Bespoke dresses redefine the “masterpiece” of skin conditions

CURATED: The Intersection of Art and Medicine

Bespoke dresses redefine the “masterpiece” of skin conditions

2 Minute Read

They say a new dress can make you feel like a new woman, but a trio of custom-made dresses designed for three teens living with skin diseases helped each young woman own her disease while sharing it with the rest of the world. Mia Johnson suffers from scleroderma, a connective tissue disease that causes hardening of the skin. Emily Haygood has atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. And Alex Schaener has alopecia areata, a skin disease that causes patches of hair loss.

All three patients are part of the extended family of A Children’s House for the Soul, a Houston nonprofit that offers social, emotional and spiritual support for children affected by skin disease and birthmarks. And all three teens appeared in “I Was Made a Masterpiece,” a recent short film commissioned by the nonprofit to educate viewers on the deep emotional impact of skin disease.

“Our world is unfortunately focused on outward beauty, so my patients know people are going to stare at them and look at them and make fun of them,” said Alanna F. Bree, M.D., founder and executive director of A Children’s House for the Soul and a pediatric dermatologist at A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, the practice affiliated with the nonprofit. “If you have a visible skin disease, it is the first thing that people notice.”

Part of the print on Alex Schaener’s dress was taken from a pathologic image of alopecia areata, a skin disease that causes patches of hair loss.


Kimberly Oehrlein, designer and director of communications and creative vision at A Children’s House for the Soul, designed the dresses for Bree’s patients to wear at the world premiere of “I Was Made a Masterpiece” in New York City, but the dresses quickly became masterpieces of their own.

From a distance, the satin garments made in rich hues of coral, purple and forest green seem like any other dresses you might find at a formal shop. But unlike ordinary, off-the-rack dresses, each of these garments was tailored to suit each patient. Mia, Emily and Alex specified the color and silhouette they wanted and then pathologic images of their skin conditions were printed on the fabric they chose.

“The girls got to pick the color of their dress—if it was big or small, everything they wanted,” Bree said. “By putting on these dresses, the girls got to define how they wear their diseases.”

Skin conditions impact the lives of many people in the United States. Scleroderma affects about 300,000 people, while alopecia areata affects as many as 6.8 million and eczema affects an estimated 35 million. Because skin diseases and disorders are so visible, Bree explained, the social and emotional scars associated with them run deep—especially among young people.

“As a dermatologist, I’m able to treat the skin conditions of my patients, but I also address their social and emotional concerns,” Bree said. “I don’t want to just hand out creams and prescriptions. I want to treat the whole patient.”

The three dresses are on display at A Children’s House for the Soul, 1976 W. Dallas St. Information: 713-942-9357.

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