CFDA: A Platform for Emerging Talent

Recognition from the Council of Fashion Designers of America provides School of Fashion students with opportunities, awards and industry connections


B.F.A. fashion design alumna Zhouyi Li showcased her womenswear collection at CFDA x NYCEDC 2018 Fashion Future Graduate Showcase this past July. Photo courtesy the CFDA.

As leaders in the global fashion economy, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is always looking to the future with “strengthen the impact of American fashion” as their mission. In recent years, the CFDA has consistently looked to the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University to find the next wave of creatives to uphold and, simultaneously, evolve the industry. 

For the second year in a row, Academy fashion design graduates dominated the CFDA’s annual Fashion Future Graduate Showcase (FFGS). Of the 53 selected graduates from the talent pool of five schools (Savanah College of Art of Design, Pratt Institute, Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons, and Academy of Art University), the Academy’s 12 fashion students represented both the textile and design programs. 

The showcase, formally titled, CFDA x NYCEDC 2018 Fashion Future Graduate Showcase, is a hybrid physical and digital exhibition that was held this year at Industria Studios in New York City’s West Village neighborhood. It’s premiere (July 9-10) fell during New York Fashion Week: Men’s and featured an accompanying group fashion show highlighting four stand-out collections, including Academy fashion design alumna (B.F.A.) Zhouyi Li’s womenswear collection, featuring oversized silhouettes enhanced by geometric, 3-D shapes inspired by sculptor Richard Serra.

“The CFDA’s FFGS provides a much-needed platform for our graduates to interface with industry leaders beyond the borders of California,” said School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless. “Equally important is the opportunity to meet and network with their peers from other schools in a noncompetitive environment.”

CFDA Director of Education + Professional Development (and former School of Fashion Associate Director from 2009 to 2012) Sara Kozlowkski shared that Academy students “always shine within CFDA Education initiatives,” thanks to their “perfect blend of creativity and technical knowledge.”

Susan Zienty and Kenneth Cole

B.F.A. fashion design student and 2018 Kenneth Cole Footwear Innovation Award winner Susan Zienty and Kenneth Cole at this year’s CFDA Awards. Photo courtesy of the CFDA.

Cameron Orland

B.F.A. knitwear design student and 2018 Liz Claiborne Scholarship winner Cameron Orland at the CFDA Awards. Photo courtesy of the CFDA.

“When the CFDA had the opportunity to partner with the city of New York for Fashion Future Graduate Showcase, inviting the School of Fashion to participate was at the top of our list of priorities,” stated Kozlowski. “The combination of skill, vision and professional readiness is what our industry looks for in the next generation.” 

The Academy’s School of Fashion enjoyed another success presented by the CFDA this year, two outstanding awards granted to fashion design students: the 2018 Kenneth Cole Footwear Innovation Award and the 2018 Liz Claiborne Design Scholarship Award. 

This year, B.F.A. fashion design student Susan Zienty claimed the Kenneth Cole award; in the previous year, Erika Tompkins (also B.F.A. fashion design) won. Coincidently, Zienty won the Liz Claiborne scholarship in 2017, while this year, B.F.A. knitwear design student Cameron Orland was the recipient. 

The CFDA and the Academy’s relationship has a longstanding, mutually respected history. In more recent years, Academy alumna Ryan Roche was granted the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund initiative (2014). The following year, in 2015, the Academy acknowledged the CFDA with their own award for Outstanding Contribution to the Fashion Industry and Fashion Education. And in 2017, the Academy had seven graduate fashion design students featured in the CFDA+ Talent Book and another five students accepted into the CFDA+ Design Graduates program.

Instructors get involved too. School of Fashion Director Gary Miller and Graduate Director Jayne Foster traveled to New York City to join other fashion leaders at the CFDA’s Education Summit. Brands such as Levi’s and Alice + Olivia rubbed elbows with Miller and Foster, as well as educators from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, London College of Fashion, LIM College and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to discuss sustainability and technology within the industry. 

Consistently being recognized by the CFDA in the form of awards, scholarships, fellowships and job opportunities, suggests the alignment of the Academy’s School of Fashion with an educational commitment to “excellence in design, artistic vision and innovative technology,” and the CFDA’s obligation to the industry at large. The CFDA’s consistent acknowledgement of the Academy’s emerging talent is not only a nod to the students, it is also a nod to the directors and instructors that keep the program running.

“I had similar opportunities when I graduated from St. Martins, through organizations such as Texprint (now TexSelect) and New Designers, which forged professional relationships that have deepened as I have navigated my career,” Ungless said. “It’s about exposure, network building and learning to optimize all opportunities that come one’s way.”