The first page that precedes the glossy photographs and pages of sobering text in “33 to 40” contains a dedication that reads simply, “To the spirit of creation.” The motto explains the driving force for a couple of Penn students in creating the book “33 to 40,” the student fashion guide turned Penn time capsule.
The book’s release party on Friday culminated a project set in motion in February 2016 by Bryan Choo, who at the time was a senior in Wharton and the College.
The book was inspired by “Take Ivy,” a book of fashion photography originally published in Japan in 1965 documenting the clothing and culture of Ivy League students at the time. The book became what Choo described as a “style bible” and hugely influenced Japanese fashion. The book didn’t gain popularity in the United States until the 1990s, when it was discovered and gained value as a time capsule of the period.
This past year Choo, along with College sophomore Alex Fisher — who is a senior photographer for The Daily Pennsylvanian — stumbled upon a recreation of “Take Ivy” in the Japanese magazine Popeye. They were inspired to create their own version, specifically capturing Penn culture, from the unique perspective of Penn students rather than outsiders.
“We as students at Penn are living the lives that these publications try to capture,” Choo said. “Also in the broader context I think Penn has its own unique nuances as a school, but also has a lot of themes that expand to include broader Ivy League culture.”
Choo set out to create this project in his spring semester, unaware of the work-intensive process that publishing a book requires. Using friends met through Penn Coffee Club, he recruited a team of editors, writers, photographers and models committed to making his idea a reality.
In February, Choo and Fisher started collecting photographs, which they aimed to make relatable, accurate and holistic. The photographs of students who are fashionably dressed at familiar campus locations are accompanied by long articles describing different facets of Penn’s culture, which are all anonymously written, creating the sense that the pieces represent the voice of the campus.
Descriptions of Penn’s culture include “the extension of Penn’s competitive spirit into the workplace creates a palpable and proximate anxiety.”
“I really thought the text of ‘33 to 40’ makes it what it is, because it actually is more critical of Penn’s shortcomings,” College sophomore Abigail McGuckin said, who is also one of the book’s columnists.
The students received financial support and mentorship from a printing company owned by a Penn alumnus, as well as the Kelly Writer’s House. The South Philadelphia clothing store P’s and Q’s also donated clothes for the photographs and eventually hosted the release party. However, the final product was completely written, designed and produced by Penn students.
“At Penn we neglect to pursue ideas just because they’re fun,” Choo said. “When I started, I knew there was a huge chance that we would fail terribly, that this book wouldn’t get published, but I thought ‘I’m going to try’ and that’s what we did.”
Choo ended up spending up to 100 hours every week on the book’s layout, dedicating his final semester to this project. More than just a style guide, he envisioned it as a yearbook, a physical object that would allow alumni to reminisce or friends to catch a glimpse of what life was like at this place in time.
“That’s kind of what we noticed as well as we were reading ‘Take Ivy,’ which was in the 60s in this context. There’s some parts of the Ivy League that remain the same, there are a lot that have changed,” Choo said. “The buildings remain the same, some parts of the culture are still very much entrenched, it is very interesting to capture those differences in the 50 year timespan that has since passed.”
Copy editor and College junior Sammy Krouse admittedly described the book as “a bit self-aware pretentious,” but, “I hope people look past that, I hope people see the whimsicalness of its style.”
The students’ efforts appear to have paid off, as the University will preserve the book in Van Pelt’s Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Choo hopes that the book will live up to the theme stated in its dedication, and will encourage students for years to come to pursue creative projects for the sake of creativity.
“The vision is taking those ideas that you talk about with your friends at 1 a.m. and actually going to do it,” Choo said. “We did this in three months. Imagine what you could do in four years.”
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