Showcasing Individualism in Design

April 26 Portfolio Review_general_2

Family, friends and special guests at the Portfolio Review got a firsthand look at the designers’ work on display. Photo by Randy Brooke.

Every spring, the School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University hosts its annual Graduation Fashion Show and Portfolio Review, but year-to-year, no two events are alike. 

For 2018, the student portfolios exhibited a celebration of individualism. As School of Fashion Director Gary Miller said, “Every design student is completely unique. They’re showing the best of their individual design abilities. It’s not that it’s a different class, it’s every student has their own unique message they’re trying to show.”

Nearly 120 students from the disciplines of fashion design, textile design, knitwear, 3-D and pattern making, fashion journalism, styling, costume design, product development, visual merchandising, fashion marketing and merchandising brought their best work to showcase to their family, friends, instructors, honored guests and industry professionals at 2225 Jerrold. 

The collective energy from the students was a mixture of excitement and nerves, but many, such as Mariana Suarez, B.F.A. fashion design, appreciated the day as a testament to their hard work, but also recognized it as their moment to seize.

Alexander Fury chats with ----, ---- as Stepan Rabimov, Director of Fashion Journalism looks on

Alexander Fury chats with Farnaz Dadashi (B.F.A. fashion journalism) as Director of Fashion Journalism Stephan Rabimov looks on. Photo by Randy Brooke.

Lutz Huelle and David Ballu discuss portfolio with Denise Ramos, BFA Fashion Design

Lutz Huelle and David Ballu chat with Denise Ramos (B.F.A. fashion design). Photo by Randy Brooke.

Andre Walker viewing Brianna Toomer's portfolio (BFA Fashion Design)

Andre Walker views Brianna Toomer's (B.F.A. fashion design) portfolio. Photo by Randy Brooke.

“It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s like I’m knocking on doors today,” she said. Suarez remembered what it was like to be at the Graduation Fashion Show and Portfolio Review as a spectator; now, the script has flipped. 

“I think it’s exciting also to show other students what they will be able to do in their next few years,” Suarez adds. “It’s also almost a statement—who I am as a designer is on this table.” 

Susan Zienty, also a B.F.A. fashion design student, with a focus on womenswear, shared a similar sentiment. One of the 25 designers featured in the runway show, the Portfolio Review is perspective—a reward—on the past four years of hard work. 

“It’s a really long, tough journey to get to this point where you’re facing a lot of critique and evaluation of self, so it’s a really long self-reflection process,” she said. “We all feel so grateful to have gone through it and it’s fun to see that gratitude in action.”

Many of the designers’ collections had a message behind them, a purpose. Zienty’s was no different, as the inspiration for her runway line was 1950s guidebooks depicting how women should dress for their husbands. 

“It’s in defiance of that,” she elaborated. “It’s about the un-proper way to dress. It’s a cool statement that I think is really empowering for woman and it took me on a great journey myself.”


(L–R) B.F.A. fashion design student Susan Zienty chats with guests about her collection. Part of Zienty’s display at the Portfolio Review. Photos by Bob Toy.

Ideas surrounding journey and process were heavily present, especially for MaShawn Jones, at least, in the literal sense. The M.F.A. fashion journalism major is an online student from the East Coast. It was not only his first time being at the Portfolio Review, but it was his first time in San Francisco and meeting his Academy cohorts. 

A veteran in the reserves with a civilian job in logistics, Jones said his Academy education draws his creativity out. Jones’ online publication, Fashion Intellect, explores topics “outside of what fits the superficials of fashion.” As a journalist, Jones peels back the topics of fashion as a function, for protest, moving culture, diversity and mode for individual expression, praising the current acceptance of androgyny, not just as a label but as a concept.

“I started this journey while I was [on] active duty and there was this sense of creativity that I was longing for,” he said, also noting how being around his peers physically has an impact on his creativity. “There are so many amazing creative people that actually come to the Academy and [that] has given me so much more inspiration ... I want to push myself creatively a bit more.”


M.F.A. fashion journalism student MaShawn Jones. Photo by Bob Toy.


B.F.A. fashion design student Hanh (Susan) Nguyen. Photo by Bob Toy.


B.F.A. fashion styling student Yohamy Cisneros. Photo by Danielle Rueda.


M.F.A. costume design student Connie Su. Photo by Randy Brooke.


B.F.A. visual merchandising student Nicole Ross. Photo by Randy Brooke.


B.F.A. textile design student Emily McCarty. Photo by Bob Toy.

Collaboration was how Hanh “Susan” Nguyen elevated her creativity and her designs for this year’s fashion show. She partnered with Emily McCarty, a B.F.A. textile designer, to create one of the most unique collections in the show, a dual take on minimalism and maximalism expressed through silhouette, dimension and print. 

Their line of dresses, box-shaped, and asymmetric tops were a marvel for the audience to gaze at, an example of high-technical skill and thoughtful construction that Nguyen said she couldn’t do on her own. 

“When you collaborate, you learn so much,” she said, grateful to McCarty for teaching her about textiles and print. “It’s a great opportunity to learn, I improved myself so much.”

Hersha Steinbock (instructor) with guests Trino Verkade (CEO, Sarabande) and Joseph Larkowsky (fashion illustrator), chat with Weina Li, BFA Fashion Design

Instructor Hersha Steinbock with guests Trino Verkade (CEO, Sarabande) and Joseph Larkowsky (fashion illustrator) chat with B.F.A. fashion design student Weina Li. Photo by Randy Brooke.

Collaborative projects are always in high praise at the Academy, which President Dr. Elisa Stephens acknowledged in her speech. She also recognized how the students in the room celebrate the university’s values of diversity and inclusion. 

“They are different in countless ways. Race, gender, political-leaning and more. We embrace these differences. We always have,” she told the audience. “When fashion design students from different cultures and backgrounds collaborate, their diverse experiences, ideas and passions are reflected in beautiful, thought-provoking collections.” 

For all the buzz that occurred throughout the day, Miller hopes his students leave the warehouse with their heads high: “They need to promote their individuality, what they learned and to show they’re not like the cookie-cutter designer. Be proud of their uniqueness … It’s what sets them apart from everyone else.”