A Dual BA Perspective: Politics through Fashion
This article is a part of the “A Deux Doigts” series, sharing stories about students in the Dual BA Program with Sciences Po from both sides of the Atlantic.
At Sciences Po, Dual BA Program students focus their studies on the social sciences; when they arrive at Columbia, students can choose to pursue creative majors. This allows for an interdisciplinary approach to the arts—giving students the ability to analyze the ways in which art, society, and politics interact and intersect. Dual BA students Kaja Grujic ’20GS and Runnie Exuma ‘23GS have chosen to pursue such a path, combining their passions for the social sciences and creative industries.
Runnie Exuma is currently a first-year student at Sciences Po’s Reims campus. She’s always considered fashion as a great way for her to express herself on a personal and political level.
Fashion is the place where I get to actively experiment with my physical appearance, break the rules, perpetually invent (and re-invent) myself, and exercise control over my own narrative and personal style as a Black, Caribbean girl from Brooklyn.
After arriving in Reims, Exuma found herself surrounded by other students who saw fashion in a similar light, recognizing that, as a form of art, it “contains multitudes that calls on our capacities for self-expression, unconventionality, and imagination.” She thus decided to join the Student Arts’ Council fashion pole, and get involved with the campus’ fashion society, Expose.
"In her 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’, Susan Sontag describes ‘camp taste’ as ‘above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation—not judgement. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy.’ Sontag’s appreciation for an aesthetic that basks in eccentricity and bases itself on the ‘little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character’ and the love that goes into personal style encapsulates the full range of agency, pride for passion, and creative expression that fashion grants me. Fashion provides the space for being intentionally disruptive, subversive, and political. It exists at the nexus of politics, culture, activism, and art—a connection that allows me to express myself in the most creative, uninhibited, and unapologetic way that I can. Fashion is the place where I get to actively experiment with my physical appearance, break the rules, perpetually invent (and re-invent) myself, and exercise control over my own narrative and personal style as a Black, Caribbean girl from Brooklyn,” she explained.
After arriving in Reims, Exuma found herself surrounded by other students who saw fashion in a similar light, recognizing that, as a form of art, it “contains multitudes that call on our capacities for self-expression, unconventionality, and imagination.” She thus decided to join the Student Arts’ Council fashion pole, and get involved with the campus’ fashion society, Expose, for which she helps organize fashion-related events and shows.
“I also host fashion events and design/customize clothes as a ‘baby’ within the Fashion Pole of the Bureau des Arts (BDA), and work as a Culture Writer for the campus newspaper with the hopes of expanding appreciation for fashion and its influence. During my first semester so far, I've had the chance to walk in Expose's Halloween Fashion Show on campus, design an outfit from scratch, and plan a Vogue-themed fashion party! Next semester, we plan to organize photo shoots with a concept, production, and creative direction; a fashion show displaying the work of local fashion designers; and more collaborations with Sciences Po Environment on following sustainable modes of fashion, or exploring ‘slow fashion’."
Though Exuma still has a year at Sciences Po, she already knows she wants to continue getting involved in the fashion world once she arrives at Columbia, perhaps working with Columbia's fashion publication, Hoot Magazine, and arts publication, Ratrock Mag, with the intention of constructing her personal style, continuing to organize more fashion shows, and further pursuing her work as a fashion photographer and creative director. She also hopes to be able to work beyond campus, using Columbia's resources in order to work directly within NYC's fashion industry, which she considers one of fashion's biggest spheres of influence.
I have always been enamored with the fashion industry. Its ability to tell stories through fabrics, question stereotypes through its changing silhouettes, and break the norms of beauty through color and fabric choice.
Kaja Grujic, a senior in the Dual BA Program, who also attended the Reims campus, followed a similar trajectory. Growing up, she could already see fashion’s storytelling abilities, and knew that could offer possibilities to break social boundaries.
"I have always been enamored with the fashion industry. Its ability to tell stories through fabrics, question stereotypes through its changing silhouettes, and break the norms of beauty through color and fabric choice. By taking a more traditional academic path, I’ve been able to explore my creativity through student-led associations and professional opportunities,” she said.
On the Reims campus, this meant, like for Runnie, getting involved with the Expose student group. While there, Grujic organized the first-ever student designed fashion show on campus, alongside her partner Antoine. They collaborated with the École Supérieure d'Art et de Design de Reims (ESAD) design students and were able to create a narrative, design sketches, and produce original clothing, all culminating in their very own fashion show. Through this five-month process, Grujic says she learned the invaluable skill of storytelling through clothing.
While transitioning to Columbia, Grujic continued to search for ways to explore fashion on campus, by getting involved with the Columbia University Fashion Society. This gave her the opportunity to attend the Forces of Fashion conference, learning from the major leaders of the industry including Pier Paolo Piccioli, Anna Wintour, and Gigi Hadid. The rich network of New York City also gave her access to fashion internships, working for both high-end and streetwear brands.
"Not only was I able to attend numerous events during New York Fashion Week, but also assist my team with the actual organization of the fashion shows—from model casting to press photo shoots. Following NYFW, I also had the opportunity to work with my managers to sell the collections to buyers such as Neiman Marcus and personal celebrity buyers. Building off of this experience, I entered a more global perspective while working at Covetella, a high-end boutique in Singapore. During this internship, I gained the unique opportunity to ideate communication strategy and produce digital content for their various social media platforms. From product shoots to editorial commercials, I experienced the exhilaration of working on set with inspiring photographers, models, and stylists.”
I have learned that even within more traditional academia there are always ways to explore your passion, create your own narratives, and build your future—for you never know where you’ll end up.
Nearing the end of her time in the program, Grujic is able to look back at how the Dual BA Program allowed her to pursue her creative endeavors.
“Both institutions have taught me invaluable skill sets and global perspectives. Even when pursuing a more creative career path, the academic grounding has helped me better understand how the industry functions as a whole and is affected by socio-political factors. I have learned that even within more traditional academia there are always ways to explore your passion, create your own narratives, and build your future—for you never know where you’ll end up."