“In my beginning is my end,” wrote T. S. Eliot in Four Quartets. It’s a line that came to me when I saw the final look in the Academy of Art University’s graduation show. It was a wired metallic construction from Keer Ivy Chen’s couture-inspired lineup reminiscent of Paul Poiret’s lampshade dresses, and the circularity was both literal and symbolic; Poiret introduced these shocking silhouettes in the 1910s, so near the start of a new century, as we are today.
Student shows are usually bellwethers of the future, but the work of this class of 2022 (the show included the work of nine graduates who couldn’t show in ’20 or ’21) was clearly influenced by the upheaval of the past two years. The knits of Rashida Birdsong, incorporating protest signs, referenced the social justice movement that started during the pandemic; Nigerian-American Patricia Falowo’s collection, titled Afrofuturism, made use of tradition, incorporating weaving, braiding, and knotting techniques.
It seemed like the work-arounds and adjustments that are needed to navigate the unknowns of lockdowns and mandates might have influenced the students’ use of details like drawstrings and suspenders, which allow wearers to customize their garments. Knits spoke to the same need; of particular note are those of Mingyang Zhang, which took inspiration from dance; and Tianya Candice Li’s soft gender fluid pieces, which referenced earthquakes. The sinking of the Titanic, another devastating event, was the starting point for Jaclyn Shahan’s deconstructed and reconstructed looks. Even the students focused on tailoring, notably Daniel Kim, took a deconstructed approach to it.
That’s not to say a “she’s-come-undone” theme was universal. Domingo Cholula’s lineup was inspired by Dutch and Flemish painting, but in light of the abortion rights debates, his long-collared cossaks had a kind of Handmaid’s Tale vibe. Gabriella Weinkauf’s prints were inspired by Catholic imagery. A few designers created garments using woven strips of one kind of fabric (see designs by Andrea Aunni Young and Nazanin Ramezani), sort of folding it back in on themselves, which seemed to speak to self-reliance.
There were many loose-fitting tabards or tunic shapes seen throughout. One standout was a dress by Milijana Delic that looked like a walking Mondrian. She created her collection with her brother, Milos, who is studying at the university’s School of Industrial Design. Yachen Xie and Voonbin Shine Leow, fashion and textile designers, respectively, worked collaboratively on a series of colorful dresses with silhouettes that were harmonious with their incredible prints. Wangyujing Zhang added a touch of fantasy to the show with her lushly draped, ulta-feminine pieces that borrowed elements from the Rococo paintings of France and Tang suits from China. The iridescent bow wings on the back of one look added an angelic touch to the whole.