I recently had the pleasure of attending the UCLA Spring benefit fashion show “Illumination”. The show was entirely organized by students at the school’s fashion club “FAST” (Fashion and Student Trends) and showcases designs by UCLA students. Overall the designers come from a wide spectrum of majors ranging from design media art to biology. The event itself benefited the Los Angeles non-profit organization “Food on Foot” which aims to bring meals, clothes, and job search assistance to poor and homeless people( a cause that is very close to my heart). Of course we had to check out this opportunity to spot creativity and new talent while contributing to a noble cause. We have always been keen on discovering new talent and though some of our finest designers nowadays come from esteemed design school such as Parsons or Central St. Martins, we always remember that talent and passion can exist anywhere and this time we found it in our own backyard at the UCLA campus.
I have said recently in an Ebay story that I am inspired by “women who…paved their way into fashion by being on the cusp of something new and different”, and for this group of student designers, they are taking a risk to be something unique in their chosen academic surroundings and have stepped outside the box to showcase their fashion abilities. Of course this cannot be compared to the graduate show at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where the students hone their skills day in and day out to present perfection. But for students who hold a full-time curriculum, what I have witnessed at UCLA was impressive in the thought and inspiration of the collections, they were well conceived and for some even surprisingly well constructed.
I had the pleasure of interviewing 3 designers before the show to learn more about them as well as the inspiration behind their collections.
Olivia Akubuilo – Somptueux Dawn
Olivia is a Junior studying Biology and works as a part time assistant to the building manager at the UCLA student union.
How did you first become interested in fashion, since most people don’t often imagine people with a serious interest in fashion at a regular school such as UCLA?
“Well basically when I was younger my secret desire was to become a fashion designer, but sometimes you have your parents to tell you to become a doctor or [sic]. But basically growing up, I’ve seen different stuff, I love fashion, I love creating my own story each day and you know, just doing my own thing.”
How did you get involved with this show?
“So I’ve always watched this show since I was a freshman and I’m a 3rd year now. I always say how I would love to part of this show and one day my friend just said to me to stop saying I want to do it and actually do it, so I decided to do it for real and here I am.”
What kind of fashion inspires you? What are you drawn to?
“I personally love things that you can wear. In fashion, it’s always fun to have these big outfits, but at the same time fashion should definitely still be wearable, you can still play with it on an everyday basis.”
Was there ever a point after high school where you had to decide between fashion school or attending UCLA? And what would you like to pursue after you complete your degree?
“No, not really, I’ve definitely thought about it, but my academic is always my priority. I always thought whatever I want to do I can do it on the side[...]For sure I still want to do fashion, I don’t want to let this be the end, if anything it’s the beginning. I’ve seen myself progress so much since the beginning of this whole process, so I’m excited to see where it can take me. I am pre-pharmacy right now, but I still want to do fashion no matter what.”
Please tell me a bit about your collection.
“So all the fabric is from Nigeria where my dad lives. I wanted to mix patterns with solids and there are some chiffon involved also, just very wearable, everyday clothes.”
What would you say would be the most difficult part of this whole process?
“Fitting people, fitting people is hard.”
I love how Olivia uses fabrics from Africa and mixed them with other fabric such as chiffon, gauze, or poplin. The bold print is very on trend and women just want to look bold and fun at the same time. And judging from what I saw on the runway, the difficult process of fitting paid off.
Anna Reutinger – GRUB by GMA
Anna is a 2nd year student from Northern California studying Design Media Art, this is her second year being part of the show.
How did you find out about this show?
Last year I met the model McKenzie and she told me about it. I kind of have been making my clothes through High School but I never thought of it as something I would seriously pursue. So I thought to give it a try and got some great feedback and decided to do it again this year, change it up a bit.
So how did you first become interested in fashion?
“I think it started at my grandma’s attic. There’s these amazing vintage clothes and she made most of it. And so every time we go visit her I would just go and pull things out and try it on. I don’t know, I always feel the need to improve things that I got, so I thought I might as well just make it from scratch, so that’s just kind of how I started.”
Have you ever came across the decision of picking UCLA versus a fashion school?
“The thing is I never considered it as a serious possibility for my future until I got here, so that wasn’t really an option. But I definitely still want to retain the visual graphic aspect of what I am studying right now, linking it to the digital age that we are entering right now, and seeing how that becomes more avant-garde.”
So what’s the plan moving forward, fashion or graphics?
“I don’t know, I feel like I don’t have to choose, as long as I’m doing something I love”
Let’s talk through your collection a bit, what was the inspiration?
“I wanted to talk about food as a way to tackle the eating disorder issue of the industry. So all the fabric are actually treated with natural edible dye material, so things like cranberry juice, coffee, beet juice…etc. And each look is based off of a dish that has influenced my life in some way. For example, there’s potatoes and onion, tuna fish casserole, pumpkin bread, macaroon, red velvet cake…etc. And there’s a look called leftover which is made with scrapes leftover from making all my looks, that’s for the guy.”
I loved, loved, loved, this collection. It has an endearing vintage feel with a strong handmade and homespun vibe. As charming as that is, you will be surprised by the drama she managed to incorporate into her collection. The first model walked out wearing a 3 feet 3D clear cube with her arms stretched out (see picture), then the mood turned quickly into fun, funky town as models started dancing down the runway and eventually Anna came out to thundering applause, seems like the rest of the audience had a good appetite for what Anna served up.
Ali Guerin – Blur
Ali is a 4th year student studying Design Media Art, this is also her 2nd year in a row being part of the show.
How did you get involved with this show?
“I love fashion and when I found out about this show I decided to apply to be part of it and it’s my first foray into making different outfits for different people. Last year the theme was all about catalyst, so I made a collection all about war and what inspires war. So with Design Media Art, we study a lot about electronics and different forms of media, and some of that actually has a part in this year’s collection.”
So what’s some of your earliest fashion memory?
“My mom taught me how to sew when I was really little, it started with little cup holders, then it was t-shirts and dresses and then I just became passionate about making my own clothes. In wanting to do that, fashion definitely gives me an opportunity to showcase what I learned and what I can do. So I went to the library and picked up a book and learned how to make clothes.”
Have you ever thought about the need to go to fashion school in order to achieve what you’ve dreamed?
“Yea, I’ve definitely thought about it. When I first started making clothes for people, I was a 3rd year, and now I’m a senior, I definitely think about taking some classes at FIDM or FIT. But if anything I really want to keep pursuing it or at least keep up with it since I really enjoy looking at all the runway shows and I am really interested in textile and future fashion, conductive fabric and water reactive…you can live in different environment and have different outfit because the fabric changes with your surroundings…etc.”
So what inspired your collection this year?
“A lot of my inspiration…I was imagining a future cocktail party. It’s very formal and elegant but still has this electronic influence in it. I see a lot of futuristic designs and they are really not…elegant, and I really wanted to achieve that. So a lot of my pieces are heavily draped and very flowy and they hide some part of the electronic wiring. And when they walk, the light would go on and off according to the bass beat of the music in the background, at least that’s what I’m going for (laugh). My favorite look, which is the long yellow dress with the blue belt, that one doesn’t have electronics in it, but the belt is a broken glass mosaic, much like the Fall 2011 McQueen collection. A lot of people when they hear electronics and futuristic, they think Tron, but it’s not like Tron.”
Who’re some of your favorite designers?
“I like McQueen, Balmain, Hussein Chalayan, those are the few I get to see online, so hopefully after I graduate I’ll have time to see the rest.”
Ali’s collection was my favorite of the night. It was well thought out and well executed. When the models walked down the runway, it looked real, expensive, and more than a few girls in the audience probably wanted to snatch it right off the runway. I love how she sees elegance in futuristic fashion as I also think elegance never goes out of style. It is impressive to see a young student designer with little to no formal training to be able to express her thoughts through fashion and to be able to communicate it in an effective manner. I particularly loved the yellow dress and her black pieces with light tubes elegantly draped along the necklines.
Other looks that I loved from other designers:
As I was writing this I cannot help but admire the courage of these students who are trying to carve out a different path for themselves and make room for their passion. Best of luck to them and hope to see them on a major runway in the near future!