San Francisco might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of American fashion. The Bay city is known for having birthed the flower child movement of the 60s, becoming the home to the tech industry in the 90s but today it’s grooming fashions next generation of leaders. Paving the way for these innovators is the Academy of Art University with their annual runway taking place every spring. Each year the graduating students get a taste of real life in the fashion industry with a heart-pounding, adrenaline rush that is the Graduation Fashion Show.
The May 6 runway show saw the works of over 30 students take the stage set up within the Academy-owned Bayshore warehouse. The graduating designers presented their work in front of an audience of peers, teachers, and industry insiders. Filling the seats of the spacious venue were bright faces and brighter ensembles worn by San Francisco’s most notable fashion connoisseurs, curators, and writers. Author Christine Suppes and San Francisco Chronicle Style writer, Carolyne Zinko lined the front rows to get a first glimpse at the newest styles created by the talented designers.
As soon as the Marlena Shaw anthem, California Soul hit the speakers, years of design work, sweat and style hit the catwalk. Setting the mood, the first model sported a nude lycra ensemble inspired by designer Thao Thai’s perception on selfhood. Clear thigh high boots, earth tones and asymmetric styling exemplified Thai’s minimalist touch that was accented by the jewelry of Naz Khorram.
The show proceeded with small collections done in collaboration between design and jewelry students. From fine jewelry and metal work wrapped around the monotone wool-suited bodies to a costume designer’s intricate embroidery of rubber bands in saturated fuchsias and oranges, each collection had its own story. The teamwork presented on the runway seamlessly merged together like a shared thought.
One diverse look after the other proved that there was no shortage of creativity. From Julie Kintner and Yan Li’s athletic menswear inspired by emergency blankets to Bowen Tian’s oversized jackets adorned with massive buttons, variety was guaranteed.
A collaboration between graduate Fashion Designer Jeanne Marie Sanguinetti and Jewelry and Metal artist Ryan Hsiang left the attendants stunned when a Pac-Man arcade game inspired suit with flashing lights assembled in the fabric walked under the fluorescent lighting.
Before the annual show began, a Spring Showcase went on for graduating students from other AAU programs. Journalists, architects, graphic designers, animators and jewelry designers as well as many others had the opportunity to present their own work as a prelude to the runway at the end of the day. A bevy of portfolios were lined from wall to wall with meticulously organized resumes highlighting everything the students have done up to now. The white walled warehouse could barely hold the anxiousness many of the graduating class felt especially in the presence of the honored guests.
Watching the runway were Chief Critic of vogue.com, Sarah Mower as well as the Director of Education and Professional Development for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Sara Kozlowski. The guests came to praise the incredible work the students have produced over the years. To officiate the grandiose night for AAU, Elisa Stephens, granddaughter of the school’s founder, Richard Stephens, and current president of the university, rose up from her center seat to praise the School of Fashion. Stephens noted the programs rise to becoming the university’s largest and to present Sarah Mower with an honorary doctorate for her contribution to the industry.
As the designers set off on their new adventures, they’ve proven that San Francisco, a longtime supporter of the arts, is now also a fashion capital to watch.
This piece was written in collaboration with Isabella Urbina.