Playing with the Big Boys in New-York City
In San Francisco, at the Academy of Art University fashion show in May 2005, a representative from IMG – the company that organises Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New-York – sat front row. As the student’s latest collections started to fill the runway, Executive Director of Fashion Gladys Perint Palmer and Fashion Director Simon Ungless both, held their breath; all their hard work was on the line. Within what seemed like seconds, the runway lights went down, house lights blinked back on; it was over. The verdict was in. The Academy of Art University was invited to show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week! The rest is history.
2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Academy of Art’s participation at New-York Fashion Week. The first shows took place off schedule at the Altman Building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood in Fall 2004. The following season Palmer and Ungless approached IMG with the idea of fitting into the official schedule. They felt it was the most relevant and beneficial outlet for their students’ ready-to-wear collections. With this the Academy of Art became the first University to show collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, paving the way for other Universities to nudge their way in to the Lincoln Center.
Over the years, the show has seen its ups and downs. At its inception, the concept of showing student collections at such a prominent and industry focused venue surprised many. Unlike its European counterpart, the U.S. industry did not see its role in supporting emerging fashion designers. As more and more people attended the show however, the industry started to notice the talent of these students and today continues to show its support.
“I think people now love coming to the show as they are seeing something new without the pressure of having to choose which clothes to buy,” said Ungless. “The goal of the AAU shows is not to sell collections during fashion week but to promote young talent and ideas.”
That is not to say that collections don’t sell from time to time and after the show. Some students barely even make it back stage before eager fashion directors and buyers are banging down their door.
“I remember the fashion director from a major US department store coming backstage after one show wanting to buy the linen dresses from online student, Elena Akoulova,” recalled Ungless. “That was quite a moment.”
This season, the Academy of Art University’s Spring 2014 Show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week saw ten students presenting their collections to hundreds of eager friends, family, press and industry professionals. Many of these students, particularly the B.F.A. students, had previously showed their collections at the AAU Graduate Fashion Show this past May at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This California-based show served as a warm up and a selection ground for fashion week, as only the best of these collections are chosen to travel to New-York. It is also the occasion for student designers to receive critic and review their work in order to perfect their collections in preparation for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Modeconnect had the pleasure of viewing the collections first hand as the lights went out underneath the Theater tent at the Lincoln Center and so went the running order:
Didvik Kuang, B.F.A. Menswear Design
– First up to the gauntlet, Didvik delighted the audience with an updated and more refined display of the collection that debuted at the AAU Fashion Show in May. This time around, key pieces in a neutral palette browns and greys were jazzed up with pops of color, taking the shapes of vibrant red sunglasses or paisley ascots in mint green and burnt orange. The American Gigolo inspired collection featured pajama-style short pants atop a longer cuffed pant. This, combined with the mix of linen, nylon, and blended wool materials that Didvik used gave each outfit an airy layered feel. Oversized button-down shirts combined with matching ties, blazers and backless vests created a look that even Richard Gere would feel stylish lounging in.
Gwen Shihyao Lai, M.F.A Fashion Design
– Next up, the audience’s senses came alive as Gwen’s first model debuted her women’s wear collection wearing an ikat printed suit colored bright yellow – a hot color this year popular with many designers. The color was a refreshing ray of sunshine following Didvik’s earth toned designs. Gwen’s collection continued with loosely fitting vests and jackets in a variety of colors such as pastel pink and brown, keeping a similar ikat print throughout. The patterns used in Gwen’s garments made of cotton, linen and silk were inspired by the natural designs and patterns that are created by the layers in tree bark.
Marine Rongrong Wei, B.F.A Menswear Design
– Also featuring oversized silhouettes and neutral colors, but pairing cuffed baggy pants with slightly fitted button-down shirts, denim jackets, and blazers, Marine’s collection presented a somewhat more tailored men’s look than those of Didvik. Taking inspiration from vintage 1ooks of the 1930s and Great Depression era, Marine used navy blue, black and beige to create a casual and understated feel. She also mixed and matched, putting stripes underneath simple ditsy dotted patterns or pairing denim with silks and wools, showing that the trend of combining patterns and various fabric weights is here to stay.
Shanshan Bai, M.F.A. Fashion Design & Winbo Shiau, M.F.A. Fashion Design and Knitwear Design
– Shanshan’s inspiration taken from the curling and sculpted lines in flowers resonated clearly from her first design. In a collaboration with Winbo, the two graduate students transformed basic woven knitwear into sexy street-chic and structured styles. Although the colors were basic and void of pattern, other exaggerated details made each outfit stand out. Plunging necklines mixed with lace and sheerness infiltrated many of the designs.
Leslie Dilloway, B.F.A. Menswear Design
– Channel your inner 90s with this collection! From fanny packs and drawstring backpacks to windbreakers and liquid pants, these elements of Leslie’s collection joined with small diamond and gold flocked prints left the audience with a grungy yet ethnic feel. Incorporating the drawstring into waistbands, hoods, and pant cuffs gave the perception of active wear. Leslie was inspired by Turkish prints and textures and pictured a lighthearted Turkish cab driver living in London in the late 80s to early 90s in her mind while designing this collection.
Vicken Derderian, M.F.A. Fashion Design
– Vicken’s collection continued to keep the audience’s attention with his use of mesmerizing patterned textiles. However, the real oohs and ahhs fell from people’s lips as the second model turned on the runway, showing a deep cut backless dress with a sculpted and architectural feel. With a formal background in Architectural Design under his belt, Vicken incorporated these architectural influences into each dress in this collection. Even the colors were architectural – shinny beiges, silver, and steel greys and blues.
Ryan Morar, B.F.A. Menswear Design & Melissa Avalos, B.F.A. Textile Design
– Ryan and Melissa collaborated with each other on this collection, Ryan creating the designs for the clothes and Melissa creating all the textiles. Bringing the audience back to a hip-hop and grunge feel, Ryan channeled Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media artwork to wow the audience with beautifully patterned looks. The collection was mostly subdued with solid plumb and steel blue layered with Melissa’s multi-colored paint splattered like textiles. Scattered amongst the subdue looks, the audience’s eyes seemed to light up at the bright red, yellow and purple painted trench coat that the duo sent flying down the runway. Also, Ryan creatively used simple pieces such as the t-shirt layered with different fabrics to create unusual silhouettes, particularly the skirt pant – full length pants under tea length skirts.
Nika Tang, M.F.A. Fashion Design
– Finally, bringing the show to a close with a smash, Nika transported the audience to an undersea world. Draped, ruffled silhouettes and pastel colors reminiscent of sunfish and other ocean creatures. As the models made their way down the runway, the volume of each garment created texture and movement similar to that of a sea creature bobbing across the water.
The show finale saw models from each collection make their last lap down the runway before quickly disappearing backstage. The audience gathered their belongings and headed toward the exits. They chattered eagerly about the collections, wondering what the Academy of Art University is already preparing from Fall 2014 Fashion Week.