So long, Bryant Park: SF students show at Fashion Week's last season in the tents

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As the New York fashion world flicked a sassy over-the-shoulder wave and bid its Bryant Park home goodbye -- Fashion Week will move to Lincoln Center starting next season -- six students from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University fretted and beamed as their projects took the stage before the eyes of famed industry professionals.

For the past five years, AAU has been showing select student’s work during New York Fashion week, to give promising graduates exposure and to lure new students out to the Bay Area. Bethany Meuleners’ story is a case in point: three and a half years ago, she secured a seat as a prospective featured student, sat in the audience, and dreamed of seeing her own designs on the runway. Serendipitously, she graduated just in time to have her goal realized. “I can’t believe I’m here! In Bryant Park!” Meuleners told me before the show. “It’s such an iconic thing.”

It's difficult to piece together a coherent narrative from the collections of six individual designers, but this season seemed to play a gothic darkness (three of the students' offerings were almost entirely black) off a theme best summed up as "monochrome time traveler."

The most captivating and curious of the black camp was the work of Sabah Husain, which seamlessly distilled the glitz and glitter of India into wearable yet sophisticate outerwear. Husain brought the cut glass of a chandelier that had dazzled her back to her native India to be replicated into gemstones that she sewed into her designs -- long felted jackets dripping with jewels, coats fit for a king. “This was my journey of moving from one aesthetic to another,” explained Husain. “In India, garments are largely draped, while in Western culture, they are all constructed.” Hopefully her cultural fusion will continue on in future garment construction.

Meuleners’ designs went for disassembled gothic, characterized by dark metallic bodysuits, lace dresses, and worn combat boots. Haphazard additions in flowing black silk chiffon created a perfect wardrobe for a sparkly vampire. It is a strange reality from a vision of an innocent child’s game. “I like having a story in mind when I design,” she said. “This was about a little girl playing dress up in her mom’s closet, throwing on clothes.” Meuleners mentioned that she used to shop her own mother’s closet for formals… the mother of this collections’ closet may need to have her fangs filed.

A departure from the shimmer and shine were the sculpted knits of Steven Oo. Creaturesque sweaters gave girls stegosaurus spines, and coned details on shoulders scratched towards wearer’s necks. Oo’s commanding demeanor (crucial for survival in the fashion world) may serve him better than his diligence or technical experimentation. Calm and collected backstage, he stood with a tie purposefully undone over a printed t-shirt, waving a lint roller over garments as he talked. “I was most worried about fitting with the new models,” Oo admitted. “But the knits treated me well.” Each piece took 40 to 60 hours of hand- and machine-knitting to create.

The work of the other students was a spray of light colors -- whites, grays, and tans -- on a trip: up to space, out on safari, and into the past.

The standout collection among the students consited of the six sculptural, cosmically conceptual looks that sweet and quiet Hyo Sun An sent out. Ornately fringed jumpsuits constructed from one continuous piece of fabric brilliantly transposed form over figure. An was searching through a science magazine for inspiration. Intrigued by the concepts of the Mobius strip and Klein bottle, An chose wool and jersey in gorgeous and complex gray tones to explore fluidity in fashion.

Lady Grace met desert expedition with Marina Solomatnikova’s sand suede suits. “I wanted to play between masculine and feminine,” she said after the show, still shaking with exhilaration. Masculine elements were present in heavy tailoring and femininity shown through in organza ruffles and deeply cut backs, resulting in six outfits that would be perfect for a duchess on an African safari.

Naomi Sutton, with an easy laugh that kept her blond hair shifting over her delicate shoulders, recounted her numerous trips to Bay Area vintage stores and fabric remnant warehouses to find the white and cream velvets and laces she printed with delightful images of chubby children playing, based on of her childhood memories. Traipsing down the runway, models became enchanted sleepwalkers dressed in ghosty gauzes. Aprons and silky ribbons gave a sense of nostalgia. Stepping into Sutton’s dresses is stepping into a whimsical past.

The six students are all back in San Francisco, frequenting their favorite inspiration spots -- city beaches, Union Square -- while the current class has its eyes locked on Lincoln Center and next season.

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