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New York Fashion Week: Art Institutes Show

By Jackie Mallon

Feb 18, 2016

The Art Institutes fashion show is a highpoint amid a rather pessimistic and uncertain period for this for-profit college organization.

The Art Institute of New York City is one of 18 schools, within the system of over 50 scattered about the United States, that will close its doors due to the struggling parent company EDMC’s massive restructuring efforts, but it is unique in that it is the only doomed school among those featured tonight. Enrollment has ended and the teach out will be complete in Summer 2017. It will be interesting to see if the Art Institutes’ show will continue in future seasons despite their no longer maintaining a campus in the city that is unquestionably the capital of US fashion industry. The schools’ participation in the official NYFW schedule originally came about from connections that faculty members in the NYC campus had with the industry, and particularly central to the arrangement was Scott French, now of the Bromley Group public relations agency. For the first few seasons, the show was exclusively for the Art Institute of New York City before it was opened up nationwide.

The process of selection works like this: Each school can submit up to three collections from current or freshly graduated students. A panel of external judges from within the industry reviews the dozens of submissions consisting of completed garments accompanied by illustrations, technical flats and inspiration material, and a final 12 collections are chosen. This season’s group is made up of 3 Art Institute of New York City collections, 3 from Miami International University of Art and Design, and 1 each from the Art Institutes of Portland, Houston, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale and Vancouver.

A sure thing and an uncertain future

Most of the students featured are currently on or have just graduated from a Bachelors program, but the Art Institute of New York City offers only an Associates-level program. Their students have 2 years to acquire the skills that students on a 4-year Bachelors program, like that provided by the Miami International campus, have. It is a notable achievement that the New York City students nabbed three of the twelve spots while the looming shadow of closure no doubt casts a pall on their daily classroom experience.

Understandably, it might make one question the company’s decision to close their flagship campus. But despite what’s happening in the boardrooms of their Pittsburg HQ, on the Manhattan runway, the show must go on!

Artist in residence

It opens with Portland’s German Madrigal who shows for the second time at New York Fashion Week, His collection’s punch of Yves Klein blue against stark white tailoring plays nicely with another artistic feature of this show: illustrator, Lily Quin, uses the back wall like a painter’s canvas drawing with an easy grace a look from each of the collections. It’s reminiscent of the glamourous era when illustrators sat front row at shows capturing runway looks in stylish thumbnails rather than on digital screens.

The spare but optical modernism continues in the work of two of the students from Miami International: Zenia De Sousa’s vinyl bombers riddled with oversized rubber grommets, and Sebastian Cubides, who makes his second visit to NYFW, showing a luxurious workwear-inspired mix of leather bibbed overalls over vinyl sweatshirts and grey flannel layered tailoring. It’s rare to see blue collar and corporate exist so happily on the same page these days.

Adopting a more street interpretation of this relaxed layering is the design duo Altenor Leveille from the Art Institute of New York City, whose collection entitled “Urban Nomad” evokes the changing landscape we navigate while going about our daily hustle in urban jungles like Manhattan. The two Haitians draped leather, fleece, and sheepskin into warm funnel-necked cocoons worn with tights and topped off with multi-pocketed anoraks and paint-splattered transparent raincoats in colors of concrete, soil and tar.

To dye for

If all this metropolitan armor in rainy-day shades is too authentically wintery for you, and a suntan is all you crave, there’s escape in the form of fellow Art Institute of New York City student, Kimberly Richardson’s collection. Her career working in a salon inspired her to attack denim, leather, and suede with hair chemicals. Although she admits, she feared she would blow her apartment up, the result is an evocation of the rippling sun-dappled waters of the tropics. You don’t even need to pack a knapsack for your getaway as there’s a small overnight case conveniently built into the construction of a sun dress.

Whereas good old household bleach provided the sparring partner for the seriously dotty graphics of the collection by Art Institute of Philadelphia’s David Marquise Seward. Part music festival, part Disneyland, you are invited to rock the Polka but dusted with grunge.

Making his third Fashion Week runway is the Art Institute of New York CIty’s Lavan Chxeidze, whose man resembles a winking Lothario legging it out onto the balcony of a boudoir he’s not meant to be in, shimmying down the vines in only a billowing silken robe plucked from a hook to cover his modesty. One of his libertines wearing a damsel’s white lace under a waistcoat had a paisley-pattered box tucked under his arm as if he’d pilfered a lady’s jewels as he went.

But that box contains Lavan’s portfolio. It’s a fitting note upon which to end as these thirteen students are parading their wares not only for our enjoyment but with the aim of finding employment. For them, that’s the real treasure.

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.