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Firefly dress could set the world on fire

September 02. 2014 12:15AM

Remember Hypercolor T-shirts? I still have no idea how that mash-up of fashion and science worked, but it certainly made for some interesting dances at Hillside Middle School in the early 1990s. As soon as classic tunes by Milli Vanilli and Sir Mix-A-Lot started pumping through the gym, body temperatures would rise and everyone’s Hypercolor shirts magically changed color.

If a new fashion concept developed in part by local artists and engineers ever makes its way into the hands of today’s middle school students, we may see Hillside’s entire gymnasium change color.

The Luminous Firefly Dress, designed by Southern New Hampshire University professor Harry Umen, MIT Media Lab fellow Dr. Angela Chang, and Manchester seamstress Deborah Caldwell, does more than change color. It puts on its own light show — you know, like a firefly.

“There are infinite possibilities of what it can do with the lights,” said Caldwell, a self-taught seamstress with a studio in the Waumbec Mill called Isabelle & Me, where she does specialty alterations of wedding gowns and other formal wear.

“It can be programmed to be affected by any sound,” she said, whether it’s music, or someone’s voice. Other possibilities, like having the light patterns reflect the wearer’s mood, are also being explored.

The Luminous Firefly Dress was designed for the Descience international fashion competition, which has paired 61 teams of artists and scientists from around the globe to collaborate on garments that integrate art, science and technology in their design.

The garments will be judged on Monday, Sept. 29, during a runway show at the MIT Media Lab. Umen, Chang and Caldwell, all part of Team Synthesia Muse, also worked with engineer Howard Eglowstein of Hancock.

SNHU business and fashion merchandising student Hailey Bonczar of Milford is the team’s model, both in competition pictures taken by Manchester art photographer Charlie Lemay and for the upcoming runway show. Chill Day Spa in Manchester provided Bonczar’s makeup design.

The winning team of the Descience Runway competition will win $3,000. There is also an online People’s Choice Award competition that runs now through Sept. 26. The top team in the online vote wins a total of $1,000. Umen said if Team Synthesia Muse wins the People’s Choice vote, they will donate those winnings to New Horizons for New Hampshire. You can read about the team’s creative process and cast your vote at

Sullivan scholarship

Manchester lost a great man last year when Joe Sullivan, a New Hampshire Union Leader sports columnist and beloved Manchester High School West English teacher, died last September. I had the pleasure of working alongside Sullivan and his good humor here at the newspaper, and I regularly meet his former students and colleagues who tell me what a wonderful teacher he was.

“I worked with Joe since 1995,” said West Athletic Director Sarah Dumais. “He was a good friend.”

Dumais is part of a group of current and retired faculty members that created the Joe Sullivan Creative Writing Scholarship in Sullivan’s honor. The annual award is given to a West senior who embodies passion and exuberance through writing.

A mini-golf fundraiser for the scholarship is being held at Legends Golf in Hooksett on the anniversary of Sullivan’s death, Tuesday, Sept. 23. The cost is $20 per player. Teams of up to six players can sign up for a 4:30 or 5:30 p.m. tee time. All players are invited to a post-tournament reception at the Raphael Club.

To sign up a team, sponsor a hole, or make a donation, contact Dumais at 628-6189 or

Central pride

Standing at the starting line for Millennium Running’s inaugural NH-XC Festival two Saturdays ago was terrifying, exciting, and did I mention terrifying? It had been nearly 20 years since I ran the 3.1-mile course at Derryfield Park. It was as difficult as I remember, but crossing the finish line was just as exhilarating.

The festival was a day of cross country racing for high school teams and community members, the latter competing to win new cross country uniforms for their alma maters. I am proud to say I was part of the winning female team that won the uniforms for Manchester High School Central’s girls’ team. Merrimack High School was the winner for the boys’ team.

For more information about the NH-XC Festival and other Millennium Running events, visit

NH365.ORG Event of the Week

This week is your last chance to enjoy a Sunday afternoon concert at Stark Park, and this act is a finale you will not want to miss.

The Underground Soul Band was added to the summer lineup at the last minute after Dick Duckoff, a good friend of the park, heard the band’s lead singer at a Bedford Rotary Club event.

When Duckoff described Victoria Fatukasi to me, I immediately knew he was talking about the young woman who occasionally sings at Manchester Christian Church. The beauty and power of her voice is astounding, and it is no surprise she took first place in the Bedford Rotary Club’s Regional Idol Scholarship Competition last winter.

Fatukasi, a 16-year-old Trinity High School student, will be singing at 2 p.m. accompanied by Underground Soul Band members Jan Bordeleau on keyboards, Jim Fothergill on guitar, Ed Bordeleau on bass, and Don Turcotte on drums. The band members have many years of experience making music together and have been mentoring Fatukasi.

Arrive early to get a parking spot and bring your lawn chairs. Promise me, you will not want to miss the band’s performance, including Motown classics like “Respect” and “Who’s Lovin’ Her,” and contemporary favorites “Happy” and “Let it Go.”

Visit for more musical Manchester events.

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