By  on January 31, 2011

NEW YORK — On-air drama is as essential as fabric on “Project Runway” and “The Fashion Show,” but such hysterics were nowhere to be seen at Rhode Island School of Design’s senior thesis critique Saturday.

Tommy Hilfiger, Tina Lutz, Karen Young and Robert Geller were all ears when 23 students presented their storyboards and inspirations in Geller’s TriBeCa studio. All that attention caused a few of the budding designers to blush and shift nervously on their feet, but there were a few familiar faces in the room to help calm any nerves. RISD’s Catherine Andreozzi, Mary Kawenski and Meg DeCubellis were also on hand to chime in with sound advice.

Once each student had had his or her say, Hilfiger said, “Isn’t it great giving ideas and not having to execute them?”

Good-humored as he was, Hilfiger did in fact offer a range of detailed suggestions, from the literal — “Brunello Cucinelli has a store on Bleecker Street — you should see it” — to the professorial — “Research André Courrèges. He did something similar in the Sixties.”

Even when the discussion bordered on criticism, panelists treaded gently. Lutz, for example, cautioned one student about styling her collection with her grandmother’s vintage hats, by offering, “I wouldn’t go gimmicky. I see this girl with simple makeup and pulled-back hair.” And a royal blue-bright yellow combo prompted Hilfiger to say, “It’s a little Superman costume.”

There was some give and take though. When asked which stores she had shopped at for swatches, a few designers jotted down notes. That wasn’t the only thing the Millennials gave them to think about — dreams, jellyfish, shrooms and the Peter Pan Complex envisioned in part by Chinese artist Zhou Fan were surprisingly tied together nicely by Antoinette Ticzon. Other students referenced Gundam (anime “mecha” or robots), the symbolism of cracked concrete and the children’s book character Olivia, a pig. For her interpretation of “The Tempest” set in the Arctic, Avery Reed offered a one-paragraph plot summary lest anyone not be up to speed with their Shakespeare. “Most of the men in this play are kind of jerks, so I put them in darker fabrics and more somber clothes. I tried to set Juno apart because she is the wife of Jupiter, so she is kind of the big woman on campus. That’s why she is in gaiters and cool fabrics,” she said.

The elders, so to speak, couldn’t help but be reminiscent of their own salad days. During the break, Geller, an RISD grad, recalled how Nicole Miller, Maya Hansen and a few others critiqued his senior work 10 years ago. “I was interning at Marc Jacobs up until 2 a.m. and then I would get home and work on my collection. It was super, super intense. When you’re at school, it’s all theoretical and then you are actually making garments. When I was at Marc Jacobs, it was real. I was so energized. It was incredible.”

After her critique, Ticzon said “Project Runway” and “The Fashion Show” “seem to be more about the character of the person and the drama.”And overnight fame is not what she is after. Ticzon, who has interned at Thakoon and Doo.Ri, said, “I think it’s important to work for someone else first. You have to learn how to build a business, production and all that.”

During the “crits,” as they are known, Kawenski mentioned how Pierre Cardin has never gotten the credit he deserved. Hilfiger replied, “He got his credit in another way. I think he has been the richest designer in terms of licensing.”

But more than anything, Hilfiger wanted students to leave with food for thought, not money-hungry ideas. “There is a point where too much advice can be overwhelming or confusing to a student. If they each can take one great message from us today, they will be fine. One great message is all you need.”

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