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A Commentary on Class

by Art U News

By Ryan Murphy

B.F.A. fashion design student Penny Li. Photo by Danielle Rueda.

For her senior thesis collection, B.F.A. fashion design student Penny Li found inspiration in the work of photographer Daidō Moriyama, who’s known for his contrast of classical ideas and depiction of contemporary society in post-war Japan. Focusing on the division that money can cause in society after a traumatic event, the ability to dissect such a hard and sensitive topic respectfully is quite a talent. 

Li wanted to create a collection that embodied this and sought to highlight the struggles and differences between lower- and upper-class society. Having moved from Asia to America, it is something the Academy of Art University School of Fashion student relates to personally. Moving was a social shock and living in a basement and struggling with finances meant fighting with her own ideas of home, as well as new ideas of change.

She began drawing inspiration from Moriyama’s “Tights” and “Lips”—photos of women in voyeuristic and alluring poses and settings. They are images that exude luxury while giving an impression of untidiness. It brought on a feeling of the struggling lower class trying to reach a sensual, high-class lifestyle, but with a lack of money and experience. Although the women feel they won’t succeed, they have to do the best with what they have. 

It is this feeling that Li wanted to recreate. She crafted high-end and well-made clothes that make a statement, whatever your status. Li pushed the boundaries of the fashion industry, with carefully placed drapery to create new ideas of fit and proportion. The eye is constantly wandering across her work, stumbling on small details that give her work individuality. To evoke the image of a light at the end of the tunnel, Li used only six colors in her collection: black, navy blue, and black-hunter green, with accents of yellow, teal, and white. 

Overall, Li’s offering is a fresh take on social class—blending what would otherwise separate them together.

The illustrated line-up of Penny Li’s collection. Image courtesy of the designer.

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