“At the Academy of Art University, students in the school of fashion design are encouraged to express their individuality rather than follow an edict and emulate any one particular style, as is murmured to be the case with a certain school in Paris and its penchant for the Commes des Garcons look.
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A march to his or her own drummer was evident in this year’s crop of student designers whose wide-ranging palettes, shapes and silhouettes were shown at the university’s 13th annual graduation fashion show in San Francisco on April 23.
Lean, strongly fitted silhouettes dominated, as did draping with a constructed feel. The effect, for the most part, was softly tailored, with a few exceptions from students who went for slouchy track suits or futuristic shapes.
Three standouts included the “post-apocalyptic landscape” of Dee Larsen, an undergraduate whose collection featured leather pants and long jackets out of a “Mad Max” movie; graduate student Scott Ian McFarland’s men’s knitwear collection influenced by Art Deco patterns, architecture and the androgynous styles of the 1920s (yarn was donated by Blue Sky Alpacas); and Bridget Miranda Sidden, an undergraduate in fashion and knitwear design whose trim gray and brown dresses in silk, mohair or merino wool were ornamented with appliqued silk flowers.
This year, there was nothing whimsical and over the top, as was the case in 2007 when fine arts graduate student Yu-Shin “Mue” Kim made a truly clever, yet cartoonish knitwear collection that featured models in creations that cross-pollinated socks and cocoons. The domelike shapes covered the models’ heads while knitted leggings acted as hosiery, and the garments’ sleeves ended in matching gloves.
This year’s message, against the backdrop of an uncertain economy, was slightly sober, but never stark or austere. Students seemed to clothe their potential clients in the soothing embrace of nature. Their color palettes focused on neutral, organic tones one might spot on a hike in the woods: grays, dusky midnight blues, olives, browns and blacks, with a few bursts of color here and there. Their textile choices centered on structured silks, chunky knits and leather, with their design focus on wearability.
And somewhere along the way, it seems to have occurred to them that wild flights of fancy may be good theater for the runway, but once designers are out in the real world, wacky clothing is unlikely to shake open the purse strings of shoppers fearful of continuing financial market free falls.
“A lot of them were focused on something more tangible, something you could wear,” said Simon Ungless, the university’s director of fashion and coordinator of the show. “There was no powerful impact with styling or exaggerated styling. The students wanted to make the impact by showing their technical skills in constructing. It was quite a mature group, considering the show is mainly undergraduates and this was their first go-around.”
The runway show was held at the academy’s Morgan Auditorium. With glossy production values, thumping music and flashing lights, it’s the closest many students will ever get to the runways of Paris and Milan, unless they happen to be among the few selected to show their wares at New York’s Fashion Week, as has been the case during the past few years when the school – the only one in the nation to do so – has mounted a show at Bryant Park.
Seventeen collections were shown – some presented by individuals, some by teams of students working together in design, textiles and sculptural jewelry. The presentation garnered acclaim from a panel of international fashion industry officials who were flown in to observe the show, bestow internships and receive honorary doctorates.
“Unbelievable,” said Prosper Assouline, who with his wife, Martine, runs Assouline Publishing, which is known for its coffee-table books. Its subjects are all things luxurious, from fashion designers and their collections to the homes of wealthy international socialites.
“I was really, really impressed,” he said afterward, at a postshow dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s fashionable Postrio restaurant. “The students were not interested in the past, in the 1960s and ’70s, like real designers who are so boring.”
The Assoulines were awarded honorary doctorates for their work in the field of fashion, and they, in turn, gave out awards to two students in the fashion journalism program at the school: six-month internships at the Assouline offices in New York and Paris. The internships are customarily bestowed by visiting designers. This year, the fashion school opted to reward fashion journalism and merchandising students.
Internships and scholarships
Anika Brown, a writer for WireTap, an independent news and culture Webzine, who also wrote a story on black runway models for the Nation, will go to New York, while Gena Banducci will go to Paris.
In addition, four other students were given scholarships at two Paris fashion schools. Undergraduates Natalie Carorina, studying fashion design, and Sidden, studying fashion and knitwear design, will attend the Studio Bercot. Elizabeth Siedow and Larsen, undergrads in fashion design, will attend L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne.
Fashion illustrator David Downton, a friend of illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer, executive director of the fashion school, also was given an honorary doctorate and selected three students in fashion illustration who were given a sort of “best in show” award. There was no formal competition, but because he was asked to briefly survey the students’ work, he did his best to select works that caught his eye for their individuality and talent. First place went to Rachel Sansom; second went to Tsz Ting “Christina” Ho; third went to Aliza Kim.
Their work varied from a striking graphic collage with black and lime green colors to an observational drawing of a model to a drawing featuring 15 hands, each created with a single black line.
“I wanted to show there isn’t one way,” Downton said, “one style, one methodology anymore.”
Photos by Randy Brooke.
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