Eyes Wide Open

Photography by Jeffry Raposas, BFA Photography
Styling by Audrey Waananen, BFA Fashion Styling
Words by Nivetha Sundar, MA Fashion Journalism

Dress by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design.

They went from musing on “blurry dreams” as design students to living the dream as young fashion professionals working at Marc Jacobs. When it comes to crème de la crème talent pool, alumni Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang are the latest Academy success story. Following their coveted internships at the high-end brand, both have landed full-time positions. Lu is a production assistant in the trim department and Wang is an associate designer. “Teamwork is needed here; we cannot do things just by ourselves,” says Max. “Luckily, I’ve always thought of myself as one ring in a chain,” chimes in Jessie. Intense commitment to achieving a common goal is not new for the duo who frequently collaborated during their MFA in Fashion Design coursework, including the Spring 2016 womenswear collection Blurry Dreams showcased at New York Fashion Week Academy Runway Show. It proved to be a pivotal professional point for both. 

Sequin Top by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design. Harness, stylist's own.

Pants by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Bandeau and Necklace, stylist's own. 

 Sequin Top by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design. Shoes, stylist's own.

Sequin Top by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design. Shoes, stylist's own.

Fashion had always been the driving force in Max and Jessie’s lives. Hailing from Taiwan, Lu came to San Francisco with a few accolades under his belt: Honorable Mention Award from Taiwan Textile Federation and first prize at Manga Fashion Design Competition. With an extensive experience as a freelance print pattern designer and fashion stylist assistant, he was determined to make it big in the USA. Wang had a similar educational background, only she had learned the lingerie, sleepwear and underwear design trade in mainland China. The Academy was the one place she dreamed to be at for the next chapter of her life and career. 
Working together didn’t happen by chance. The idea to collaborate was suggested by Tehri Ketola-Stutch, their instructor and 3D construction coordinator. “Our school is what I like to call the ‘United Nations of Fashion.’ When it came to design, Max and Jessie had a high taste level – a quality you either have or don’t in this line of work. Plus, their incredible work ethic stood out. They were the first to be in class and the last to leave,” recalls Ketola-Stutch. The designers’ first impressions of each other as peers working on a group project in class suggested compatibility as well. “When I met Jessie, I thought not only is she talented at making garments, she also knows a thing or two about designing. She is reliable. She almost has too many positives,” jokes Lu. “Max always brought good ideas to the table. He fixed the problems, while I would try to keep things perfect. We had so much in common. We knew it’d be really interesting and fun”, adds Wang. The adage about two heads being better than one became their mantra. 

The creative process worked like cogs in a machine. With each calculated nudge and a little luck, a ridge fell neatly into place. “I think the key is communication. Our styles were different, so we tried to find a similar point in both our designs and develop it. It didn’t come easy in the beginning, so we went back and forth many times. Fortunately, by combining efforts, the result came out well,” reflects Lu. For their mentor Ketola-Stutch, it was clear that the duo was motivated by shared curiosity and thirst for know-how: “To them, the five minutes under the limelight was nothing. Being a part of something greater united them.” Wang does not shy away from acknowledging the challenges. “I didn’t think how much difficulty we were facing, actually, until the show was over. We just talked a lot to find a balance, even if sometimes fighting was the way to figure it out,” said Jessie. Blurry Dreams was hailed as success by the attending press and the industry.

Top and Pants by Max Lu and JIngci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design.

Sequin Dress by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design.

After graduation, Marc Jacobs came calling and Max and Jessie bid farewell to San Francisco to make waves in New York. The cross-country move, fast Big Apple pace, linguistic challenges: there was nothing that couldn’t be handled in pursuit of a dream. Max recalls days in class when the only thing that mattered to him was making his pieces look distinctly different from everyone else’s. For him, being a student at the Academy offered a lot of creative freedom. Now working at a major design house, ego gives way to collaborative spirit. “For the trim department, we need to develop all the trims, buttons, and embroidery on the pieces for the runway show. I have to take responsibility,” explains Lu. Wang works alongside the senior designer creating embroidery for new seasons, developing fabrics and sewing parts of the garments. “Every step requires a lot of research,” she says. “I care about every one of my decisions more than when I was a student. I think that, maybe, it means I’m growing up.” 
Amidst all that New York can offer their career, the duo looks back to their Academy experience with deep gratitude. Their diligence is admirable as they realize that creating something new always entails learning. “All of our instructors were very good at teaching us ways of building our own style and ourselves. The progress was usually painful, but we ended up discovering who we are and what we are,” says Lu. “Everyone had a different way to ‘shape’ us. Simon Ungless, our director, gave us space to do whatever we wanted to do…[and] when we got lost, he gave us direction,” adds Wang. For now, both find Marc Jacobs the right place to be and think that entering “the real world” is a new adventure on its own. 

When it comes to their ideas on passion, professionalism, success or failure, Max and Jessie have some advice for the Academy students: “Be wide-eyed prepared!”

Top and Shirt by Max Lu and Jingci Jessie Wang, MFA Fashion Design. Black Dress by Wenhan Yuan, MFA Fashion Design. Stockings and Shoes, stylist's own.

Model: Carmen at Stars Model Management.
Assistant Photographer: Shan Lee, BFA Photography. 
Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylist: Victoria Boggiano
Developed in FSH 478–Editorial Styling, instructor Flore Morton.