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Designing 2024 Tony Awards gown reignites ASU alumna's passion for fashion

Director of ASU Gammage to wear design on the red carpet June 16

Two women stand side-by-side in the lobby of a theater. One wears all black, the other wears a long evening gown adorned with green fabric at the bust.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack (right) wears a custom dress designed by Sarah Abdallah (left) for the 2024 Tony awards. Photo by Tim Trumble

May 31, 2024

Like many young children who were fans of the early 2000s Disney show “That’s So Raven,” Sarah Abdallah dreamed of one day becoming a fashion designer. When a stroke at the age of 21 threatened to derail years of dedication, the Arizona State University alumna forged ahead, relearning everything she knew about fashion and sewing.

Now, that fortitude is paying off.

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Jennings-Roggensack to receive Tony Award for making theater more inclusive

When ASU Vice President for Cultural Affairs and Executive Director of ASU Gammage Colleen Jennings-Roggensack walks the red carpet at the 2024 Tony Awards on June 16, she will be wearing a custom gown designed by Abdallah.

“I’m inspired by Sarah’s grit and determination — and her creativity,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “She has come a long way, and I am honored to be a part of her healing journey.”

Abdallah had been majoring in fashion at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts when the unthinkable happened. During a visit to the gym with her siblings in December 2021, just months before graduation, Abdallah suddenly began to lose feeling in her legs.

Woman laying in a hospital bed.
ASU alumna Sarah Abdallah was only 21 when a stroke threatened to derail years of progress toward a degree in fashion. Photo courtesy Sarah Abdallah

Before long, she was unable to move or even speak. When her sisters found her lying down on a bench, frozen, they immediately called for help and Abdallah was carried out of the gym and taken to a hospital where she was told she had suffered a stroke.

During her recovery process, Abdallah had to relearn how to walk and talk, and manage memory loss, including what she had spent four years learning at college.

“I felt like I was a 2-year-old in a 21-year-old body trying to relearn everything over again,” she said. “I was literally at … rock bottom.”

Abdallah made the decision to go back to school, relearning what she used to know about fashion and sewing. It was then that she came to an uncomfortable realization — she no longer wanted to pursue fashion design as a career.

“That scared me. … This was the first time in four years where I said out loud that I did not want to do fashion,” Abdallah said.

She continued with her studies, but after graduating, Abdallah moved away from fashion design and began pursuing a career in public relations, hoping to work in fashion marketing in her future.

But even though Abdallah had begun to refocus her career, she still loved fashion design. 

So in the fall of 2023, when Abdallah was presented with the opportunity to design a dress Jennings-Roggensack to wear at the 2024 Tony Awards and red-carpet event, she once again picked up her needle and fabric and got to work. 

Collage of a drawing of a gown on the left and a photo of a woman wearing a gown on the right.
ASU alumna Sarah Abdallah designed a gown for ASU Vice President for Cultural Affairs and Executive Director of ASU Gammage Colleen Jennings-Roggensack that comprises a polyester and satin mix, with Canadian smocking across the bust and shoulders, and two different tones of green. Sketch at left courtesy Sarah Abdallah; photo at right by Tim Trumble

Abdallah and Jennings-Roggensack worked together to conceptualize a piece that suited the latter in terms of design, style and comfort.

The final design comprised a gown made of a polyester and satin mix, with Canadian smocking across the bust and shoulders, and two different tones of green. Seeing Jennings-Roggensack in the dress for the first time left Abdallah “in tears.”

“I have truly felt the old love I had for design,” Abdallah said, “and my inner child is very thankful for that.”

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