NYFW: The Road to Fashion Week

Photography by Danielle Rueda
Words by 180 Editorial Staff

Each year, a select group of graduates from the School of Fashion present their debut collections in a group showcase during New York Fashion Week.

We asked each designer to reflect on their journey, its memorable highs and lows, the creative process of working on the collections, their sources of inspiration and most valuable skills they’ve acquired along the way. Here are highlights from their responses.

Born and raised in Beijing, China, this designer was inspired by the celebrated work of a British art photographer Michael Kenna and her own documentation of abstract patterns in trees, waves and the topography of San Francisco. The voluminous silhouettes that define this debut collection evoke feelings of peace and deep comfort found in nature at wintertime. Saya worked with the pioneering digital textile company Kornit Digital to print the images onto the fabrics using a trademarked process.

I listen to video games soundtracks when I work on my designs. It helps me keep focus on getting tasks completed. My most valuable skill was learning how to do sketchbooks. I am more organized with my ideas now. I approach design as a meditative process: matching my prints with great attention so there are no gaps or enhancing fabric with stuffing to create rounded shapes like the snow-covered landscapes in Hokkaido. It was so beautiful to be there. In my very first Academy class, students voted for best in-class designer at the end of the semester and I won. I always go back to that memory for confidence. Fashion design is not about being famous, but being proud of your work. I think “never give up” is the best idea.

Originally, I wanted to work with colors, but it was too challenging to match, because each digital print was coming out slightly different. The idea became to work in monochrome and to discover the balance of black and white. I love Japanese singer Chiaki Ishikawa. She has a beautiful voice and is so stylish. Tokyo for me is the most fashion place in the world! People there wear all this weird stuff that’s actually cool and edgy, because they put traditional elements into new trends. On Instagram, I follow mostly landscape photographers. And animals

Hailing from Shenyang, Liaoning, China, the designer was inspired by the philosophies and artistic expressions of light and how it leads us from darkness, literally and figuratively. Yu focused on complex construction of garments using locally-sourced patent leather, jersey, and wool in bold contrast of black and white. He created forms that are at once futuristic and emotionally familiar thanks to a soundtrack by his all-time favorite band: Led Zeppelin.

I began to think “why do I struggle with inspiration or mastering techniques?” You need to find out who you are as a creator before you can do anything! I was listening to Led Zeppelin and began drawing shapes, opening the space in my heart and everything just came together. Kristin Stewart is not my favorite actress, but her aesthetic is close to my idea of admired-forever style: independent attitude that does not follow others. I used to believe that everything in my head was 100% right. Thanks to the patience of Jayne Foster [Graduate Director of Fashion] in Fashion Design 4 class, I began to welcome different people’s input. Simon [Ungless] gave me early advice that changed my collection from confused and confusing to cohesive. Seeing pictures of him with Alexander McQueen really inspired me to be hardworking and maybe be the next one…

Fashion design is not easy work, so you better feel comfortable in your workplace. I wear loose jumpsuits, so I can run around the machines. I need clean surfaces, so I am the guy who cleans everything all the time. My most valuable acquired skill is “the eye”… Like a robot camera scanning everything to sort what is beautiful and what needs to be let go. There’s an idea that we have only two true colors: black and white. They include all others. You work every day from 9 am to 9 pm without holidays for months. And in the end the collection is ready. You’ve learn that you can do it. That’s the beginning of success.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, this “California girl” wanted to convey a sense of life transitions in her collection inspired by the complexity of emotions surrounding the passing of her aunt. Lam had collaborated with two other Academy designers on embroidery and knitwear elements. She focused on soft and luxurious materials for warmth and comfort. Lam was honored with the BCBG Max Azria Super Intern (2017) recognition, presented annually to one outstanding intern across the entire company.

Fabric dictates function and I am all about being practical. I am hyper-organized: I have a place for everything. I love a beautiful story, but sometimes stories go off on tangents. I had these gorgeous luxury fabrics for my collection, but they were super finicky. I ended up redoing garments several times. Finally, I decided to change fabrics entirely quite late in the game and had to play catch up the rest of the time. This is where faith comes in. Faith in oneself and people around you that you can pull through and land on your feet and other such sentiments. I listened to Erykah Badu and I talk to our instructor Terhi Ketola-Stutch [MFA 3D Design Coordinator]. I can talk with her about my collection, my relationships, my business ideas, about everything. I get emotional thinking about her influence … I just can’t. Fashion can be an extension of what you believe in. This collection was based on my family grief and it was cathartic. I imagine dressing Tilda Swinton is amazing, because her features are so strong. She can carry anything thanks to her androgynous look. I met my boyfriend at the Academy, so that’s definitely a very memorable moment. Sometimes I wish I had asked harder questions in class. I encourage everyone to be a real sponge!

This Bay Area U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom was inspired by his military background to create a sustainable collection in collaboration with Cone Denim for organic denim, Amour Vert for white stripes and checks shirts, and Sports Basement for recycled rubber bike tubes. While a student at the Academy, Slezin was a finalist in the Old Navy design competition (2016) and the CFDA Elaine Gold Launch Pad (2017).

Being one look away from completing the collection is the hardest moment. I kept reminding myself that I quit a job to finish this. I had to set up a GoFundMe campaign and took even the smallest donation as a big vote of confidence in my future! My dad was a house painter, so denim was something I was very familiar with. As a Marine, I was aware of the navy history of denim, too. Backpacking trips is what got me into sustainable design. Do no further harm is a sincere ethos for me. There is something of a kid-at-heart here.

For a gay man living in San Francisco, certain fetish elements of this urban culture became a symbol of individuality. I don’t want cookie-cutter designs. Anyone can happen upon a single cool look, but to make interesting garments that are also wearable is another story. This collection is 100% authentic me. It felt like a real validation. Oh yeah, if you do the work and put in the time and care about the process… it’s going to come across even if people might call you out on technicalities. I remember the first day of school. I just hoped to pass my classes. Then I became proficient in sewing, pattern making, all the digital stuff. Most importantly, is confidence a skill? I am fine with eight hours of silence in the studio, but to keep things moving I’ve been listening to the Game of Thrones podcast. At some point I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to dress Jon Snow?!

Born and raised in Qing Dao, China, the designer was inspired by the abstract sculpture “Volume and Space Organization” by the Danish artist Knud Merrild who is known for his flux and cubist works. The creative process was also informed by her commuter journeys between San Francisco and the Oakland Museum of California. Using vinyl and PVC allowed for a combination of transparency and complex lettering, including geotagging the museum within the designs.

I am not very confident and I am very sensitive. My challenge is always not to limit myself, not to shy from critique. In the Creative Concepts class, I struggled with one project. Gary Miller [Menswear Fashion Director] asked me: “Why didn’t you give up?” It made me rethink my whole process. What if I do this, what if I do that, what if, what if, what if… in the end, it was a successful assignment and I realized “what if” can be the attitude of success. It reminds me to have patience and keep going. I clean my table before I leave the studio every night. Every morning I have a clean space to start. I write a checklist for the day, but of course some tasks travel from list to list.

I tried using muslin, leather, cardboard and other different materials to get unusual silhouettes before bringing the drawings to life on a mannequin and then a person. Terhi has been really nice. She cares about our work, our mood, everything. She has helped me deal with my weak parts as a designer and turn something I was not happy with into something better. No matter if things are going well or not with a garment, I really enjoy being at my desk and working on it. I once turned in a difficult project on my birthday! It felt like a present to myself. I’m not very familiar with celebrities, but I follow Rihanna on social media because she is just great. I hope for an opportunity to stay in San Francisco, because I love this city so much!

Born and raised in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, the designer was inspired by the history of pilgrimages throughout Northwestern China. The religious environment intrigued Shan: the ancient temples with their faded décor, the prayer flags wreathing in the open air, the monks with their laconic clothing. She is a student of life on the road having embraced a number of formative professional opportunities such as interning at the Shanghai-based womenswear label Shushu/Tong and with a Russian-American fashion designer and retailer Leon Max in California.

Fashion designer has nothing to do with fashion. It is a quote from my Instagram profile. I think designers should not follow trends, but lead them. I like designers and brands with young fresh vision like Somewhere Nowhere or Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard. My work space is best described as messy enough: I just try to keep things I use the most closer to myself.

I loved the closeness of working alongside my classmates, sharing advice with each other. However, how to incorporate everyone’s feedback and comments into you own process? How to choose what is most helpful, what fits my idea of style? I really learned about myself as a designer and improved my skills the most in classes with instructors Jane Bower and Jayne Foster, Graduate Director of Fashion. Their attention and little tips were always very helpful. I really wanted to give people the same joyful and peaceful feeling I experienced during my trip in China. I started with inspirational images but quickly switched to draping with ropes, because I wanted ropes to be a more functional part and not only for decoration. Fashion can be a spiritual practice because it gives something unique to everyone. I’d love to design for someone like Susanna Lau. Everyone knows her as Susie Bubble, the blogger. If I could give my freshman self some advice, I’d say to work harder from the very start!

Born in Chicago and raised in Orange County, Jadallah has always been interested in migration narratives. For her graduate collection, she drew upon the strength and culture of her Palestinian ancestors who had sacrificed a lot throughout history. The collection features light weight wool, suiting fabrics, lambskin leather, cashmere knits, and brocades. She has collaborated with knitwear designer Cana Klebanoff. Having moved from the East Coast to the West to pursue education at the Academy, he was also aware of the challenges of cultural (dis)placement. Inspired by the samurai armor and fortified architecture, his pieces communicate a sense of pride and resilience. Klebanoff was awarded the San Francisco-Paris Sister City Scholarship Exchange to study for a full academic year in Paris, France at Studio Berçot (2017-2018).  

Jadallah: I loved playing music and taking dancing breaks in the middle of long work days (and some nights). You need music. Otherwise, you could literally hear the tension in the room. I wanted to learn why certain things are done a certain way. Menswear is all about reason. Oh, and sewing… once you learn how to sew you can fix anything; sewing and garment construction go hand in hand. This collection was about my ancestors and Palestinian culture, so my mom and I made our entire family tree. Never note anything in pen, always in pencil! Inspiration is weird and can be hard to come by, but you never know where you can end up if you persevere. Simon [Ungless] saw my vision and helped me get it across. He really pushed the collection into right direction. Cris Applegate, my menswear construction teacher made me become better wherever I struggled. The biggest challenge always is balancing work and social life. My collaborator [Cana Klebanoff] kept me on track and really grounded me. The outcome is awesome, because it seems we grew together. We were able to create something unique that shows we’re not all that different in the end. Except, I love poodles. I want to have poodles in different shapes and shades. I know it’s such a stereotypically “designer” thing, but I don’t care. I love poodles. 

Klebanoff: From ideation to picking fabrics to being smart with money, the learning process is huge! You must focus on something that’s close to your heart, something you enjoy spending all this time on. I look for textures that I find exciting to visualize as garments. I have inspiration photos spread out. You start seeing everything come together piece by piece, every day getting closer to achieving your vision. I like audiobooks; particularly, autobiographies. I listened to Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band”. It was like having really good company in the studio. Time management is crucial. You don’t have to arrive within the deadline hour. You can build in rest time by making a calendar. I always move my deadlines to sooner. Every single class I took was a valuable experience. I mean it. Instructors have “real life” industry experience and can see things for which we might have a blind spot. Collaborating with Joanna [Jadallah] was great. We see things differently, but we have the same view of difference. It’s about combining elements in a way that helps both hold their own. It’s the combination that makes the result unique. When you design for someone, it’s almost a chemical reaction, like “the worlds collide.” I’d love to dress a whole band… Maybe, some post-punk band or a group from the 80’s. I really enjoy the styling and the clothes of that decade. It looked like everyone just had so much fun. You know what else is kind of fun? We Rate Dogs on Twitter @dog_rates.