Austin Fashion Week is upon us. Tonight (April 24), the annual UT Spectrum Fashion Show, in which senior design students show off their collections, kicks off the festivities with a runway show at the Frank Erwin Center that is free and open to the public. If past years are any indication, production values will be stellar as 26 design students showcase their work.
According to the AFW website, the student collections on display this year are "specifically intended to be worn by sportsmen, athletes, and artists." I confess I found this a little bewildering. Artists, all right, but is there really a difference between a sportsman and an athlete?
Looking for answers, I marched straight down to Gearing Hall, where seniors happened to be at that very moment presenting their work for critique before a panel of judges that included Austin fashion icon and Project Runway alum Daniel Esquivel. While students sweated, one by one, in front of the panel, the real action was in the studio, where designers fidgeted nervously with their designs or hunched over sewing machines doing last-minute adjustments. I resisted the urge to flit from project to project saying, "Make it work, people," and instead took a quick peek at a few of the most interesting designs. Here's a sneak preview of six UT designers on the make.
A white vinyl capelet top with matching floor-length skirt caught my eye right away, and proved to be the work of Natalie Poché, president of the University Fashion Group. Poché's minimalist collection was inspired, she said, by the Bauhaus, with digital prints she had designed to evoke the composition of a Malevich painting and a black pressed vinyl jumpsuit that looked like quilted leather.
A slightly less austere take on the black embossed vinyl that many students incorporated into their collections came from Anh Nguyen. A student of psychology, Nguyen is interested in studies that suggest biracial people are perceived as more attractive because they defy automatic categorization. His "second look" collection seeks to attain a similar type of beauty by pairing contradictions. His floor-length black vinyl duster was pressed with a floral design and worn over a flowing black evening gown. "I really wanted to play with oppositions, like the one between black and floral, hard and soft," he said. "I wanted my collection to be structured but not controlled."
Just across the studio, Tilde Snyder was fussing over a boxy bomber jacket in a Miu Miu-esque digital print that she designed using images from vintage recipe cards. Floating against a backdrop of clouds, the ice cream cake, which ordinarily might be a candidate for the Gallery of Regrettable Food, looked oddly appealing. Snyder's candy-colored designs are sharp and athletic, with the scuba sensibility we've seen on runways in recent years softened by vintage fabrics and transparency. Snyder said she was "bored by black," and the matching shorts and bra top in vintage lime-green polyester did make a strong case for color.
Derly Gonzalez, on the other hand, doesn't seem bored by anything. An anthropology double major with a bleached mohawk, he described his inspiration as "India-slash-witchcraft." Standing proudly next to what he called his "angel-witch," a gold satin evening gown with a space-age Sixties silhouette, he enthused about the long snap-away black tweed cape laced with gold thread from which the gown emerges "as if from a cocoon."
So far, I had seen clothes for athletes and clothes for artists, but it wasn't until I got to Ellese Castillo's collection that I remembered "sportsman" is also a synonym for someone who hunts. Castillo has designed an entire collection around the idea of "feminine concealed carry." All of her mint green flounced party dresses come with hidden holsters, for the girl who just can't imagine going to a bachelorette party without her Smith & Wesson. Believe me, I've been to some of these bachelorette parties; I can sympathize.
One of the most wearable collections was Molly Empey's dystopian sportswear line. Inspired by "pollution and extreme weather conditions," her lavender-streaked top under a structured but slouchy hoodie looked a bit like a pastel-ifed Alexander Wang. I believe the children are our future, and I always did want to meet the apocalypse in a hoodie.
The UT Spectrum Fashion Show takes place Thu., April 24, 7:15 (doors at 5:30) at the Frank Erwin Center. Admission is free to the public.
See a gallery of more UT fashion students and their designs online at austinchronicle.com/photos.
Follow our coverage of Austin Fashion Week, featuring daily event recommendations online at austinchronicle.com/chronique.
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