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2017 Portfolio Review: A Chance to Impress

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(L–R) Director of Fashion Gary Miller introducing guest of honor Sarah Mower and her daughter Maisie McCaughley to students during the Portfolio Review. Photo by Bob Toy.

The warehouse on Jerrold Ave was full of high-energy and nerves on Saturday, May 6, as students of the School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University filed into tables to show off their thesis collections.

Guests walked down the center aisle to peruse through works from students from a variety of focuses: Fashion Design, Textile Design, Jewelry and Metal Arts, Visual Merchandising, Costume Design, Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Journalism, Technical Design and Styling.

For many of these students, this portfolio review wasn’t just a chance to display their final Academy projects, it was a key opportunity to stand out. There was potential to land an internship or make an impression on the industry figures in attendance, and that chance was only moments away.

Also a few moments away was the first showing of the graduate runway show, which featured a total of 19 collections, 10 of which were cross-discipline collaborations. Peggy Kuo, a B.F.A. textile design student, and Aastha Shah, a B.F.A. fashion design student, worked together on a set inspired by Shah’s native country of India, specifically the Holi festival, Madhubani paintings and Mehndi, or Henna, tattoos.

“All three are a form of art in India that is done on the body,” Shah explained. “My concept is doing the same thing but on garments; it’s more like I’m doing art on clothes.” 

“[We’re] taking a traditional theme and modernizing it to feel like contemporary silhouettes,” said Kuo. “From the concept I interpreted the textiles to make it more modern, but I still took organic shades and lines from the original henna tattoos and paintings. It’s just black lines on top of bursts of colors and all original fabrics are white.”

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The venue was full as students from different disciplines in the School of Fashion presented their portfolios to guests. Photo by Bob Toy.

Both Shah and Kuo said they had to remain in constant contact throughout the process since it was the first time either of them printed on garments. At times, it was also about communicating the other’s discipline; Shah helped Kuo understand the construction of the garment, while Kuo explained the technical aspects of printing. 

On the runway, Shah’s garments flowed as the models walked through the aisle, and Kuo’s color bursts and bold Mehndi designs popped against the white fabrics. It was one of many standout collections and for both designers, it was surreal to see their work in a bonafide fashion show. 

“It’s a dream come true,” Shah said. “I can’t describe the feeling, it was so much different than I thought it would be, it was more refined, it was everything.” 

Simon Ungless, executive director of the School of Fashion, said he felt good about his students’ work and felt good about the evening show. 

“I think this group of students have really stayed true to their vision. They’ve tackled some really difficult things and have risen to the challenge,” he said. “This show is a big production for San Francisco, the city is not used to a production of this magnitude. We have a lot of new faces, new models in the lineup and they’re very anxious because it’s their first show.”

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Guests excitedly look at School of Fashion students’ portfolio designs on display at the Graduation Fashion Show. Photo by Bob Toy.

Students in the School of Fashion M.F.A. program also had their work on their display, with some preparing for their showing at New York Fashion Week in September. M.F.A. menswear design major Xiaoyu Zhao’s portfolio featured his spin on menswear, inspired by nature and tempered with different textures and new fabric combinations. 

“I was always inspired by nature and in my major, menswear has a lot of limitations for the shape, silhouette and even color,” he said. “Sometimes you can have some creative things, but you can’t force a man to wear a skirt for no reason. The thing for me is how to deconstruct historical or classical pieces and put them in a new concept.” 

A large part of the portfolio review is to inform guests of other fashion careers outside of designing. Focuses such as styling, fashion marketing, merchandising and fashion journalism are integral to the industry’s commerce and storytelling. 

Namrata Loka, an M.F.A. fashion journalism student, displayed her final thesis project, Miraya, a magazine that explores the evolving fashion world in India. Last year, Loka was awarded the Weebly Scholarship and was invited to share her work at the Weebly headquarters in San Francisco.

Since then, Loka has expanded Miraya into an online store selling Indian jewelry and accessories and looks to bolster the magazine’s online presence. 

“Socials are our best friend right now,” she explained. “As a journalist, content is where I should focus. We want to do more traditional journalism versus brands and collaborations. I want to give [Indian designers] a voice they currently don’t have. Journalism in India still has a lot of scope but it can be global.”

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Students and guests look at the variety of fashion portfolios on display at the Graduation Fashion Show. Photos by Bob Toy.

Browsing through the tables and picking through the countless portfolios, journals and displays, you get a good sense of the effort put in by these students. There’s a level of dedication and hard work bound in each binder you flip through, but it isn’t until you see the physical piece walk down the runway to truly appreciate the amount of talent and creativity each student in the room possesses. 

When it was time for the runway show to start, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief as each look trickled out onto the floor. There were flowing silhouettes; futuristic prints; elongated and oversized garments; traditional pieces with modern, contemporary twists; androgynous looks; geometric shapes; intricate detailing such as knitwear, textiles, cords, cinched sleeves, fringe, feathering, embroidery, mesh and rubber. 

Each piece required a high level of technique and outside-the-box thinking. Prior to the show, Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens spoke on the collective group of students and soon-to-be graduates featured at the event, praising their accomplishments. 

“We know they’re dedicated and driven, otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I find myself inspired because they are the future of the fashion industry. These students came to school without a portfolio and now they have one. That’s what they earned in their time here.”