“The Language of Fashion,” a presentation of the School of Visual Arts, will be displayed along a stretch of Madison Avenue between 57th Street and 79th Street beginning on Sept. 8. The exhibition, which will be hosted by the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, speaks volumes about what can happen when fashion is cross-pollinated with another discipline — in this case, graphic design.
Olga Mezhibovskaya, an award-winning graphic designer and on the faculty in the SVA design and advertising department, started the conversation with her graphic design students, asking them to create textile designs using typography and subsequently create paper dress models from the textiles. She invited Yelena Deyneko, a former student who is the art director of Spirit and Flesh magazine, to guide the project to fruition.
“All of us are influenced by fashion, but trying to create it ourselves was mind-blowing,” said Mezhibovskaya. “My students visited the fabric stores in Manhattan’s Garment District, learning about pleating, patterning, engineering and printing on textiles. None of us expected that our project would be turned into a public installation exhibited during fashion week.”
Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, was asked to pair each student with an established designer-mentor. She leveraged relationships with some of the retailer’s resources including Philip Lim, Jason Wu, Joseph Altuzara and Jonathan Simkhai, among others.
The students literally wore text on their sleeves as they fashioned a ball gown from a newsprint-covered textile, a top and matching skirt in graphic primary colors, and a tiered, pleated dress festooned with numbers and paragraphs of small print.
Fargo said she was interested in the project because “I came to fashion via an art background, not through studying fashion, per se. I thought the whole initiative was very interesting and a way to bring SVA to the table – you don’t always look to SVA for its synchronisity with fashion.”
Richard Wilde, chairman of BFA advertising and BFA design departments at SVA, believes that fashion is an art form, and has made known his vision of expanding SVA’s role to offer students opportunities in the fashion industry.
“For me, so much of what we do in fashion, comes down to the eye and how is the eye applied,” Fargo said. “Every one of these mediums has a specialty, but it starts with the eye. It exposes this tier of talent to another way to use [graphics].”
Fargo had another reason for connecting the students with mentors. “I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer when I first moved to New York and I built a portfolio towards that,” she said.
New York has a history of mentorship through programs such as the Costume of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Incubator and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, Fargo pointed out. “We’ve got such a well-established rhythm of creative mentorship,” Fargo said. “It’s one of the things that defines New York fashion. Everybody’s very open.”
Each designer was each chosen for a different reason, according to Fargo. “Michael Kors has so much experience with young, up-and-coming talent,” she said. “Rosie Assoulin and Delpozo’s Josep Font are young themselves and [Opening Ceremony founders] Humberto Leon and Carol are young and out-of-the-box, somewhere between art and fashion. [Isabel and Ruben] Toledo are a hybrid between art and fashion, and same thing with Alber Elbaz. We went after people who we felt would be very simpatico.
“We voted on the pieces we’d like to see come to life,” Fargo said. “Each of us had a different prism. I thought, ‘I can actually really see that being worn and three-dimensional,'” Fargo said. “Maybe it was a blend of practicality and vision that made us green-light these designs. The best case scenario is that one of these students will be bit by the fashion bug. Every time you listen to a young designer talk, it’s about their underlying story.”