Alone in the usually bustling but now eerily quiet downtown of Porto Alegre, Brazil, Illinois State University graduate student Rochele Gloor rushed past shuttered storefronts carrying a new reserve of surgical masks and iridescent fabric.
It was March 2021, and most businesses were closed amid a further rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and deaths across Brazil. Gloor, however, was continuing her work as art director and costume designer for a five-part television documentary titled Tramas da Moda (FashionNet), on the rich history of fashion in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Gloor’s trip downtown for “essentials” included going under a partially open steel roll-up door to pick up fabric and sequins from a local shop owner; the materials would be used to create a blouse for an upcoming documentary episode. Gloor also stopped at a nearby pharmacy to buy masks for herself and beauty products for the models in the documentary.
With no make-up artist or seamstress available, the documentary director turned to Gloor, one of the three remaining members of the reduced technical team.
“They trusted me because I have good taste and know how to be flexible and think about how to solve problems quickly and beautifully,” Gloor joked. She adjusted the iridescent blouse using clothespins while applying make-up to the model wearing the makeshift garment.
Gloor shared his experience a week later via Zoom with classmates, most of whom were more than 5,000 miles away, enrolled in Illinois State’s Creative Technology Graduate Program. Nearly a year earlier, Gloor had been admitted to graduate school and accepted a position as a graduate assistant at University Galleries following a video interview with director and chief curator Kendra Paitz, MBA ’06 , MA ’11.
“It was right at the start of the pandemic. It was the first interview I had to conduct through Zoom,” Paitz recalled. “And that was when we had our first grocery delivery of the pandemic coming up and my phone kept going off.”
Technological distractions aside, it became clear to Paitz that Gloor was a strong candidate. Gloor worked for eight years with prominent designers in the fashion industry in New York before returning to Brazil where she founded a sustainable clothing line, RGLOOR, in 2016.
As a fashion designer and digital artist, Gloor sought to pursue a master’s degree in a related field. She learned about Illinois State’s creative technologies program through her boyfriend, Guilherme Rodrigues, an aspiring Masters in Music Direction student.
With classes slated to begin in the fall of 2020, Gloor packed his bags. But, just days before her scheduled departure, Gloor learned that due to pandemic travel restrictions she could not leave.
Forced to postpone her enrollment until the spring, Gloor attempted to travel to campus again; but, again, his efforts were in vain. Frustrated, but unwilling to accept defeat, Gloor opted to start postgraduate courses online from Brazil.
“It was necessary for me to even start showing that ‘Yeah, I’m really interested in doing this,'” Gloor said. “It turned out that I was learning so many new things. And, I was meeting people, I was doing group projects. It was amazing. And all my teachers have been so helpful.
Gloor managed to balance his first semester of online graduate school at Illinois State with work on the Brazilian fashion documentary series. Then, in July, Gloor finally boarded a plane for the United States
“When I arrived it was a real relief,” Gloor recalls.
At Normal, Gloor began his graduate assistantship with tasks such as graphic design projects, setting up events and exhibitions, helping with the transition to a new digital database, creating an interactive map of campus artwork and visitor interaction.
“She has already become a full member of the team,” Paitz said.
Paitz and Gloor hope to collaborate on a project to increase virtual experiences related to exhibitions and collections in university galleries.
Additionally, thanks to a grant from Friends of the Arts, Gloor is exploring zero-waste fashion in a virtual art environment using Clo3D, software that allows designers to create virtual, realistic 3D clothing visualization.
Compared to traditional garment development, Gloor said simulation technology such as Clo3D “can reduce lead times, reduce waste and reduce costs.” Additionally, Gloor sees artistic applications for clothing simulation software, such as digitally dressing social media influencers or designing outfits for video game characters.
“Digital creation has no limits for artistic ideas,” Gloor said. “You can do whatever you have in mind.”
Gloor believes there is an intrinsic relationship between humans and nature, and now, technology. She plans to marry technology, humanity and art through an upcoming independent study with Associate Director of Creative Technologies, Dr. Roy Magnuson ’05, focused on developing a virtual reality meditation room that incorporates graphics, color and sound design.
“I want to expand the aesthetic of meditation,” Gloor said. “I want to create this amazing thing for people to be immersed in and try to really improve their lives.”
Gloor, who has shown perseverance in the face of unexpected challenges, also sees unprecedented opportunities right now, for herself and for humanity.
“It has been difficult to live with, in a way, but at the same time, we live in a very interesting time of many innovations. Being part of an academic field now, I consider myself lucky to be able to explore all of these things that are happening now.