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Speaking Out Through Fashion

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(L–R) The Graduation Fashion Show Industry Panel: Sarah Kozlowski Council of Fashion Designers Director of Education and Professional Development), Trino Verkade (CEO of Sarabande, the Lee Alexander McQueen Founder), Andre Walker (New York-based designer), Lutz Huelle (Paris-based designer), Alexander Fury (Chief Fashion Correspondent at T: the New York Times Style magazine) and Simon Ungless (Executive Director of the School of Fashion). Photo by Randy Brooke.

Before this year’s collections walked the runway, Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion amped up this year’s Graduation Fashion Show with an industry panel featuring their Guests of Honor: New York-based designer Andre Walker, Paris-based designer Lutz Huelle and esteemed fashion journalist Alexander Fury. 

The Atrium and balcony at 625 Polk were filled before the guests and fellow panelists Trino Verkade (CEO of Sarabande, the Lee Alexander McQueen Founder), Sara Kozlowski (Council of Fashion Designers of America, Director of Education and Professional Development) and moderator Simon Ungless (Executive Director of the School of Fashion) took their places on stage.

Ungless, with the intention of giving students Q&A time, asked only three questions, each touching upon a significant scope of the industry. The questions were broad (covering passion, career longevity and integrity, and education) but purposeful. 

Before jumping in, Ungless prefaced the discussion with, “Honesty, realness and creativity; that’s what I want to talk about today.”

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Andre Walker. Photo by Randy Brooke.

The speakers were candid with their responses, revealing how they handled adversity (both internally and externally), building relationships, staying true to themselves and why they have stayed in the competitive fashion industry. 

Walker, who was the youngest American designer to have a show at New York Fashion Week (he was 15-years-old), spoke of his mother’s influence on his work and how he sees fashion as a way to integrate voice into society. In a similar vein, Huelle touched upon the ways fashion is his entry into pop culture and “wanting to understand what was going on around me.”

Verkade spoke to how we “project our personality through how we dress.” Huelle backed her on this and said, “Fashion is a means of reinvention. There is a power in clothes by dressing however and whoever you want to be.”

Platitudes on self-acceptance and staying true were thrown abound throughout the conversation, and though Fury (Chief Fashion Correspondent at T: the New York Times Style magazine, Editor of AnOther magazine and Vogue published writer) warned against clichés to the student journalists in the room, hearing those truisms from industry leaders was reassuring, especially to young designers and creatives.

“It was very influential,” said Chelsea Grays, an M.F.A. fashion design student. “They made it known that it is important to be true to who you are, to stand out and appreciate yourself.”

On the topic of education, Ungless presented the idea of, “Do school rankings even matter?” Kozlowski, who works with fashion students, including those from the Academy, pushed back with, “Now is the time for non-traditional curriculums. Now is the time for uniqueness, especially in education, that needs to be celebrated.”

“I think it’s a matter of who teaches you,” said Huelle, who attended Central Saint Martin’s in London. His statement rang through the room with Academy instructors perched throughout. 

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Lutz Huelle. Photo by Randy Brooke.

Of course, practical and actionable advice was offered as well. Creating and maintaining relationships was key; don’t let social media get to you was another. Amy Burke, an M.F.A. fashion journalism student, stepped up to ask Fury how to make her interviews more interesting.

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Alexander Fury. Photo by Randy Brooke.

“I think when he said, ‘don’t bore people,’ that was a big eye-opener,” she commented. “There’s a lot of fluff writing out there and for him to encourage that you don’t necessarily need to ask the questions that have already been asked was a really good response.”

The greater conversation positioned fashion as a conduit for expression, education and change. Grays asked the panel how to prepare for potential backlash against designs that speak on modern society ills; Fury was adamant that she shouldn’t have to. 

“Fashion should be about reality and what’s happening,” he told her. Kozlowski offered additional foresight for everyone listening: “Your generation has a lot on your shoulders. Whether it’s in times of chaos, times of peace, your art can help us move forward together.”

“We’re currently living in a moment in fashion where everything is breaking and there’s space for everyone,” Huelle said when asked how he deals with shifts in the industry. “When I was a young designer, there was a point in your career where you were invisible and now you don’t have to be.”