Thought Couture

RISD students blend cutting edge style with provocative ideas for Collection 2017


The 18 seniors about to graduate from RISD’s Apparel Design Department have been working tirelessly as they prepare to debut their creations at Collection 2017. For the past four years, these students have been in a program designed to meet the highest requirements of the industry. On May 13 they will have the chance to showcase their skills, innovation and originality to a jury of respected fashion professionals.

The long-standing fashion show and community event will have a new location this year, moving to Brown University’s George V. Meehan Auditorium. Department Head Neil Gilks explains that, “the move to the Meehan Auditorium offers a larger runway and more immersive experience for attendees.” Neil describes Collection 2017 as a, “diverse approach with visually rich and thought-provoking offerings fueled by the students’ creative freedom, allowing them to explore what is important to them.” Giving us a glimpse into the show, he reveals that “senior students are utilizing their collections to raise important timely issues and underline the need for change. This is their platform to address their ethics and design language.”

Each year the panel that critiques the seniors’ collections consists of highly accomplished designers and fashion industry professionals with varying concentrations. Panelists are selected based on their vast experience in the industry and their ability to offer guidance to the students, as well as to open doors post graduation. Involved throughout the collection-building process, they offer their insights and professional opinions to the Apparel Design seniors in conversations leading up to the show – bringing, as Neil puts it, “encyclopedic knowledge of the entire industry past, present and future.” This critical feedback ultimately helps the students determine which of their garments make it to the runway. Critics have included design directors from Diane Von Furstenburg and J. Crew, fashion news directors from runway magazines such as Elle, and leading designers including Tommy Hilfiger and RISD alumni Nicole Miller and Robert Geller.

The panel of guest critics for the 2017 show will include Sara Kozlowski, a fashion design strategist for the Council of Fashion Designers of America; Lisa Z. Morgan, a British artist, designer and writer; Dean Sidaway, an artist and educator at the Pratt Institute; and Kate Wallace, the design director of Women’s Knits, Sweaters and Cold Weather Accessories for Club Monaco.

Collection, says Neil, “offers the exposure of ideas and frames the time-honed craftsmanship” of the Apparel Design senior students. But most importantly, the show is an “arena to provoke questioning and the exchange of perspectives.” This is the students’ chance to display their technical and conceptual skills, as well as their unique, personal creations. Many of the collections are inspired by their life experiences, with their hearts and souls sewn into every stitch. One senior’s collection will be a tribute to the liberation her mother experienced years after leaving Communist China. Another senior will feature corset boning in each look of her collection, a restrictive force symbolizing her concern about the current administration. Another will investigate the intersection between queer identity and fatherhood. One collection will challenge stereotypes of modern black men. Another will focus on gender-equal garments.

As clothes, style, trends and design thinking have adapted over time, Neil explains, “the core of the show is the celebration of a dedicated practice.” Another constant of the show has been the years of support from David Shwaery and Gerry Hammel of Squires Salon. Over the past two decades they’ve created the model’s runway looks; Neil expresses his true appreciation for, “their commitment in supporting us and the next generation of design thinkers.”

Although nothing can compare to the amount of work and preparation that goes into building a collection for a runway show in the real world, Neil is well aware that the Apparel Design students understand “the need for commitment and execution of the highest standards.” He would like to think that, “collectively, the Apparel department is arming the students with the technical, creative, problem solving and communication skills that will aid their progression into their chosen fields post RISD, forming the basis of a fulfilling career.” Many AP Graduates, even those from the class of 2016, are already pursuing their passions, from research to entrepreneurship. Collection 2017 may be your only chance to see these designers without having to “periscope,” an industry term for having to watch the runway through your smartphone at a show. That is, if you’re even able to get a seat at their show in the first place.

May 13 with shows at 4pm and 7pm at the George V. Meehan Auditorium at Brown University. 225 Hope Street