At the end of every school year, as the weather begins to warm and excitement grows with the anticipation of things to come, the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning puts on a very special runway show. For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see the innovative work of the department’s DAAP fashion design students. Our chance to forecast what the industry itself may soon look like, especially given DAAP’s reputation as one of the U.S.’s top fashion design schools.

But for DAAP itself, the annual show is a time to gather, to celebrate, and to reflect. That’s what makes it so special as an audience member. We feel as if we’re given a special look into the inner workings of a family. One that is incredibly proud of those seniors preparing to leave UC and take the fashion world by storm, yet a little sad to see them go.

The show is always good, professionally crafted and filled with exciting new talent. This year was no different. The theme of #DAAPFash16 was “Structure + Growth = Process”. It calls to mind the lifecycle of both a fashion design student and a fashion designer. These graduating seniors are different now from whom they will become, and are not the same entirely as when they entered the program.  As designers, they will continue to grow and evolve thanks to the wonderful base of skills acquired at DAAP.

After a showcase of current styles from the show’s sponsor Macy’s (senior designers styled these in collaboration with the store), the runway kicked off with a series of looks at the design steps that students take to arrive at their Senior Capstone Thesis. Included were the IKEA project, childrenswear, body wear, draping becomes dresses, tailoring, and finally knitwear. It’s helpful to know these steps in detail as it frames the senior pieces presented later on.

It is important to note that one of the steps is not menswear, which we did see later on. With the great strides being taken in the menswear industry at the moment, perhaps that will be a step soon added to the DAAP curriculum.

Before the senior capstones were presented, the runway spotlight moved to the work presented by the Senior Product Development students. Their brief was to solve a problem, the job of every good product developer, and the work shown was both exciting and impressive. Among the group two interesting themes developed: customizable, lifestyle-accomodating outerwear and inclusive communities designed for free exchanges of ideas. These seniors are clearly in tune with the world around us and the evolving needs of consumers.

Now onto the Senior Capstone Projects presented by the fashion design students. These projects totaled 36 in all and each was interesting in its own right. It’s impossible to go through each collection in detail, but here are some takeaways.

In her collection, Rachael Bailey played with the “balance of femininity and masculinity” while commenting on the use of all-natural materials vs. ones made by machine. The designer event went so far as to incorporate flowers that she collected into one of her Plastic Bloom pieces.

A burst of knitwear was shown on the runway thanks to designer Alexandra Thompson who has a true gift. Heavy as I’m sure the pieces were, they read as light and “frothy” in the best way. It was especially welcome that these knitwear pieces were at both times intricate and streamlined.

Many designers took their cues from history and the inspiration elevated their work beautifully. Alexa Benjamin looked to poppies in the fields of World War I, Simha Israel referenced garments worn by African Americans after the abolition of slavery, and Mary Claire Meyer paid tribute to the waters of the Ohio River Valley. As history so informs our current lives and our future, seeing the young designers’ interpretations of history was, in itself, inspiring.

And menswear  was shown on the runway in some collections whose sole focus was men and, in others, where the two genders were intermixed. Overall, the designers who showcased menswear did so with a forward-thinking eye. There were no suits or embedded expectations of what men should wear. Nick Beiler should be especially applauded with his fem(me) collection.

Finally, let’s close this AEQAI fashion column with reflection. The DAAP community lost several members of its family this year and #DAAPFash16 did a beautiful job of paying respects to Natalie Altieri, Anthony Muto, and Hanna Hall. All three made indelible impressions on the lives of DAAP students and faculty.

It was especially touching to see that many garments in the show were tagged with “For Hanna – Love & Detail”, a special nod to Hanna Hall’s words of wisdom.

– Jenny Perusek is a freelance Brand Manager, specializing in fashion and the creative arts.

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