NEW YORK — The Fashion Institute of Technology accessories design department honored its 20th graduating class on Thursday with an exhibition and awards ceremony here for outstanding students.

“We established this accessories program in 1984 and it remains the only one of its kind in the country,” said Ellen Goldstein, the department chairwoman. “We consider this a time to encourage the industry to look at what we have here.”

The exhibition and Next Generation Awards ceremony, held in the school’s C Building lobby and Katie Murphy Amphitheater, was hosted by the Accessories Council and Payless ShoeSource, and supported by Leather, Suede, Skins Inc.; Cipriani Accessories; Fownes Bros.; Ugg Australia; Polo Leathergoods, and Miriam Haskell. The Haskell company has hired the last three award winners in jewelry design.

“Two of them are still working for us,” said Gabrielle Fialkoff, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Miriam Haskell, who presented this year’s best jewelry design award to Jennifer Yi.

Other honorees at the fifth annual ceremony were Jennifer Heckendorf, best handbag design; Ashley Jones, best belt design; Johanna Carbrera, best designs in hats and gloves, and Jonathan Lippert, best footwear design. Heckendorf also received the Chairman’s Award for overall outstanding thesis work for her baseball-inspired accessories collection, A League of Her Own.

“I like the idea of taking elements from an ordinary accessory that baseball players use and working them into an item with a trendy twist,” said Heckendorf, who has gained industry experience at Betsey Johnson, Victoria’s Secret and Steve Madden and wants to eventually start her own line.

Accessories designer Carlos Falchi, who kicked off the event with a speech, said he was impressed with the work of the graduating students and advised them to be positive about the possibilities available to them.

“I first began designing bags when I was nine years old,” said Falchi. “And all of them I sold to my aunts. I could never have imagined that I would be here today.”

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.