The Future of Fashion? For U.S. Graduates, It’s All About Sustainability
For the first time ever, the CFDA is presenting a showcase of graduates of five fashion schools in the United States under one roof. Deemed the CFDA Fashion Future Graduate Showcase, the event was created in partnership with NYCEDC culls together top talents from Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Pratt Institute, the Academy of Art University, and the Rhode Island School of Design at midtown’s Center415. Each recent graduate has been equipped with a small square of space they can deck out in their own designs. Some, like Pratt’s Erik Goldberg, collaged their mood boards all over for an immersive experience, others opted for a more unobtrusive take. Personal preferences aside, the collective showed some undeniable trends about the future of fashion.
The biggest takeaway is that young designers are concerned about sustainability—very concerned, in fact. A vast majority of graduates made their collections from upcycled materials that ranged from purposed Joe Fresh sweaters (Parsons’s Panisa Busayanont) to dollar hosiery from vintage bins (Pratt’s Mila Sullivan). “I used vintage fabrics because collecting vintage textiles is a passion for me, but also because sustainability is extremely important right now, because our resources are quickly depleting, so it’s important to reuse materials like worn fabrics,” Sullivan told Vogue.
Her creations have a magpie-like sensibility; on the other end of the upcycled spectrum is the work of menswear designer and former marine Eden Slezin. Based in San Francisco, Slesin doesn’t use chemical treatments on his sustainable denim, instead finishing and wearing the pieces by hand. “Fashion is the number two polluting industry in the world. If I am to be part of such a large industry, I think it is important to do no further harm,” he said. “As a professional outdoorsman, nature is so important to me. I want my work to highlight issues, like environmental destruction, that have global implications.”
The environmental bend of the collections was seconded by the graduates’ penchant for mining their own backstories and cultures for inspirations. Cen Si, a Finnish-Chinese designer from Parsons, combined her heritages for a smart take on Fair Isle knits and ski culture, while her classmate Chia Lee explored her family’s Chinese history in Malaysian coffee shop culture to create fantastical Perspex-beaded tops and dresses with kitschy appeal. FIT’s Zoe Whelan whipped up a pastel pink fantasia based on her youth obsessions, while Academy of Art University’s Aastha Shah drew inspiration from Indian traditions for a vibrant collection of silk-screened prints and handprinted tassels. One of the smartest collections came from Parsons’s Jeremyn Lee, who married his mother’s Chinese history with Western apparel. A red sport knit with her name intarsia’ed along color-blocked stripes could hang in Opening Ceremony. Same for his plastic pants with doily patterns, although those will be a bit harder to wear if your name’s not Rihanna.
Other standouts included Joy Douglas of Parsons, who worked with incarcerated people on a collection that challenges perception, and Parsons x Kering Empowering Imagination winners, Emma Cleveland and Ji Won Choi, that latter of whom’s unisex clothing is at the fore of the genderless fashion movement. Same goes for Olivia LeBlanc’s inspired workwear that, while technically menswear, could sit nicely on a woman’s frame. LeBlanc knows a thing or two about gender-spanning appeal—she worked most recently at Hood By Air—but like all the grads is in the market for a new gig. Said Pratt’s Mila Sullivan of her future, “I’m going to show my collection in London at graduate Fashion Week and after that, I need to find a job, like, real quick.” Employers, take note.