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Kent State University Graduates in Fine Fashion

By Jackie Mallon

May 3, 2017


The Michael Kors-sponsored event entitled “Reverie” commenced by inducting president of Menswear at Michael Kors, Don Witkowski, into the Kent State Hall of Fame. Former inductees include Anna Sui, Oscar de la Renta and Isabel and Ruben Toledo.

Then bachelors students and even some shooting stars in the earlier stages of their Kent State careers offered up bronze breastplates on lamé plaid draped dresses, zippered pants that mixed punk and romanticism, wafting gypsy print dresses, and marbleized cocoon coats to start the evening.

Thirty students had been selected by an external panel to show their BFA thesis collections in categories ranging from athletic wear to sweeping gala gowns with some noteworthy takes on the now ubiquitous streetwear trend. Xiaolong Zhao’s bold mix of black, Yves Klein blue, and engine red dynamically emblazoned with the logo Dream Big led the “Reverie.” A duster coat reminiscent of those boxers wear entering the ring with a conquest already in their sights was the collection’s winner.

Janaai Jones opted for a palette that could sneak up on corporate America––grey, charcoal and navy––in his collection of solid layering pieces of mens and womenswear entitled “Equipped.” But his inspiration was titans of a very different industry: firefighters.

Segueing nicely into women’s ready-to-wear but still with the on-the-go ease associated with the more athletic attire was Maame Amoah’s collection which explored graphic symbolism, batik, and knit in her collection “The Noble Savage.” Assessing European nobility from the viewpoint of the native who, despite seeing themselves as advanced and independent, fall victim to colonization, Amoah reimagined the map of Africa in a yarn palette reminiscent of sunsets on savannas, and translated intricate knot shapes into abbreviated but intriguing tops.

Print highlight of the show belonged to Iman Hooker whose collecttion “Iris” paired Kelly green with vibrant apple thereby flying in the face of a comment Witkowski, a self-confessed lover of the color, had made in his acceptance speech that in his experience green never sells. Hooker’s irreverent playful approach to the “difficult” hue was a fresh and welcome break from the more sellable neutrals and paired with crisp white and striking black her pieces were sassy and fashion-forward.

Sarah Johnson’s “Woman Holding a Balance” refers to the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age and her draped sleeve “cold shoulder” or “cold elbow” crisp white cotton blouses paired with bellbottoms or apron-style dresses were youthful and contemporary.

Best In Show award winner Sarah Kauffman’s Intergalactic Space Princess tells the tale of an alien who falls through a wormhole somewhere in the universe and is deposited onto a flashing dancefloor in 1970’s New York. The glitter-sprinkled disco-dazzled creature is destined to boogie for eternity at Studio 54, a slave to the rhythm of curvilinear protrusions, beading that evokes the control panel of a space vessel, and Bowie’s words “Bring me the head of the disco king” sequined on a boob tube.

The eveningwear collections were particularly special not simply because of the scope of work involved in their creation but a maturity of design not often associated with student gowns––or their budgets. Gerald Hopper’s “Objectified Beauty”; commented on the enduring dominance of the male gaze on womenswear incorporating bondage details in a sophisticated way. The finale collection of Julien Remi B Nguyen’s showstopping gowns was reminiscent of Olivier Theyskens’s haute gothic style of the late 90s. In particular one dripping in black sequins with dégradé shading from jet to charcoal to smoke was Met ball red carpet-ready. Where’s Madonna to put this kid on the map like she did Theyskens?

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

All photos courtesy of the Fashion School at Kent State University