It has been a busy time for the students of the Art Institute of New York City. Just over a week after twelve of them show on the official New York Fashion Week schedule another group of graduating Associate level students put their portfolios on display at the Portfolio Review event held at Stollway event space in the heart of Manhattan’s garment district. The invite list is kept tightly under wraps but it is an important opportunity for the students to discuss their work with professionals, to network and to prepare to enter the job market.
The mood is one of excitement, relief and that special kind of hysteria that comes from a sustained lack of sleep. There’s a need for caffeine and sensible shoes in equal measure as the students stand on the spot for five hours meeting and greeting, shaking hands and smiling till their cheeks are sore.
On cloth-draped tables sit the portfolios, many custom made to the most precise specifications and personalized with engraved names and stencilled logos. Alongside, there are business cards, equally unique. Briana Seimah’s have been shipped in from Latvia, made to order from wood, as is her portfolio. “My father says I need to put away his credit card now,” she says, laughing, but the hope for imminent employment is palpable in the room. The cost of creating their final collections plus their books, the printing, the materials, all mounts up and in an increasingly competitive industry, there is unfortunately no skimping on professional quality.
Busy time for the students of the Art Institute of New York City
As I survey the room I notice there are a few noticeable trends. By now, accessory design has become de riguer in many ready-to-wear portfolios (echoing their importance to the success of any design house) and some of these students have gone one step further and incorporated bags and purses into the construction of their garments. Hoods attached to backpacks with wallets that zip off, leather vests with utilitarian knapsacks on the back need no inconvenient shoulder straps to cramp the style of this girl on the go.
Society’s ills are being addressed within the portfolios. Students allude to or boldly feature the Black Lives Matter movement in their work as anger and confusion throb from graffiti-laden, slogan-filled pages featuring croquis that resemble warrior women on a bid to combat violence with artistic self-expression. This reflection of what’s happening in the news marks a return to urban streetwear. Denim in various treatments is popular including adorned with decorative bleaching.
While the show is surprisingly free of menswear portfolios––given its growing prominence in the city’s fashion week cycle––childrenswear and bridalwear are represented.
Transporting me back to my own student days some of the work offers more than a trace of a 90s London clubwear scene. Cyberdog plastics, rave party multi-pocketed overalls, and Red Or Dead tartan collide as if on a cobblestoned corner of Covent Garden on a summer weekend.
At 8pm the event is at an end and the students, riding on adrenaline for the past five hours, begin the anti-climactic chore of packing up their portfolios, zipping their collections into garment bags, popping closed their little box of business cards and heading for the subway.
And after a few good nights’ sleep, the real work starts.
Work featured by Shenelle Gonsalves, Sandy Cuevas, Sheri Swaby, Verna Defoe, Edlyn Diane, Alicia Acosta, Kimberly Richards, Cierra Ramseur, Briana Seimah, Brenda Flores, Bridgette Ingram and Sarah deOliveira.
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.