May is traditionally graduation month, and that includes fashion schools across the country where graduation fashion shows have taken on all the markings and proportions of true fashion ‘happenings’. Pratt Institute recently held its 106th annual show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Tuesday, May 10th, which also honored the Council of Fashion Designers of America by presenting an award to designer Stan Herman, CFDA President. Sponsored by RadiciSpandex, WWD observed (“Pratt Institute’s Bright Future”, May 16th), the students were quite obviously “not afraid to stretch traditional design”.
Not to be outdone, “Cocktails by the river, an over-the-top fashion show and a huge turnout” (according to WWD, “Gala for the Graduates, May16) marked the Parsons School of Design benefit Monday, May 9th, held at the Chelsea Piers. The black tie event which boasted 750 in attendance included such luminaries as Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Simon Doonan, Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez (the duo better known as Proenza Shouler). Indeed, with so much worldwide interest in fashion, not to mention all the constant speculation about the future of fashion, these events are becoming more and more important, are highly watched, and typically draw an a list fashion crowd who hope to spot and identify the next big design stars. So highly anticipated was San Francisco’s Academy of Art University Graduation Show held on May 25th, the event made it to the pages of www.fashionweekdaily.com (“Too Tulle For School: Part 2”, May 11th.)
Indeed, the prestigious and well respected Academy, founded in 1929, is the largest private art and design school in America and fashion grads have been known to go on to work for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, and Missoni.
This year, among those taking in the standing room only runway show from their front row seats (including myself) were fashion luminaries such as Ralph Rucci, James Galanos, Azzedine Alaïa, and legendary/iconic Milanese retailer Carla Sozzani. By the way, Alaia and Sozzani (both chicly clad in black…what else?) were presented with honorary doctorates by Dr. Elisa Stephens, President of the Academy, and were special guests of honor at a beautiful dinner for about 85 immediately following the show, hosted by Christine Suppes, publisher and editor-in-chief of www.fashionlines.com, and her husband, Professor Patrick Suppes. The international worlds of retail, publishing, design, and academia literally collided as illustrated by those in attendance.
Enjoying the wonderful ambience, interesting conversation, champagne, and fabulous food at Farallon Restaurant were Denise Hale, Vanessa Getty, Tatiana Sorokko, Glenda Bailey (whom I was seated beside and is always a wonderful conversationalist), Ralph Rucci, James Galanos, Suzy Menkes, Gladys Perint Palmer, and Wilkes Bashford (yes, THE Wilkes Bashford, the renown retailer).
In addition, May 25th was declared “Azzedine Alaia and Carla Sozzani Day” by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsome, and earlier in the day, Alaïa (about whom famed illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer – the Academy’s Executive Director – remarked before the packed audience at Morgan Auditorium, “He’s the reason women exercise”) and Sozzani, the mastermind behind the Milanese shop, 10 Corso Como, hosted a symposium for graduates and press with a panel that included International fashion director of Condé Nast Gene Krell, and International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes.
Even jaded fashion insiders predicted I would be “blown away” by what I would see on the catwalk and as one veteran runway photographer put it, “It’s usually better than many shows I’ve sat through in Europe or New York.” The knitwear and textiles were particularly outstanding (it was noted that “the knitwear design and textile design graduates have created all fabrics in the knitwear studio and print room”), and while there was much talent on display, many stars in the making, some stars just seem to shine more brightly than others, as is always the case.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the ones that caught my eye also caught the eye of the other fashion pros, including the two honorees who were asked to chose a graduate to take as an apprentice in their respective cities (Paris and Milan) for the coming year. Azzedine Alaia picked Sangmin Yoo (my personal favorite by the way), a young man who cited “Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, and equestrian looks from the Fifties and Sixties in a modern setting” as his inspiration.
Carla Sozzani selected not one but two: Jamie Mihlrad, a New Yorker who has already nabbed an internship with Marc Jacobs, and who is unapologetically inspired by Art Deco, vintage, late thirties party dresses, and the works of Phoebe Philo for Chloe in Paris with its ultra feminine aesthetic. The second is Kia Faulkenberry-Lewis, who is already known for her floral engineered prints and is inspired by Art Deco, Art Noveau, and the Thirties.
Of course, top retailers are getting into the picture as well. It was announced right after the show that Neiman Marcus will be showcasing the work of Jeehyun Shim, Amy Fink, and the design and textiles collaboration of Staci Snider and Tomoko Hatayama-Khassa, in their downtown San Francisco windows. Macy’s West Chairman and CEO, Robert Mettler, has invited eight graduates to take part in Passport, an annual Aids Fundraiser.
Marilyn Kirschner & photos by Randy Brooke