Across the nation chocolates, roses and kisses were being exchanged. I had been kissed too, but in a different kind of way! My affection that day came in the form of sculpted wool jackets, rusted wool dresses and rainbow-colored tape sweaters. Who needs chocolate?
For the Love of Fashion:
Academy of Art University
Written By: Malcolm Thomas
It was Valentine’s Day and I found myself standing in the center of a polished chaos, only known as backstage at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Across the nation chocolates, roses and kisses were being exchanged. I had been kissed too, but in a different kind of way! My affection that day came in the form of sculpted wool jackets, rusted wool dresses and rainbow-colored tape sweaters. Who needs chocolate?
Roman statues known to us mortals as high-fashion models were being sculpted and chiseled away at by the hair and make up teams, front row guests such as albino model Shaun Ross and his model companion Karrueche Tran were igniting camera flashes and fifteen student designers from the Academy of Art University were about to make their runway debut at New York Fashion Week. It was a global line-up as designers came from Tennessee, California, Texas, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Illinois, Mexico and Ohio.
No matter how near or far they had come, the School of Fashion had led them here. Under the supervision of Simon Ungless, Executive Director of the School of Fashion, the department teaches approximately 2,500 fashion students in a variety of specializations from Fashion Design for Womenswear, Menswear and Childrenswear to Fashion Journalism and Fashion Styling, just to name a few.
Then suddenly it was, lights, camera, catwalk. The show had begun.
A strange sort of magic hung over the looks of Emmanuelle Ciara Jones’ debut collection. Perhaps it was voodoo, the ancient, mystical Afro-Caribbean practice that took its form in the threads of Ghazaleh Khalifeh’s African inspired textiles. Perhaps it was the works of the late American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat another inspiration of the design duo. Just over a month after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris had a nation protesting for the right to freedom of speech, I was witnessing another blatant act of self- expression as it came sashaying down the catwalk in front of me, beret and all.
Like a Manhattan skyscraper, Christian Willman’s woman stood tall. Clean, sleek, modern, elegant and futuristic, the collection was inspired by installation artist Matt Calderwood. Calderwood is a Northern Irish-born artist who can best be described as the Harry Houdini of the art world. Most times he was putting himself in harm’s way to produce soberly minimalist masterpieces that would leave audiences in shock. The same brand of sobriety was found in Willman’s collection of hard silhouettes and boxy forms. Willman’s woman literally had the world on her shoulders, but she made it look oh so good!
The work of Xiaowei Liu and Stella Xingyu Hu was a lesson in a successful partnership. “My knitwear inspiration is the Rubik’s Cube,” said Hu about her menswear portion of the collection, which is a series of rainbow-colored sweaters in faux leather tape.“ My fabric is denim and I bleached them by hand,” said Liu.“ All my denim patterns were different and I couldn’t repeat them,” speaking to her combination of denim, cotton and leather. Liu’s pieces were inspired by Boro, a type of Japanese indigo patchwork.
It’s not easy to take something as macabre and lonely as the chipping surfaces of abandoned houses or the run down ruins of an asylum and turn them into fashion, but that’s exactly what Han Tang and textile designer, Tam Nguyen did. Inspired by the haunting photographs of Italian photographer Yvonne De Rosa, who captured the same destitute beauty found in DeRosa’s “Crazy God” series of the dilapidated and forgotten.
There was some Hocus Pocus going on in designer Erin A.F. Milosevich’s collection. Milosevich’s rendition of bohemian couture was meant to illustrate the balance between movement and restraint, which she portrayed through the juxtaposition of flowing fabric with constructed silhouettes; each look included a handmade crinoline. Wicked!
“It’s Only Heritage” was the title of Mexican born, Paulina Susana Romero Valdez’s ethnic inspired, collection. “I’ve been focused on doing a lot embroidery right now,” said Valdez. “I’ve also been focused on a lot of leather, floral and baroque. I really I want to focus not just on the physical aspect of my clothes, but also it’s my own statement of saying, ‘Be a woman. You’re beautiful.’” Two words: aristocratic spice.
A menswear collection built for the hybrid man, somewhere between satire and sophistication, gent and jokester lay Kevin C. Smith’s and Textile Designer, Andrea Nyberg’s collection. This collocation was a welcomed departure from the suit and tie menswear reputation that still holds customary for some. Inspired by Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 1976 24.5-mile long installation art piece “Christo’s Running Fence,” Smith and Nyberg’s looks were as light hearted as the smoke, condensation and dew they integrated throughout their collection.
Luxury is no lady. She’s no dough-eyed gamine either, according to the rusted metal prints and calculated tailoring of Ozanhan Kayaoglu’s collection. Inspired by French philosopher Michel Foucault’s use of panoptic on prison architecture, I couldn’t help but wonder if that is what Alcatraz inmate’s muses would look like.
Somewhere within an avant-garde artist lied the female designer, Farnaz Golnam who was speaking to her inventive collection. Four looks were all it took to make me reconsider how I’ve looked at clothes in the past. Like clay, Golnam’s mind-bending garments were sculpted to skew the viewer’s perception of depth and dimension.
Liberation is the key word behind Xue Yang and Oom Terdpravat’s collection. The term is the base for which their cocoon silhouettes were constructed. A women’s statement of rebellion against oppressive Chinese practices such as foot binding took form via colorful embroideries and tribal inspirations.
Then the lights went up. The crowd flocked to their next show or perhaps to find their valentines.
Academy of Art University Fall Collection 2015 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Runway Show
Runway photos by Randy Brooke – Getty
Emmanuelle Jones and Ghazaleh Khalifeh
Xiaowei Liu and Stella Xingyu Hu
Han Tang and Tam Nguyen
Paulina Susana Romero Valdez
Kevin Smith and Andrea Nyberg
Xue Yang and Oom Terdpravat
Malcolm Thomas is in his final semester as a fashion journalism student in the School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University. He is also an intern at the School of Fashion’s Public Relations and Special Events office. He has contributed to various publications such as Deux Hommes and the Academy of Art University Newspaper; his interview subjects have included menswear designer, Alexandre Plokhov and IFC “Punk Singer” director, Sini Andersen. Malcolm Thomas will soon be relocating to New York City where he hopes to pursue a position as a fashion writer.