By Nina Tabios
Earlier this fall, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) announced the winners of its annual scholarship competition and two School of Fashion students from Academy of Art University made the cut. Out of 160 candidates—all from top fashion design schools across the country—only seven were selected as recipients for scholarships sponsored by designer brands Liz Claiborne, Geoffrey Beene, Kenneth Cole, and Gucci.
As the leading global fashion trade association, CFDA judged the student submissions based on the level of design thinking, innovative technology, experimentation, and creative expression. School of Fashion Director Gary Miller said the department structures the curriculum to accommodate competitions like CFDA, given the future benefits for the students.
“The industry looks to these organizations to highlight future talent, so students who participate and win industry competition and scholarships have raised their visibility to the professional industry,” Miller said. “Making these connections with industry and having increased exposure increases their chances for future internships, job placement, and mentorship when starting their own line after graduation.”
Academy students recognized by CFDA
M.F.A. fashion student Milijana Delić and B.F.A. fashion alumna Yanbing Fan were among this year’s winning class. Delić, who graduates from the M.F.A. program in December, received the Geoffrey Beene Design Masters Scholar Award for her inventive womenswear collection inspired by automobiles. Fan, who graduated in the spring and is now pursuing a graduate degree in the School of Illustration, was awarded the CFDA Scholar Design Award for her collection honoring medical workers on the frontlines. Additionally, B.F.A. knitwear student Rashida Birdlong earned an Honorable Mention from the Liz Claiborne Impactful Futures Scholar Award for her climate-conscious collection.
“Winning the CFDA scholarship was a wonderful present for my B.F.A. graduation in 2020,” Fan said in an email. Her collection, “Heroes in Harm’s Way,” was born from the impact of a pandemic on society and people. Fan, who was deeply moved by the contributions of medical staff during that time, wanted to bring the realities of these nurses into her designs.
“I started researching from different angles, looking at changes in the city, people’s inner anxiety, and the protective equipment of medical staff, the characteristics, and materials of protective clothing,” Fan said. “I was greatly inspired by their various wearing styles and found an interesting element of using solid lines to divide people’s body shapes.”
Delić’s collection, “Interpretation of the Body: Human/Automobile,” caught the attention of council members for its experimentation with form. Also featured in CFDA’s FFGS2020 Digital Showcase, Delić took cues from her brother’s transportation studies at the School of Industrial Design and incorporated them into her own process to build the garments.
“One of my brother’s processes for transportation is to draw the orthographics of a car on the wall using tape. It’s a more physical drawing style,” Delić said. “So, I decided to take that two-meter car that was on the wall and put it to fabric. It was my way of translating that expression of 3-D in transportation to fashion—my interpretation of how I would take this and start draping with it.”
A pathway to post-graduation success
Together, Delić, Fan, and Birdlong join a recent cohort of CFDA scholarship alumni at the Academy, including 2018 B.F.A. graduate Susan Zeinty, who received a CFDA scholarship sponsored by Kenneth Cole, where she now works as an assistant footwear designer. Erika Tompkins, a 2017 B.F.A. graduate and now a Kate Spade licensed assistant designer, also received the Kenneth Cole scholarship. Last year, B.F.A. fashion design student and midfielder for ART U Women’s Soccer, Alice Michell received an Honorable Mention for the Liz Claiborne scholarship.
For Delić, the recognition is the reward for grinding away to finish her collection, even as she had to transition from working at school to working in her apartment.
“For about two and a half months, I was at this performance level of doing, working, not sleeping much but also having all of the tools and motivation,” Delić said. “This has all been just another accomplishment and a confirmation that I’m in the right place, the right field, right state. It’s just the beginning and it’s cool just to be able to share that.”
Miller believes that while the year 2020 will be remembered as devastating in so many ways, he commends how this graduating class of fashion designers rose up to the challenge and supported each other along the way.
“Overnight, they became very resourceful, turning their living spaces into sewing and textiles studios and finding new and creative ways to achieve their goals,” Miller said. “I could not feel prouder of their accomplishments under these circumstances and know they are making waves in the industry already.”