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Individuality, culture and identity reflected on RISD graduate runway

By Jackie Mallon


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Fashion |REPORT

RISD fashion show 2024. Credits: Jonas Gustavsson

Rhode Island School of Design presented its first graduate fashion show since the pandemic on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend. The venue, the WaterFire Center, a meticulously renovated former rubber factory, now a multipurpose arts center for the Providence community, whose 40-foot ceiling was festooned with lanterns. The clever winding seating arrangement meant that every attendee had a front row view and there was a pleasing sense of activity as a handful of models were weaving through the space at any given time. RISD has a small undergraduate program compared to some schools but the 13 thesis students presented a total of 65 looks, the culmination of the 3-year curriculum, that expressed their unique statements on culture and identity.

Looks from Yiyi Wang and Abraham Hsu, RISD fashion show 2024. Credits: Johan Gustavsson

The inability to discuss death meaningfully inspired Yiyi Wang, who recently lost her grandfather and whose collection, drawing from traditional mourning attire in a controlled color palette, opened the show. Some models walked somberly with their hands placed on their bellies echoing the deceased lying in state but the designer’s final all-white layered look accentuated with a single black rose clasped in the model’s hands was heavenly.

Within an all-black collection built on juxtaposition of shape and fabric, referencing religion, cults, subcultures and BDSM, a gown by Abraham Hsu exhibited an intriguing tension with its sleek bodice of straps belted in the back, the shine of the 9 silver buckles recalling rigorously cinched Victorian corsets while the huge skirt gathered at the hip resembled burlap sacking swallowing the model’s lower body.

Looks from Ace Yin and Gene Suh, RISD fashion show 2024. Credits: Johan Gustavsson

Ace Yin played with archetypes, from the coquette to the showstopper, but the devil was in the detail as bows revealed themselves to be crucifixes, and lacy machine knit motifs the face of Our Lady crying Swarovski tears. Together with cascading tea-stained ruffles, beaded veils, abbreviated cardigans, school uniforms, tennis dresses over lace-trimmed bloomers and shimmering gowns, the collection reflected the evolution of self and rejection of dogma.

Working in a palette of pinks Anya Nordstrom explored our relationship with the phygital world, with an approach that questioned where the digital ends and reality begins. Identifying an organic beauty and sense of craft in computer glitches, this imperfectly perfect aesthetic was at its most symbiotic in a look that showed a bubble gum-hued membrane trapping the drape of a lightweight crinkled cotton dress underneath.

Glory Lee and Fiona Frohnapfel, RISD fashion show 2024. Credits: Johan Gustavsson

The limitations of pandemic living and the natural human impulse to reject authority inspired Gene Suh’s collection featuring cuffed elements, ties that bind, hook and eye straps, and corsetry, but it was a louche button-down silk shirt that fastened up the back worn with opera gloves and pants featuring lace paneling that sealed his rebelliously romantic message.

Looks from Anya Nordstrom and Henry Hawk, RISD fashion show 2024. Credits: Johan Gustavsson

Patent Paradise is the title of Henry Hawk’s collection which refers to the era of patents in American apparel history, when Levi Strauss and Co patented the process for reinforcing denim using rivets thereby ushering in the birth of companies competing to outfit laborers in workwear overalls. Exploring the fine balance between adornment and functionality, Hawke upcycles post-consumer fabric with painters’ drop cloths using a 100-year-old Singer sewing machine. While we will likely see many RISD graduates carving out the future of fashion, we won’t have to wait long to see what Hawk does next: He will represent the school in the Supima Design Competition held during September’s New York Fashion Week.

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