Students graduating from the fashion program at Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art and Design this year completed their thesis collections entirely from home. By setting up sewing studios in their apartments or childhood homes, students explored notions of domesticity, protection and togetherness — themes that were top-of-mind as the pandemic hit L.A. with a considerable force.
Herein, WWD meets five members from Otis’ class of 2021 who explain the concepts and inspirations behind their thesis designs, as well as their hopes for the future.
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What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? The devastating impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Our project is made of vintage sweaters and deadstock materials. My partner and I are passionate about leading by example. We initially hated the thought of a single-use garment, but we ended up creating a look that reflects our ideals.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? I think that I design more with comfort in mind, a lot of people are going to be working remotely now, so I take that into consideration. I also design with a “safety blanket” aesthetic at the moment, I think people want to feel safe as we are reintroduced to gatherings. We chose materials we knew would be comfortable to parade around in.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? Yes, I feel that the pandemic has allowed for introspection in not only designers but consumers. This pause was needed, as we rebuild I hope we will do so more mindfully. We had no choice but to take in the news and hear each other’s grievances.
What do you hope to accomplish most in your career as a fashion designer? I hope to not only create garments that are playful and comfortable, but also to create a space where art can live and different ideas can flourish.
What are your plans for after graduation? I have an internship, but soon after I’ll be looking for full-time work. My dream job is to work for Simone Rocha. I one day hope to have my own brand that specializes in upcycled and gender-neutral garments.
Name: Anna Paradiso
Hometown: Gardena, Calif.
Describe the concept behind your thesis design: For our thesis design project, we were presented with an open-ended prompt to create a post-pandemic couture collection. My partner Genesis and I are passionate about sustainability and envisioned a post-apocalyptic nomadic society who used found textiles and materials to comfort and protect themselves. We were inspired by various tribal cultures and avant-garde artists.
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis design? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? I was proud of the crocheted cone spikes I created. In the theme of “social distancing,” we imagined a creature warding off predators with bright colorful spikes. I hand-crocheted them and stuffed them with carved foam to keep them soft to the touch and comfortable, juxtaposing the “intimidating” concept with a cozy fabrication.
What were some inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? We were very inspired by Bauhaus costumes, with their exaggerated shapes and bright colors. We also were inspired by Mike Kelley’s stuffed animal sculptures, and we even sewed together a ball of miniature stuffed animals for our garment as a tribute to his work. In creating our final garment, we were influenced heavily by the pandemic and the idea of quarantining with a loved one. We created “twin” garments that zips two people together, to represent love and friendship, being attached at the hip, and protecting each other.
Name: Jun(Junxin) Pang
Hometown: Heshan, China
Describe the concept behind your thesis design: The concept for my design is about the relation between humanity, futurism and nature. It is time for us to rethink the humanities and natural environment under this pandemic.
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? The way water flows and seascapes inspired me in this design because I grew up in a small city near the sea, and my family often takes me to the lake and beach for vacations. I am in love with the smooth lines like water.
Where have you been studying from while school is closed? Do you have plans to move after the pandemic? I have been practicing some illustration skills at home while school is closed. After the pandemic I plan to move back to Los Angeles.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? Because of the pandemic, it makes it inconvenient to go out for resourcing and fabric swatching. And also, under this work-from-home situation, I preferred to create a more loose silhouette and consider comfort when I work on my portfolio.
What are your plans for after graduation? My plan for after graduation is to start looking for jobs or internships. Ann Demeulemeester and Alexander McQueen are the brands I respect very much. If I can, I hope I can work for them someday. I haven’t decided to make my own brand yet.
Who do you hope is reading this and what is your message to them? I hope people who are excluded and incomprehensible because of their dressing style are reading this and I want to say that realizing the freedom of dressing and being yourself are very precious.
Name: Caleb Stern
Hometown: Camden, Maine
Describe the concept behind your thesis design: The concept behind my collection was to design a highly functional and technical sailing collection. In yacht racing, athletes are subjected to extreme conditions and demand many functions from their clothing.
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis design? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? Since the fabric was waterproof, I needed to sew flat felled or fused seams. My zippers were also waterproof and often needed laser-cut openings as well as laser-cut reflective trim pieces to add visibility.
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? Being born and raised in Maine, I was fortunate to live near the ocean and spend summers sailing up and down the coast in everything from little dingys to 50-foot sloops. I love to take inspiration from my own passions and experiences, so when I saw the opportunity to take what I know about sailing, combine it with extensive research and information from interviewing my friends who race sailboats competitively, I took it.
Where have you been studying from while school is closed? Do you have plans to move after the pandemic? I have been studying in my little apartment I share with my girlfriend. At first I think she was happy that I couldn’t stay late at school every day, but after our apartment turned into a garment manufacturing facility, I think she changed her mind.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? The pandemic was a massive factor in my work. Being quarantined indoors; unable to go out and browse fabrics, do garment research or collaborate with peers made things very strange. It taught me how to design and create with less. If I can design and create a collection in an apartment while practically housebound, maybe I don’t need everything I think I need to function.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? The pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed my outlook on the fashion industry, but it has definitely reinforced certain opinions. Coming from a family of artists and craftsmen, I believe strongly in the power of the small brand or business; one that knows the names of each person down the supply chain. The pandemic has exposed to the world how problematic the fashion supply chain truly is. People realized that an industry, where big brands can place almost the entire economic risk on the manufacturer who hires impoverished workers making dollars a day, needs significant change.
What do you hope to accomplish most in your career as a fashion designer? I grew up learning metal-smithing and woodworking from my parents. One of the beauties of those mediums is that they can be enjoyed and cherished for a lifetime. Clothing is rarely held to that same standard. I hope to have the opportunity to design functional, comfortable, timeless clothing that can be cherished for decades rather than a season or two.
What are your plans for after graduation? My plans are to move to New York and be closer to home. I accepted an offer made by Rag & Bone that I am very excited to start in June.
Who do you hope is reading this and what is your message to them? I hope that my family is reading this because I could not have done any of it without them. Thank you to my girlfriend for putting up with a fashionista, my brothers for always being a phone call away, and my dad, who thought Rag & Bone sold dog toys, for agreeing to send his son to fashion school on the other side of the country.
Most of all though, I wish my mother could read this. She unfortunately passed away the summer after my sophomore year. Her art inspired me my entire life and without her, I never would have thought I could draw pictures of clothing for a living. She was the one I would call and ask advice from at midnight and the one who would learn about textile science just so that she could talk to her son about it.
Name: Elemmar Valle
Hometown: Los Angeles
Describe the concept behind your thesis design: The concept behind my design was being paranoid in the pandemic and how we can cover the whole body I order to protect and create social distance with big shapes.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? The pandemic affected me because there were certain resources I had at school than working from home and also face-to-face critique is better than online critique.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? Yes, my outlook has changed, and I have seen that fashion can change so much in a pandemic. For example, living with face masks and that becoming part of our lives.
What are your plans for after graduation? My plan after graduation is to work on my craft and find a job in fashion and hopefully one day, I can work for the designer that I look up to: Rick Owens. And yes, one day I want to have my own brand and company.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? The pandemic has made me appreciate simplicity, ease and comfort. As a designer, I think it’s easier to create something amazing if it’s totally impractical. To create an impactful look that is not only beautiful, but comfortable and functional is an important skill to hone.
What do you hope to accomplish most in your career as a fashion designer? In my career as a fashion designer, I hope to help bring about change in the industry. The fashion industry has too long been plagued by a culture of overconsumption, opulence and excess. Even if it just means creating beautiful clothing for everyone, without exploiting people or resources, I want to do my part.
Name a trend you are ready to see take off and a trend you are ready to see finish: I would love to see the trend of hyper-femininity take off. Our culture praises masculinity as powerful and professional, and I would love femininity to be viewed the same way. Conversely, a trend I would love to see die is that of influencer-marketed fast fashion stolen from other designers.
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