As an aspiring fashion designer, Alyssa Hertz, 18, is constantly dreaming up new and innovative designs.
But she was stumped when her independent studies teacher at Copley High School near Akron tasked the senior with designing dresses, jewelry and other fashion items out of unconventional materials like nuts and bolts, faux flowers and newspapers.
Turning to shows like Project Runway and Say Yes to the Dress for inspiration, she came up with her most novel item yet: a wedding dress constructed almost entirely from Styrofoam.
A month of snipping, gluing, rolling, twisting, tucking and pinning more than 500 pieces resulted in the intricate yet lightweight gown, with its rosette-covered halter straps, layered bodice and train of inter-looping plate edges, cups and bowls.
“I was thrilled,” she tells PEOPLE of the final result. Especially because, “at first getting the cups and bowls to do what I wanted them to do wasn’t working” and she had to deal with malfunctions like cracking plates and bubbling, melting cups from too much contact with the hot glue gun.
She’s now planning to submit the gown to the Cleveland IngenuityFest, which exhibits work from local artists and innovators.
Art teacher Antoine Pastor developed the off-beat assignments to spark Hertz’s creativity, he says.
Mishaps abounded, particularly when working with newspaper.
At one point, Hertz rolled so many pages together that instead of looking like a dress, “I made it into a giant tube, which wasn’t ideal,” she says.
Another time, she folded the paper in such a way that a huge headline about a sexual harassment case was front and center. “I had to throw that one away,” she says.
But the projects helped her think more expansively about design, fabrics, shapes and silhouettes. “It definitely got the creativity flowing,” she says.
This fall, Hertz plans to attend Kent State University in Ohio where she will major in fashion design and hopes to one day become a full-fledged designer. “I really want to have my own label, my own line and runway shows,” she says.
Her instructor thinks she has a solid shot. “The future is going to be really bright for her,” Pastor tells PEOPLE. “With Alyssa, I definitely think we’re going to be hearing from her.”
By the way, she’s going to get an A in the class.