At the end of each school year, the Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion presents its much-anticipated BFA graduation fashion show — a tour deforce of ingenuity and creativity from the fashion designers of tomorrow. Students present between four and six looks, the culmination of many semesters of intense coursework. This year’s exhibition of ready-to-wear takes place May 11 in front of an audience of peers, instructors, fashion insiders, retailers, buyers and prospective patrons. To celebrate, we’re profiling five of the top designers from the 2019 graduating class. With inspiration ranging from childhood memories and the Italian Renaissance, to prescription drug addiction and the juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty, this sampling of design talent will leave you wanting more.
Meet the Designers
Kelly Joohui Kim: “The whole story of my collection —Sail Away— relates to my dad,” explains Kim. “I always lived around water, and he was a sailor. [As a young girl] I wasn’t that close to him, but I was always watching him from the docks.” Originally from Korea, Kim had the opportunity to travel abroad during high school and moved to the Philippines. “In Korea I studied beauty, makeup and hairstyling,” she recalls. “Then, in 2013, when I was in the Philippines, there was a big musical production where I was able to work with costumes. I was in charge of choosing and remaking them — as well as overseeing the hair and makeup.” At that moment, Kim discovered her interest in making garments. She moved to San Francisco in 2014 and began taking fashion design classes before changing to knitwear design. “Using different kinds of yarn, but the same technique, gives you different textures and results — it really captured me,” she says.The four looks Kim has designed for the graduation fashion show were inspired by the large rusty chains coiled up on the docks of her childhood, and the seaweed tangled in the fishing nets. “This collection helped me form a connection to my dad that I didn’t have before,” explains Kim.
Hanan Sabir Argaw: Born and raised in AddisAbaba, Ethiopia’s capital city, Argaw moved to the United States when she was 16 years old. “I went to high school in Kentucky, in a really small town called Oneida,” she says. “It was probably about two hours away from any major city.” After graduation she went to a university on the East Coast and studied psychology. However, a year and a half before finishing, she realized her interests were elsewhere. “I decided to study abroad and went to Abu Dhabi,” she explains. “The Sorbonne had an extension program there, and I studied French.” After that, she returned to the U.S. to pursue an education — and career— in fashion. “I had taken a semester of coursework in fashion, merchandising, and drawing, and found that what I really enjoyed was sewing.” It was evident that Argaw found her niche — last year she was the recipient of the California Fashion Foundation Scholarship, which awarded her a cash prize, and also recognized her as a “future creator of contemporary design.” Her graduation collection, Hooked on Fashion, was inspired by the world around her — addiction. “There’s so much drug use going on outside when I’m commuting to and from school,” she explains. “That’s how I chose [the theme of ] addiction, particularly addiction to prescription drugs.” The six looks in Argaw’s presentation incorporate an oversized sculptural element comprising circular and oblong “pill-shaped” pieces of felt sewn together. The result is a beautifully constructed but all-encompassing overlay — a reference to the overwhelming effects of drug addiction. While the inspiration may seem dark, there’s definitely an upside.“Everything is sustainable —the fabric I’ve used comes from remnants at FabScrap,” she says. “And the felt is left over from interior design clients of FilzFelt.”
Claudia Tan and Pamela Toribio: “I was originally interested in bridal design,”says Claudia Tan. “When you’re very young and see women wearing gorgeous [wedding] gowns — smiling and so happy — it makes you happy. I wanted to create things that made women feel good.” Tan, one-half of the design duo responsible for the five-look collection, Cruel Intentions, was in charge of the design and construction. Her co-designer, Pamela Toribio, is the mastermind behind the textiles. “One day I was watching E! Entertainment and saw all these [red carpet] gowns, and realized I wanted to [be in fashion],” says Toribio. “Although I loved fashion design, what I really fell in love with was the fabrics.” Together the pair embarked on a collection inspired by the beauty — and incredible cruelty — of Hong Kong’s infamous Goldfish Street.“It’s a very pretty thing —seeing all the colorful fish hanging in a long gallery of bags,” explains Tan.“But it’s very cruel how these animals are manipulated [and sold]. In the Asian culture fish are very important for feng shui— the stranger and more colorful the fish you have displayed, the wealthier you’re perceived.” The designers researched the work of Japanese photographer Mika Ninagawa, and the images presented in her 2003 exhibition Liquid Dreams, when coming up with their design plans. “While Claudia was focused on the silhouettes — [conceptually] how the fish are contained — I wanted to re-create Ninagawa’s watercolor effect that presented them as colorful and free.
Maya Gunnell: “I grew up in Jericho, Vermont — everything is dirt roads,” laughs Gunnell. “While it was amazing, there was definitely no fashion scene.” She began sewing when she was 7 years old, making gift bags to sell at holiday markets. By the time she was 11 or 12, she was sewing whole outfits. “I started making little girl’s pajamas,” she says. “First, I’d make summer-weight pajamas, then [the next season] I’d make winter pajamas.” Gunnell’s first major project was her eighth grade graduation dress. “After that, I started making my own clothes. It was so much more interesting.” In the beginning it was less about fashion and more about the art of sewing. “I was always really into puzzles, so the fun part was trying to figure out how to make something, and the construction.” For her graduation collection, The Persona and Her Shadow, Gunnell took her inspiration from puzzles of the mind, in particular Carl Jung’s theory of individuation. “It’s about the persona in the shadow, and how each person has two sides to them,” she explains. “To become a whole, at-peace human, you have to accept that there is this ‘shadow’ part of you. You can’t live in denial of yourself.” With that, Gunnell also used Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century Italian Renaissance masterpiece, Primavera, as the basis for her six looks. “It’s a very beautiful image of Venus standing in a grove with the Three Graces dancing around her, but there’s a darkness to it,” she says. “Zephyrus — the strong [March] wind— swoops in and kidnaps his bride [Chloris].” All the brocades she uses are are presentation of beauty derived from the painting, and the construction — with all the metal boning — adds a darker yet beautiful medieval quality. “I see a folk artist like Joanna Newsom or Florence Welch wearing any one of these looks while performing,” she says. “They’re clothes you wear with a purpose.”
Credits: Photography: Jamie Nease; Production: Natasha Chalenko; Hair & Makeup: Maya Roget; Models: Savannah and Alexandra (Bratty Model / Brave Talent Agency), brattymodel.com