Magic with the "Mouse"
Lasell alum Martha Powell-Weltin '14 brings her passion for fashion to Disney's Magic Kingdom
High-school senior Martha Powell's early aptitude for fashion opened admissions doors at New York's famed Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and other high-profile schools. But the feisty Alabama native chose Lasell, seeking a broader experience. "I felt I needed a well-rounded liberal arts education on top of a focus in fashion," she tells Leaves. "I also fell in love with the small campus."
That crucial decision has paid dividends she never could have imagined as a student in Fashion Professor Anne Trevenan's Design Concepts class.
Once an intern, now a technical designer for Corporate Character Production at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, Powell-Weltin credits the "focus on technology integration" at her alma mater as being pivotal to her rapid rise at the fabled company. Lasell, she says, "taught me to do it right and not stop until it was done." A head patterner for the Donald Duck Audio-animatronic featured in the Grand Fiesta Tour ride in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot's World Show Case, Powell-Weltin also has done stints as a seamstress and as a backstage assistant in the Parade Costuming department at the resort.
It was getting a gander at her ambitious Lasell Senior Showcase 2014 film, however (the theme of her senior collection, Cirque des Ames, was a demonic traveling circus set in 1860s Paris), that convinced a Disney assistant manager that Powell, then an intern, could create a Minnie Mouse dress for her granddaughter. "Three minutes later," Powell-Weltin recalls, "the executive was e-mailing the head of Creative Costuming about me. One week later, I was a fulltime seamstress for Audio-animatronics. It was a Cinderella moment, thanks to the rich skill set I developed at Lasell," giving a shout-out to Fashion Professors Trevenan, Carol Emanuelson and Jesse Kahn.
"Their wise words echo when I'm trying to articulate a concept," Powell-Weltin says. "Lasell tailor-made me to be the perfect Disney cast member."
Powell-Weltin landed at Disney, Lasell BA summa cum laude in Fashion Design and Production in hand, as an Honors Program alum who'd studied abroad at the London College of Fashion. "I've been told it was my strong Lasell education and ability to take and learn from criticism that helped me get jobs over hoards of other young women just as scrappy and hungry as I was to move up," she tells Leaves. "I've definitely benefitted from Lasell's Fashion program mantra to learn from mistakes and hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Early on, Powell-Weltin's Lasell mentors recognized the very qualities that would go on to fuel her Disney career. "Of course she has skill," Trevenan says of her former star student, "but it is Martha's enthusiasm and determination that take her that extra mile (or 10). Her work in CAD (computerized pattern making) resulted in an extremely complex garment, meticulously executed in both pattern and finished form. Martha knows what excellence looks like," she continues. "I usually just gave her the assignment and got out of her way."
Not to be overlooked in Powell-Weltin's Lasell campus experience is one Hayden Lucas Weltin '14. "We met at the ice cream social on the first day of Freshman Orientation," she says, "and we've been inseparable ever since." The couple married in 2015. Weltin, too, works for Disney, where he is a costuming distribution specialist, with a focus on Star Wars character components.
Powell-Weltin has helped recruit interns from Lasell for the Disney College Program, where she got her start, a pipeline she's proud to keep active. "The head of Disney College recruitment has flagged Lasell as a high-potential candidate school for future interns," she says proudly.
Ever the iconoclast who likes to add a touch of irony to her creations, Powell-Weltin might be asked to draw upon a roster of skills-from draping to couture sewing methods to wig styling-on any given day in her work. And she brings to each challenge an instinctive grasp that Anne Trevenan describes as "dramatic, completely unique and intensely Martha."