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School of Fashion Alumnus Makes a Statement on 'Project Runway'

Brandon Kee, 2016 B.F.A. menswear design graduate, spoke candidly with Academy Art U News about his Project Runway experience

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Brandon Kee stars in Project Runway season 16, airing on Lifetime. Photo by Barbara Nitke. Copyright 2017.

Out of the 16 hopefuls on the 16th season of Lifetime series Project Runway, Brandon Kee was the quietest. Just a year removed from school, Kee, a 2016 B.F.A. menswear design alumnus from the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University, kept to himself and stayed above the drama of the show. Working with a “tunnel vision” focus, Kee’s designs dominated the catwalk and awed judges week after week. Kee didn’t need to use words to say anything – his clothes already said plenty for him.

Off the strength of a streetwear-chic aesthetic held together by his forward-thinking vision, Kee cruised through the season and finished as one of the four finalists. To determine the winner, Kee and the other top designers duked it out by creating and showing a 10-look collection at this year’s New York Fashion Week. The winner of Project Runway, Kentaro Kameyama, was close to Kee on the show, and the pair often referred to each other as ‘brother.’

Although he didn’t win it all, Kee said Project Runway offered the 24-year-old mountains of experience as he made huge strides in a young, budding career.

“It was amazing that I was able to have a cohesive story on the runway and [have] it really look different, but you could tell it was from the same designer,” he said during a phone interview prior to the season finale. “I think I did that quite well.”

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One of Brandon Kee’s designs from his NYFW collection on Project Runway season 16, airing on Lifetime. Photo by Barbara Nitke. Copyright 2017.

At the judges’ stand, Kee said his 2017 NYFW Layers of Love collection was inspired by his girlfriend, Dina Marie Lam, an Academy M.F.A. fashion design graduate. Kee stayed true to his youthful aesthetic, playing with layers and dimensions. The foundation for the collection was a home-furnishing, flamingo print that he manipulated to create an ombre effect.

“I really focused on the pieces individually; each piece I wanted to be a stand out piece,” he said during the show. “But at the same time, the juxtaposition of putting all those unique pieces in the same fabric, to me, just something about that is beautiful.”

Collectively, the judges mused over Kee’s collection both on the New York runway and throughout the show. “He has a particular point of view that has even influenced other designers on the show,” said Nina Garcia, editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine, during the finale. “That’s what you want from a designer, to inspire and be a trendsetter.”

Kee proved himself as the one to beat in the early weeks of the competition. At the beginning, there were questions of how well the menswear designer’s hand would translate to womenswear. But Kee’s eye proved just to be as sharp as his needle and allowed his models’ body type (the show celebrated body diversity and featured size-inclusive models ranging from 0-22) to influence his designs.

“I couldn’t take my standard and do an oversized shirt and then a tube dress or something, I really had to think about their proportions and what I was going to do,” Kee said.

“That was definitely the most challenging but overall, I think my aesthetic works really well. It’s pretty androgynous; it works for men and women.”

As the season progressed, Kee rarely hit a low-point. From episode one, co-hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn made frequent claims that Kee “always exceeded [their] expectations.” Of the judges, Garcia praised him for his “unique point of view” and Zac Posen, fashion designer and Brooks Brothers creative director, applauded the sophistication that rang through Kee’s concepts and execution. In total, Kee won four challenges on the show (including one team challenge), plus he had his print selected for the Dixie Cup Challenge.

“Brandon can clearly design, cut a pattern, and construct,” said Simon Ungless, School of Fashion executive director. “He has a highly developed skill set and that came through in his quiet confidence [of] getting the job done.”

Confidence, vision and consistency – Kee’s keys to success.

“I tried to just keep doing me, as cliché as that sounds,” he commented. “I always think about and try to be thoughtful about what the judges are saying. But at the same time I know what I like, I know my aesthetic, and I just try to push it, but I just try to take the time to curate the ideas.”

Kee hopes to continue working with celebrities, such as Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Before the season had concluded, Reynolds was seen wearing Kee’s outfits for their Evolve World Tour. The singer explained he became a fan of Kee’s aesthetic by watching the show.

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Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons wearing designs by Brandon Kee during the band's tour stop in Denver, CO. Photo by Chip Litherland. www.redlightsandredeyes.com | instagram.com/redlightsandredeyes/

“He has a very strong voice in his clothing and that just really resonated with me,” he said during a phone interview. “Brandon has a way of being subtle, but also quite other-worldly, and has a very definite voice.”

What especially appealed is the way Kee uses colors, which Reynolds said adds to the performance: “This record is a lot brighter than [our] other records, so I wanted [to wear] something that spoke for that.”

Kee said being on Project Runway was a “true test” of his creative abilities. But what he wants students from his alma mater to know is that, yes, thriving in the fashion world rests largely on vision and aesthetic, but also on identity.

“[That experience] was really a testament to knowing who you are as a designer, your taste level, what you’re picking out,” he said. “It really kind of pushes you to figure out who you are as a designer and through the process, you find that out rather quickly.”