ANA TARANO HAS BEEN AT STANFORD for almost ten years. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees here, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautic Engineering – no big deal. It’s easy to see why she stands out in her department- the holographic star stickers on her cheekbone and jean jacket with personalized patches speak for themselves.

Standing out isn’t something Ana is afraid of. She was born in Cuba, but lived in Montreal and Miami before settling at Stanford. Along the way, she’s learned how to work a needle, how to deal with attention, and how to embrace the technical and creative duality that exists within her. Most recently, she combined all of these to produce a fashion design inspired by Fletcher Benton’s Oakland Maquette, which was selected to be brought to life and displayed at Anderson et La Mode.

PULSE Magazine: Can you tell me a little bit more about your fashion?

Ana Tarano: In my department… everyone is wearing flip flop, t shirts, and jeans. And for me…it felt unnatural… that was just something that I could never give up. I would sacrifice sleep, I would sacrifice social hours, but I could not sacrifice the outfits. And I think that comes from a very early age.

Even in high school, I would alter tops and cut things, and sew things together, because we were poor. I had to transform things that I had, or things that my mom or grandma weren’t wearing anymore and alter it to make it more of myself. That has been something that I’ve always had ease with in terms of self expression.

P: Let’s talk about your childhood…Where are you from?

AT: [My parents and I left Cuba] when I was in the second grade, [to become refugees in Canada] That was the country that accepted us. I lived in Montreal, which is the French part of Canada. Then I moved to Miami in the middle of eighth grade. Miami has also been a really important part of my fashion building experience, because unlike SF or the Bay Area where people really prioritize their jobs or what they do, people are more defined by the way that they feel or are expressing themselves. A lot of events that Miami attracts, like the Winter Music Conference or Art Basel…really put a focus on appearance.. So this is where I started valuing it. More than just what I wear but also as a way of expressing myself. That compounded with my lack of resources. I had to make do with what I had.

P: What are some other ways you feel like living in so many places has shaped your identity?

AT: Like I said, in Cuba, I learned to love life. And to love life through connections, because that’s all you have. Also, everyone [there] is an engineer because they’re all making whatever they can with what they have. For example, [over there],  my uncle in order to fix his tractor used a motorcycle motor…because of the embargo, you don’t have access to the same tools. And so, when I came to the US and STEM was tainted by this view that only certain kinds of people could have access to [it], it was very shocking and disgusting.

And in Montreal, I learned how different I was from other people, because over there, although there were a lot of people from different countries, there was a really big push for assimilation. Like, having a hairy body was weird, having curves was something that everyone would notice and point out. So it was kinda like, “Ok, I’m different,” and I didn’t learn to love that difference until I got to Miami, where everything about identity was celebrated.

It didn’t matter what or who, people just celebrated each other constantly. My sister and I both agreed that in Miami, people were just very interested in getting to know you rather than getting something from you or seeing how you were different with a negative connotation. It was more like “How are you different? We’re all from all these different countries, what makes you different?”

And I don’t know if this is a US thing, or a Miami thing, but I feel like comparing it to California where a lot of people judge you by what you do rather than who you are, it’s a special place to be a teenager.

P: In your application for Anderson et La Mode, you talked about how the feminine is underrepresented in STEM acted as inspiration for your piece. Can you expand a little bit more on that?

AT: So I guess my first introduction to the aerospace world was in this department, because I didn’t even know that was something you could study in school until I got here. In my classes, it was obvious that we – that women –  weren’t well represented. And the discussions that would happen outside of the classroom were all work related, and I found that very unattractive. I could not communicate with these people, like “We just did the exam, why are we still talking about it?”

Then I was part of a nonprofit organization where we organized space conferences to push for [business models similar to] companies like SpaceX, Planet Labs, Blue Origin and all of that in the space industry. And there too, I was one of the very few women there. From those cultures, a lot of the things that I cared to talk about, like, “Oh my gosh, did you see Marc Jacobs’ latest Spring Summer 2014 collection?” Nobody could talk to me about it, or had an interest in learning about it. So it was something I had to minimize as a part of myself, but like I said, I couldn’t minimize it in my outfits.

So for this piece that I’m presenting at Anderson et La Mode, I wanted to bridge the two worlds between fashion and the technical, because to me it’s inherently united. From the choice of materials, to thread, to needle, to foot of your sewing machine, you have to properly use tools in order to build whatever you have designed. A simple cotton fabric will not necessarily give you an architectural shape unless you figure something out by either putting like a pad or put some wire underneath it.

One of my favorite thoughts lately has been, you know, how you can take a fabric from a two dimensional space to a three dimensional space, and that transformation itself, how mathematical that is.

No one teaches you to think about fashion or self expression as something that is so intrinsically technical. It just seems like the world has these blindfolds and they don’t necessarily want to perceive things in a way where the typically feminine is valued, when it should be.

P: What about the artwork that you were inspired by?

AT: I go to The Anderson Collection every time that I can. I love colors, so it calms me down. I went around and I was looking for something that had LEDs on them, something with which I could play with light, because for me the ideal fashion statement is to have a piece of clothing that is dynamic. That’s why I’m wearing these holographic things [points to star stickers].

So when I saw the Oakland Maquette and I saw that there was a little motor that moved the silicone filters to layer them and create new colors, I knew that that was the piece of work that I wanted to draw inspiration from, because then I could either use holographic fabric or lenticular fabric to produce that effect. But those things are expensive.

I wanted to experiment with lenticular fabric, which usually uses different optical surfaces to change the color you perceive depending on your position, on your point of view. So I replaced the motor [with] the observer – so I’m changing reference frames – so now the clothing is static while the observer is…[like] the motor. Instead of having different motors… it’s mostly the observer that’s moving around and will see different colors on the jacket.

P: Right. That’s so interesting. What other projects are you working on at the moment? And looking back, what project are you most proud of?

AT: I feel like I’m very fragmented, so I’ve never tried to join my artistic and technical side until this project. I’ll be most proud of [this] because this will be at the intersection of who I am, whereas other projects I’ve worked on have been predominantly technical.

Like this satellite that I worked on, this is the mission patch from it, it’s a CubeSat. I worked on it for two years, like 80 hours a week, and I was the project manager for it so I also did a lot of problem solving.

But [my Instagram] is very not technical. It’s mostly creating a world that doesn’t exist. So I guess my Instagram page and this cube set are projects that I like the most. But hopefully, this will be the project I’ll be most proud of…

P: If you could tell undergrad you something, what would it be?

AT: Be yourself. No matter how uncomfortable others or yourself, just try to see where that uniqueness comes from. And if it’s worth nurturing.

Written by: Daniela Chang-Foxon
Photography by: Cathy Wang
Edited by: Annie Zheng

PULSE Magazine thanks Ana for her time.

Ana’s design will be displayed at the Anderson et La Mode event, which will take place on June 1st at The Anderson Collection.