trained to think fashion is. As an artist, I want to make things that can’t be mass produced. Even when we make a pattern and cut it out a hundred different ways, it’s never going to be the same. Let art be art.

SHOP MAE COUTURE

Written by Peter Relic.

SCAD prepares talented students for creative professions through engaged teaching and learning in a positively oriented university environment.