That is why I love going to the FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles) Debut shows. I went two years ago and following the show, interviewed three incredible designers after being blown away by their collections, and this year’s show left me just as elated, and the show with equal amount of goose bumps.
Two weeks after the Debut show, I’m at FIDM, located in Los Angeles downtown to meet three of the designer. Ahead of meeting them, I sat down for lunch at Figueroa Hotel with The Vice President of Education at FIDM / FIDM’s museum director Barbara Bundy, as well as Shirley Wilson and Rachel Padilla from FIDM’s PR.
The trios energy, and bubbling personalities is clearly a reflection of the passion and support that they show their students through FIDM’s incredible programs. With great fervor Bundy talks about FIDM’s current programs with new courses being added all the time, the newest one being, ‘The Business of Denim’ focusing purely on denim, from design and development, to product application. Not to mention the experience that some selected FIDM students have to travel to see both ateliers and the business end of fashion on a global scale. The next trip on the agenda, a three-week trip to Paris with Bundy herself, affording the students the incredible chance to see some couture shows, and truly understand why a daywear piece of haute couture can start at $10,000 USD whilst gowns can cost onwards and upwards of $100,000 USD.
As we head back to FIDM, Bundy and Wilson take a moment to show me around FIDM from their incredible DIOR wall to Barbie’s 50th anniversary wall in which FIDM had been invited by Mattel, Inc to honor Barbie. As a result FIDM had presented the “Around the World Celebration Wardrobe” as a tribute to Barbie’s five decades as a fashion leader.
FIDM have a strong and impressive connection to the history of fashion, designers and photographers and honor the past, but are equally current with their projects. Not only is this reflected on the walls of FIDM and the exhibitions they have, but also in the new designers work. The Debut collections couldn’t have been more different from one another as the students incorporated their backgrounds, culture and modern ideas into their collections.
RODRIGO BUNTON NAVARRETE
I always get an almost indescribable feeling when I see a collection I really like. It’s a truly physical reaction to seeing something so visually beautiful coming down the runway. So it would be an understatement to say I had ‘a feeling’ when Navarrete showed his Debut collection and knowing this was his first ever collection was mind blowing. He had such a timeless elegance in the pieces that he had created, from a stunning coat that would of quite easily sat in Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe, to a dress with its one shoulder and ruffle detailing that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the red carpet at The Met Gala.
Inspired by the Chrysler building, Navarrete’s collection brought the drama. The outcome of the inspiration is some intricately structured pieces, that follow the architectural lines of the New York city building but with an explosion of color.
Having grown up in El Salvador, Navarrete is one of three, and has a very close relationship with his mother. In fact it was his mother who really helped pull out Navarrete’s love of fashion, “I always had this thing telling my mom to add a belt to her outfit, or these shoes are better than those with that dress. She had custom made pieces for her, and I loved going fabric shopping with her. I didn’t know anything but I just loved it! Since I was little I just loved fashion. I used to be bullied, for being different, because I was always different, I liked color and patterns and wore bags. So I just decided to emrabrace being different, wearing things and putting safety pins on them. I went to Canada to study and learn English and that was where I knew I needed to go back to El Salvador to talk to my parents. I told them what I wanted to do. My dad didn’t want me to study fashion, he asked me to do a couple of different degrees, so I did one in advertising, and one in communications. Then I started to work in the Art museum in El Salvador. Some of the inspiration there was so great. I could just draw. We were surrounded by art such as Picasso. I then came to LA and looked at FIDM."
Speaking of his time at FIDM, Navarrete says, “Besides what they have to offer, I could be who I wanted to be. I had been traveling a lot and here I knew I could be myself. People could then see what I had to offer.”
Navarrete’s collection might have been his first but the love of design has been in him for such a long time that it’s not surprising his collection seemed to come from a far more experienced hand, “I love hand sewing. I would take off the pearls on my mom’s things and put it back just to see how they did it.” Navarrete laughs, “I ruined my mom’s jacket one time trying to see how they did it! Whilst doing my degree in marketing I went on vacation to see my family. I studied about three hours from where they lived. One weekend my mom asked me if I wanted to manipulate stones, she said, 'Just go with me', I ended up getting so into it that I was able to expand them into my clothes. I made all the accessories in my collection.” His mother has clearly had a huge impact on Navarrete and the joy of fashion is so closely related to making things for her, telling me, "This is a funny story, my mom had this Christmas party on Christmas eve. It was December 21st when she showed me the dress she was going to wear. It was green and yellow, it was so boring and she asked me to add some stones. I said ‘Yes, ok’. I didn’t sleep, I loved it so much, for three days I just spent all my time doing it. When it was finally done, I said 'I hope it’s ok, it’s a bit heavy'. She loved it and since that day she has been asking me to help make her pieces better and she told me (with fashion) to just go for it and do it.”
Navarrete’s fabric used in his collection was exquisite, I ask him how he found it, “That was the hardest part, I went to Mood (a famous fabric store in LA), fashion district, different resources from the school. I went to Mood for 5 hours one time, they are now my friends as I spent so much time there! The main jacquard I bought there. I ended up buying all 17 yards. For the silk wool, FIDM gave me the resource for that, the teal and magenta one was in the fashion district.”
As for the sequin fabric, I ask Navarrete? “The sequin fabric I added, I wanted a little bit of youth in the collection. I wanted to stay on the path of classic, you can play with different pieces, the coat, the trousers.”
The incredible detail in Navarrete’s work is what truly makes him standout, “The coat didn’t have an armhole seam, it was one piece, and it had a gusset, they used to do that in the 60s and the bolero, I did the same. The other dress had no seam. The back, one side was just a curve and the other side was a cowl, it reminded me of the window of the Chrysler building, you don’t see the belt in the back, just at the front."
It was almost by chance that Navarrete finally found the inspiration for his collection, “My husband was working in New York and he said I’m going to be working but maybe you can go and walk around. I walked around Manhattan from one side to the other. I went to the Chryselr building and I knew this was it. The Art Deco, and the black and white and the windows and the architecture and I knew it in that moment. Even the bathroom was so pretty. I went to every corner of the building. I started researching the building. What materials they used. The tallest building in the 30s, why it was that shape, the more I read, the more I fell in love with it. It was such a pretty story, the gargoyles, and I wanted to create that story with my collection. With the collection, she can go to a fancy red carpet, a theatre with the trousers, she has that story behind her. Some of the pieces came out by mistake, for instance the magenta pants and the magenta top. It came out by accident, it was a big rectangle that attached to the choker. It hadn’t been working, it didn’t flow. It wasn’t creating the look I wanted. In the end the piece could be worn different ways, more dramatic more coverage of the belly."
Speaking of his overall experience with the FIDM show Navarrete tells me, “It was very enjoyable, I learnt about fabric, the customer, met more people, where I should go, the contacts, more networking. Personally it was a huge step for me, a real moment of success. That I can do it, that I shouldn’t give up, that I should just keep going. In that moment I realized I’m doing what I love. This experience, meeting all these people.”
In the future, Navarrete is thinking ahead to his own collection and tells me, “For my own collection, I would love to have both very wearable pieces, a coat, a pair of shorts, and evening wear. And have classic pieces in a very modern way. So the bomber with no seam, and at the same time having elaborate dresses with sparkle and glitter. I want a variation of pieces. The coat for instance was very dramatic but I could make it shorter and in a different fabric. The dress, I didn’t want a seam as I nearly did it reversible, changing the shoes, changing one small details changes everything."
As for his plans for the immediate future going forward, Navarrete wants to, “Work for another designer, learn, meet people, how to design for another brand. How is that bubble? Each designer has different environments. Ultimately, I do want my own brand though. I want to punish myself!" Navarrete laughs, "The coat for instance, not having an arm hole, people said ‘You’re punishing yourself,' I said "I will do it.” And boy 'do it' he certainly did, I tell Navarrete, as we are walking out as we finish up the interview. Just as we're about to say goodbye, I'm asked if I've seen his zipper dress from the Talon Zipper Challenge, I reply that I haven't and at least three people say, "You have to see it!" Navarrete obliges and we make our way up in the elevator. As the doors slide open, in front of me is the most incredible dress purely made out of zippers, Navarrete even made a matching purse. He tells me that he didn't cut a single zipper, they were all one piece. Unsurprisingly he won the award for the best dress. With persistence and innovation like this, I can't wait to see what Navarrete does next.
Bright, modern, practical, sportswear inspired but with a touch of fairytale, Ting Wang's collection of both men and womenswear was one of the collections that really stood out to me. Originally from Beijing, Wang has been in LA for four years. Wang tells me of the inspiration behind her collection,, “I was at the museum of ice cream. I was really happy with the color, I wanted to make a collection with that color. Color makes people look young!”
Wang's collection was a beautiful mix of wearable everyday pieces that could be transformed for the evening. Her sleeveless jacket was a particular favorite of mine. So versatile and wearable for an array of occasions that could be dressed up or dressed down to give it new life with each wear.
Wang also showcased an incredible jumpsuit, seen many times, but her fabric choice made it appear so fresh and with its backless wide leg structure made it seem dressed up, but effortless all at once. The finale dress the, ‘Cinderella dress’ moment with a construction of a strapless dress with volumous skirt with layers of taffiter underneath. However Wang's collection, centering around versatility, came up with the genius construction of making the full bodied skirt removable so the dress could be worn alone on a night out in the city. "My finale dress, it's in separates so you can wear the top in the day and wear the full skirt at night. Without the bottom part, you can wear it for evening."
Wang tells me, she always knew she wanted to be in fashion, "Since I was really young. I was really into Barbies when I was little and I always sewed little things for them. I just knew I wanted to study fashion design."
Speaking of her time at FIDM and the experience of the Debut show, Wang tells me "This process really allowed me to find my own style. I wanted to find my own style as a designer."
The fabrics that Wang used were so vibrant but she certainly didn't limit herself when she was choosing it, "I just purchased the fabric I really liked. I got so many fabrics that I liked, when I found one I like I just purchased the whole roll!"
Thinking about what the future might hold of her, Wang has hopes of doing more shows, hopefully for NYFW and a collection of both men and womenswear but knows her style is constantly evolving, "I have a brother and I would always want to make clothes for him. I studied fashion design for about four years, my ideas change depending on who my friends are and who I’m around."
Wang is far from finished educating herself, wanting to learn more in other areas that will help inform her as a designer, "Paper craft helped inspire my collection, I like structure, the architecture of things. I want to learn about architecture after this as it helps me with fashion."
But overall, she just wants to make people feel good in her clothes as Wang tells me, "I’m always thinking about things for women who want to feel more beautiful with my clothes."
AURORA ZIQIAO LOU
“I fell off the sofa when I got the letter saying I had got into the Debut show.” This reaction, as adorable as the children’s clothes Lou makes is what makes both her and her collection pure joy.
Originally from China, Lou has been in LA since 2014. She tells me that she, “Loves children's garments, they’re so cute and so tiny.” She also loves sunsets and piggy toys so combined both in her collection. The clothes, the colors of the sun, the pig toys incorporated with the children carrying them down the runway whilst some were sewn into the clothes themselves. Several of the garments Lou dyed herself to make the perfect sunset color and made some of her own buttons.
In her family Lou is the oldest. She played a hand in helping to look after her brother growing up as he was ten years her junior, and she fell in love with children’s "tiny" clothing.
Lou tells me, “When I was in primary school, I wanted to be a designer. After high school graduation, I decided to study fashion design. My parents are in finance, but they are very supportive.”
Before coming to FIDM, Lou studied for one year at University in Zhu Hai, “I studied fashion design at that school, but I had the chance to come here and travel with my family. In 2014 I came to LA, my Unlce is here so I wanted to travel around California. But when I came to LA I loved it, the weather, I loved the people. My cousin told me about FIDM so I took the school tour. I loved the library, the window displays."
Of Lou’s experience doing the Debut show, she tells me, “My biggest experience was dyeing my own fabric. The teacher gave me the chance, so I took the opportunity to learn how to do it. When I dyed it, the fabric shrunk a lot so I learnt a lot in the process. When I was young I loved doing DIY. So I like handmade embroidery, I liked making small things.”
The last quarter of the portfolio class and The Collection class, Lou started to do children’s wear. “I really love children and I want to have my own children and I want to make my own clothes for them.”
As for the inspiration, Lou tells me, “For the pig, I am the sign of the pig. When I was small, about one year old, my grandparents worked in a farm and they left me at home. I would be laying in one spot, and then when they came back I would be sleeping in that same spot. I love sleeping, so that’s why I am like the animal of the pig, sleep, eat, sleep, eat” Lou laughs, “For the sunset. When I came to LA I met my boyfriend in 2015, and he took me to Santa Monica Beach, it was at sunset time, and I loved the color, and it inspired my collection. I have denim, with the dark blue, that are like the stars. I also had yellow, pink and light blue.”
As for the future, Lou says, “I want to have my own brand, but I want to do a mommy and me collection. It’s really popular to do matching outfits here (in the United States) now as well. I’m seeing the fashion trends, Chinese government have started to allow more than one child, (changed from the one child policy) and that gives me more opportunity. I want to have my brand in the US and sell to a global market. I wanted to do mommy and me for the Debut, and they said I couldn’t, so I said how about doing it for my own dress?” Which Lou did, cleverly managing to sneak in one additional design by matching her outfit to one of the children’s dresses!
Despite Lou's hopes to start her own brand in the future, she acknowledges that she isn't ready just yet, "I have just graduated. I am 23 now, if I had my own brand now I couldn’t handle it as I don’t have experience. I would like to have some experience, in the next five years. I don’t really mind who I work for, I just want to learn a lot outside of school. School teaches you the theory, but the business is totally different. I want to learn more things, the design, the production, the merchandising, the social media, I want to try everything!"
For more information on FIDM visit: http://fidm.edu
All Runway photos by: Alex J. Berliner
With special thanks to FIDM.