When planning for her upcoming graduation ball, Ciara Gan wanted to ensure that she’d stand out from the crowd. So, the student decided to use her own design talents to create an utterly sensational outfit. And the final results left her looking like a princess fresh from a Disney fairytale.
Ciara Gan comes from the City of Taguig in the Philippines, and it’s fair to say that the teen has a creative streak. Born into an artistic family, Gan has a passion for fashion and also counts painting and graphic design among her interests. And back in April 2017 she was 17 years old and had recently completed high school.
We can only imagine that Gan’s final few months of school had been a whirlwind. The teen was likely putting in hard work to ensure that she achieved the grades she needed to get into college. And like many people her age, she was also preoccupied with thoughts of her upcoming prom.
What’s more, given Gan’s love of fashion, she was eager to make an impression at her graduation ball. And as a consequence, she decided against simply picking a ready-made dress off the rack. Instead, Gan felt that her look should be personal to her and that she should reflect her own character in a statement outfit.
In order to achieve her desired look, then, Gan first enlisted the help of a seamstress. And after the teen handed over plenty of fabric along with a smattering of Swarovski crystals and some netting, she expected the textiles professional to work her magic. In April 2019, however, Gan told Fox 5 DC that “the dress ended up horrible.”
Disheartened by the finished product, it was then that Gan decided to take on the job herself. That’s right: the creative young woman opted to make her own ballgown instead. And so, encouraged by her mother, she embarked upon what must have been her biggest design challenge to date.
Revealing what had spurred her on to make her own dress, in April 2019 Gan told BuzzFeed News, “My inspiration came from my mom, who pushed me to make the dress… Because I love to try new things, I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was my last big event for school, and I had about a month of graduation practices, so I’d be able to focus more on making my gown without worrying about schoolwork.”
And after completing her outfit, Gan posted a video on YouTube explaining the process that she’d been through. In the footage, which was uploaded in April 2019, she reveals how she’d worked with her mom to make the gown despite having no prior experience in dressmaking. “I’m not a professional seamstress. I’m not a professional painter. I just did this for fun,” she says.
At the beginning of her video, Gan outlines the materials that she’ll be working with to create her gown. They consist of 13 yards of emerald green fabric, some boning, gemstones, a petticoat and some B-6000 adhesive. She also reveals that she’ll be using a glue gun and a sewing machine to whip her dress into shape.
Then, as the video progresses, Gan reveals her dress in sneak previews. First, she gives her viewers a glimpse of the top half of her gown, which forms the outfit’s fitted section. The strapless inverted bodice is made up of tailored green fabric and pads, because – as Gan jokes – “your girl needs them!”
Next, Gan discusses the work that has gone into making the skirt of her gown. This breathtaking feat of design incorporates 12 voluminous pleats, each of which are hand-made by the teenager and her mom. And to ensure that every fold maintains its shape, Gan lines the skirt with a rigid material that is kept in place thanks to a network of intricate boning.
Gan also says that she’s lined her ballgown with a material known as “pelon.” And later on in the video, the teen reveals its importance to the overall finish of her dress. “It’s like hard paper inside each pleat, so it will look smoother,” she explains. “Instead of having a crumpled look, the boning will show through in the fabric.”
And many sections of the video that detail the design and construction of the dress consist of time-lapse footage. But these quick-moving sequences perhaps belie the painstaking – and sometimes probably just painful – nature of Gan’s accomplishment. At one point, she even reveals that she suffered a minor injury during the process. “Warning: when you use a glue gun, don’t burn yourself!” she advises any wannabe dressmakers who may be watching.
Thankfully, though, Gan’s sacrifices pay off, and soon she reveals her stunning design in all its glory. Seen displayed on a clothes hanger, the gown is glimpsed for the first time by viewers. And with its billowing skirt and contrasting sleek bodice, the dazzling dress is certainly a sight to behold.
With the ballgown having finally taken shape, Gan now comments upon the end result. And it’s clear to see that the designer is happy with what she’s created. “So, this is the final product, and I just think it’s so pretty,” she says. “The structure turned out really good, so I’m really proud of this one.”
However, while the dress looked good to go, Gan wasn’t finished yet. She planned to adorn her forest green gown with a series of hand-painted flowers, and this painstaking process alone would entail almost a week’s work by the young woman and her mother. But for the duo, the labor of love was integral to achieving their desired look.
And in her interview with BuzzFeed News, Gan revealed the significance of the delicate decorations on her beautiful gown. In particular, the young designer said that she’d been inspired by a modern-day retelling of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. “I recently reread the book Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, which touched my heart,” she explained. “And then [I] decided to paint the orange florals.”
But for Gan, it seemed that the devil was very much in the detail. “I strayed away from basic roses and dainty florals because, although they’re pretty, they don’t reflect my personality,” she said. “I love the vibrancy of loud colors like orange and green. They speak more about who I am.”
After all, the whole purpose of Gan making her own dress was to inject a bit of her distinct personality into the outfit. “My inspirations for the design are the things that make me happy,” she explained. “As nerdy as it may sound, I chose emerald green because I’m an avid Potterhead and a proud Slytherin.”
So, Gan set about decorating her dress with flowers. And to do so, she first mounted the gown on an artist’s easel. Explaining why in her video, Gan says, “I didn’t have a mannequin, so I had to improvise with an easel.” And despite a few teething problems when the mount kept falling over, the teen said that it eventually “turned out pretty great.”
Then, with her gown secured on the easel, Gan prepared her paint and brushes, after which she filled her palette with a series of earthy tones ranging from orange to olive green. When revealing the additional materials in her video, Gan jokes, “And we’re gonna need a whole chunk of white paint, yellow paint – and emotional support from your dogs as well.”
Before putting paint to fabric, though, Gan planned the design of her decorations meticulously. After all, just one wrong brushstroke could have ruined the overall look of her dress. “To make sure I didn’t mess up, I had to make drafts of my favorite flowers, so I used tiger lilies,” Gan tells her YouTube viewers.
Only then did Gan start painting her gown. Beginning at the waistline of her dress, the teen sketched out her floral design using a pale tone. “We had to start off with a white base so that the colors would show through,” she recalls. And once Gan had outlined the shape of her flowers, she got to work coloring them in hues of orange and green.
Yet although the process no doubt required unwavering concentration, Gan explains that she had listened to various audiobooks and music as she worked to keep herself entertained. And as a result, she actually found the whole thing to be pretty enjoyable. “I didn’t really have much to complain about, because I was really having a great time,” Gan says.
But with that said, Gan’s design process wasn’t without its setbacks. Two weeks before her graduation ball, in fact, the teen decided to tweak some colors on her painted flowers. “I made it peach, because I really didn’t like the red, because it looked like a Hawaiian theme,” she reveals.
Nonetheless, the change of direction with the color didn’t set Gan back too much. And once she’d fixed that, all she needed to do was introduce a touch of sparkle with the addition of some gems. “Even with the disaster of the red, I finished a week before graduation,” Gan reveals.
So, after a month of hard work, Gan had seen her design through from its inception to a completed garment. Throughout this time, though, she hadn’t revealed her project to her classmates. In fact, the first they knew of her handmade gown was when she turned up dressed to impress at their graduation ball.
And needless to say, Gan’s dramatic entrance turned a few heads at her prom. Even so, some of her peers couldn’t quite believe that she’d created the gown herself. “When I first showed up at the event place, my one classmate took a double-take to make sure what he was seeing was right! He told me, ‘I thought it was printed!’” Gan told BuzzFeed News.
Then, following her graduation ball, Gan shared photographs of her stunning dress online. Posting on Twitter, the teen announced, “I made and painted my own gown for my graduation ball! I painted over 80 flowers, sewed and stoned my dress with my mama and designed the whole thing myself!”
And to Gan’s surprise, it didn’t take long for her gorgeous dress to go viral. Within a matter of weeks, in fact, her tweet had received close to 400,000 likes and had been retweeted in excess of 80,000 times. “I still really can’t believe it,” Gan admitted. “When the numbers increase, I realize that so many people have seen my gown.”
Indeed, Gan’s creation proved so popular on social media that it even inspired some fan art. Twitter user ninazambo, for example, made her own sketch of Gan wearing the gown and sent it to the young designer. “Just so you know it was a masterpiece, and I do wish you would make more in the future,” she wrote alongside her drawing.
And it was comments such as the one from ninazambo that really touched Gan’s heart and made all of her effort feel worthwhile. “What I appreciate the most about this whole thing is the requests for commissions and artworks,” she said. “It really warms my heart to see people appreciating my art.”
So, after receiving requests to make garments for other people, Gan decided to give her fans what they want. Consequently, she announced that she would take on some commissions from customers in her native Philippines. Nevertheless, she was eager to stress that design and dressmaking aren’t her only skills.
In fact, when writing on Twitter in April 2019, Gan reeled off an entire list of talents that people may want to pay for. “I can paint, make invites, stickers, vector art, pub mats and a lot more,” the talented teen revealed. “Send me a DM if you want to commission me! I could really use the extra money for my five-month summer.”
And following the attention that Gan’s gown received online, it emerged that previously she had only ever undertaken one sewing project. “The last time was prom during my junior year, where I had to redo my dress’ whole skirt in two days and stick over 200 crystals on it!” Gan revealed to TODAY Style in April 2019.
But following the success of the ballgown, Gan was committed to putting her sewing machine to work more frequently. “The whole process was so rewarding afterwards because I was able to wear one of my own creations,” she said. “I know I have a lot more to learn, and I’d like to grab every opportunity I can.”
And while her gown had brought her viral fame, Gan insisted that the best thing about the experience had been spending time with her mother. “My mom and I are best friends. We work on DIY projects together all the time,” she explained. “Just seeing how supportive my mom is fills me with gratitude.”
“Moments like these make me realize how lucky I am to have [my mom] in my life!” Gan added. “I know it probably would’ve been easier to ask someone to sew it for us, but we loved the challenge. Working with her on this was so much more comfortable than working with any seamstress because I could tell her frankly how I wanted the dress to be like.”
And while it seems that Gan could easily embark on a career as a designer right now, she’s eager to get an education under her belt first. Later in 2019 Gan’s planning to attend the Ateneo de Manila University in her native Philippines. And rather than following an artistic path, she’ll study management information systems at bachelor’s degree level.
Explaining what had inspired her choice of studies, Gan told Insider.com in April 2019, “I plan to pursue a degree in a science-related course… I am in love with both the arts and sciences, and I want to incorporate the two different things with each other. I want to bring art into science – or vice versa.”