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Elaborate Duct Tape Dress Wins Los Angeles Teen a National Scholarship Contest

Eighteen-year-old Karla Torres of Los Angeles is the winner of Stuck At Prom, a duct tape scholarship contest. The contest awards scholarships to high schoolers who make the best prom attire out of Duck brand duct tape. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles kid who designed and built a Marie Antoinette-style prom dress entirely out of duct tape was crowned the winner of a nationwide scholarship sweepstakes on Wednesday.

Karla Torres, who graduated from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights this spring, earned a $10,000 scholarship after receiving the most votes in the competition’s online poll for her garment.

Torres, 18, was named a finalist in the Duck Tape, a trademarked brand of duct tape, 23rd annual “Stuck at Prom” scholarship contest last month. As a finalist, she had to fight for votes with five other young dressmakers.

The 18-year-old said she found out last week that she won the grand prize, but had to keep the news under wraps until the official announcement.

“I just got so excited,” Torres said. “I just really wanted to tell people.”

She was, however, able to tell her immediate family, including her mom, who she said helped bring her pink, white and gold dress to life.

“We started jumping up and down,” she laughed, recalling the moment with her mom. “It’s crazy, it doesn’t feel real.”

Torres’ dress, an intricate design featuring detailed lace and florals, was inspired by 18th-century French art she saw on a field trip to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Her design will soon be displayed at Duck Tape headquarters in Ohio, she said, on display with past winners.

Intricately-cut details adorn all elements of Torres’ design, which included the 18th century-inspired, dress, a purse and a fan. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

“My dress is going to be all the way across the country,” Torres said. “It’s a national contest. … Being selected as the only Californian, and more specifically even [from] Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, it’s really cool.”

As the first in her family to go to college, Torres said the $10,000 scholarship will be a huge help, even with significant financial aid. She said it’s been overwhelming trying to understand all the different costs and fees she will have to pay for her freshman year at a California State University school.

But she knows one thing, her first purchase with the scholarship money will be a new laptop.

“I really want a new laptop because the old one I have is a little rusty and really slow,” she said. She can’t even remember exactly when she got it, but sometime in middle school, she said.

She plans to study business marketing in college, ideally focused in the fashion industry. She said she is hopeful this contest and the media attention that’s come with it — even relatives in Mexico saw her dress featured in the news — will help propel her into the field.

“After this competition, I hope to be interning in a fashion company in the future,” Torres said. “That’s something I am interested in and always will be interested.”

Torres will be attending California State University Fullerton pursuing a degree in business marketing starting in August. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Torres’ gown was chosen as one of the top five dress designs out of over 200 entries. Another top five tuxedo contenders were picked, with Ian Hernandez Rojas of Taylorsville, Utah, taking home the prize with a suit that reflected his Salvadoran heritage.

“From going viral on social media to fielding media interviews, the top 10 finalists gave it their all,” said Ashley Luke, senior product manager at Shurtape Technologies, which distributes the Duck Tape brand. “The competition was fierce this year, with so many talented teens entering, but Karla and Ian really exemplified how an ordinary material, like Duck Tape, can be transformed into artful attire.”


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