Victor Pickens captures lightning and pride

It was an evening of performances in praise of the artistry of drag, at Projekt 105 art gallery in Manhattan. It was also the opening of a portraiture series “Drag Queens” by famed photographer Martin Schoeller. With the gallery’s permission, Victor Pickens, (Photography ’23), created a series of his own based on the performances.

“It was an amazing experience, a show of beauty, power, and artistic expression. It was like capturing lightning in a bottle,” says Pickens.

Pietra Parker, reigning queen of Drag Wars All Stars, performing at Projekt 105. Photo: Victor Pickens

“There was no better way to encompass pride,” says Pickens “in seeing people living out their dreams and their personalities.” He describes some of the striking images he captured, like this “moment of vulnerability” by the performer Pietra Parker:

“The darkness behind the outer line of her face intrigued me. Being queer you take pride in yourself despite what others think. I see in her the experience of dealing with daily scrutiny and the impending lack of acceptance,” says Pickens.

Iggy Berlin, singing in German. Photo: Victor Pickens

Pickens’ favorite performance was Iggy Berlin singing a German ballad. “It was a moment of contemplation, a slow and solemn beauty. She greeted the audience with a fierce stare; it’s the attitude of not knowing what challenge awaits you.”

Ella Baum, who worked as gallery associate at Projekt 105 and organized the event, said Pickens’ evocative photos were difficult to get:

“I was so impressed with how Victor was able to operate within one-square foot of the space, jammed up against the stage with so many people in the background and create such emotive images, which is difficult to do in live performance photography. He was able to create very emotive, colorful, captivating images that not only depicted his subjects as performers, but as humans. That raw quality is nothing to be unhappy about.” 

Julliard graduate Jasmine Rice LaBeija. Photo: Victor Pickens

While the rainbow-themed outfit worn by Jasmine Rice LaBeija above is “jovial and colorful,” says Pickens, “it’s contrasted by an operatic performance. With her blond hair, dress and body shape, I expected to hear a high-pitched voice.

“An important thing about Pride is not assigning a stereotype to someone’s gender identity or appearance. Jasmine reaffirmed that to me,” he says.

Pattaya Hart, keeping the energy of the crowd going. Photo: Victor Pickens

Creating this photo as a black and white, says Pickens “isn’t just for the starkness of the image, but the power of Pattaya’s presence, and of her turning her back on negative energy.”

Pickens describes it further: “While her body is a blur of motion, her hair twisting
in the air, her hand is still. The ring, which represents her power, is steady. The
hand is what we complete most of our actions with; it does what the mind says.”

Pattaya Hart, the host of the performance, engaging with the crowd. Photo: Victor Pickens

“Three is a powerful number,” says Pickens. “It can capture motion without overcrowding the eye. I wanted to show Pattaya engaging with the crowd between performances. She filled the crowd with electric energy. That’s the spirit of drag.”

Pattaya Hart. Photo: Victor Pickens

The image on the bottom of this triplet “is about contemplation,” says Pickens. “The top one is about fear. Her eyes come back to the stare between the peacock and the predator to show she means business.”

Jasmine Rice LaBeija. Photo: Victor Pickens

“The point of my multiple exposures,” says Victor “is to show different emotional states. The way we feel and express ourselves can change in a minute. It doesn’t suffice to confine ourselves to one state,” says Pickens.

Pattaya Hart. photo: Victor Pickens

“Pattaya (below) has “an air of deadly precision,” says Pickens. “She’s at home on
the stage; there are the curtains, bright lights, and microphone. I see the power of her expression, and what it means to be a drag queen,” says Pickens.

Victor Pickens

For the first triplet of Iggy, I used red tones to signify danger and alert. For this image, I used blues, purples and pinks. I wanted it to feel like a galaxy, a land of fantasy and exploration,” he says.

“It was an amazing experience, a show of beauty, power, and artistic expression. “It was like capturing lightning in a bottle.” – Victor Pickens

Pietra Parker ending the show. Photo: Victor Pickens

Pickens opened and closed his work with images of Pietra, whose personality he finds to be an enigma. “The first image of her is reminiscent of a 1970s movie poster. This one has a Broadway burlesque performance element,” he says.

“I came expecting photographs, but I got a whole visual performance. I’m grateful because it gave me a platform to make my own art. Seeing this show encapsulated for me what it means to be proud,” he said.

While the event took place near the end of Pride month, “pride should be 365 days a year,” he says. “Once Pride month ends, we easily forget about the pain, inner struggles and discrimination. I’m compelled to tell the real stories.”

To follow Victor Pickens on Instagram go to: @vpickensphoto. To learn more about the Photography program go to: Photography at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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Mastery of materials and design: Yves Mervin-Leroy

M. C. Escher made his latest FIT appearance in the Fashion Design Graduating Student Exhibition, courtesy of Yves Mervin-Leroy. Yves’ collection displayed design refinement of course. But his mastery of complex leather and textile technology has dazzled the virtual crowd.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

Yves presented his collection to his senior thesis Incubator class with Professor Gerard Dellova, who lauded his work for its design concepts, and its use of innovative technology and wearable, commercial appeal. In attendance was the Dean of the School of Art and Design and industry professionals. 

Yves first look was an oversized bomber jacket and micro miniskirt in embossed ivory lamb leather paired with a silk chiffon and charmeuse top.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

The jacket features ribbed cuffs, hem, and collar, and a covered zipper. There are slot seams for added mobility. They conceal hidden, practical inseam pockets with clean vertical lines. There are also two oversized inner pockets.

“The pockets are big enough for the biggest iPhone you can think of,” said Yves. “Hey, that’s important!”

From left, right, bottom: leather soaked in acrylic; silk velvet being embossed with acrylic; some of the ABS plastic pieces coming off the 3D printer.

Here’s where it gets super techie:

“The jacket is embossed with a custom geometric interlocking ‘Y’ pattern,” Yves explains. “The leather is soaked in acrylic and stretched over custom 3D printed forms with a clamping system. The backs of the motifs are individually filled with a UV-activated curing resin for added strength.”

The same pattern is reinterpreted in the charmeuse intarsia that lightly drapes across the chest, suspended in nude chiffon.

“Yves, this is a great use of technology, wonderfully designed — wearable and innovative!” said Dean Troy Richards.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

The Etscher-like motif neither overwhelms nor is trite:  

“I can see a relationship to Escher but the figure-ground relationship of the monochromatic pattern has its own life,” says Fine Arts Professor Sue Willis.

Yves said he was drawn to Escher’s optical illusions. “They rely on linear perspective to create impossible structures. I also drew inspiration from his tessellations, especially for the interlocking pattern the leather is embossed with.”

Yves says the geometry throughout the patterns and textiles he developed are a nod to Escher’s work:

“My goal was to create something that wasn’t an immediately recognizable reference. I wanted to avoid the collection being too trendy.”

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

The second look is an embossed bias-cut dress in velvet, lined with charmeuse.

“Light catches the pattern differently depending on the angle,” says Yves. “The straps are threaded through jump rings and are detachable and reconfigurable, making it a very adjustable garment. The pattern evokes the leather embossing.”

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection
Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

Yves embossed velvet for his third look, as well, but with a more metallic material. “It shows a different effect. It has drawstring hems and charmeuse bound seams,” he says.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

“Yves, this is a great use of technology, wonderfully designed — wearable and innovative!” – Troy Richards, Dean of the School of Art and Design.  

The crossbody bag, an extra to the assignment, was made with retro-reflective glass powder and acrylic stenciled on iridescent leather. It has an adjustable and detachable strap.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

“The embossed leather is beautiful. The implementation of the repetitive pattern and garment construction I find to be fascinating” says Prof. Willis who co-developed the Wearable Art course with Jewelry Design Prof. Karen Bachmann.

Yves Mervin-Leroy senior thesis collection

“Yves brings a maker mentality to his brand’s DNA, with a subtle vision,” says Prof. Dellova. “He’s a hands-on creative who uses innovative techniques for modern fashion design.”

And his work has flow. All the pieces in Yves’ collection are designed to be combined in numerous ways.

Yves Mervin-Leroy

To see more of Yves Mervin-Leroy work, visit his website: Yves-Valentin, and follow him on Instagram: yvesmervin.

To learn about the Fashion Design program go to: Fashion Design at FIT.

All photos used with permission.

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Sneakerhead Obsessions, Illustrated by Shaniya Carrington

Shaniya Carrington’s “Sneakerhead” collection began with a conversation with a friend about buying and collecting sneakers. Such talk, says Carrington, can be the “telltale sign” of a sneakerhead. “The wacky thought of a person with a sneaker as a head made me laugh! There was no way I wouldn’t draw this, but had no idea how far I’d take it.” All the way to her senior thesis project.

“It’s about how just one little weird idea can become a cool illustration!” says Carrington.

“Sneakerhead: Nike” by Shaniya Carrington

There’s an obsession at the heart of a true sneakerhead. Footwear and Accessories Design Prof. Vasilios Christofilakos describes what sneakerhead culture is, and how Carrington’s work “captures it beautifully.”

“You’re a sneakerhead once it becomes your life. You buy, you sell, you indulge yourself completely in the sneaker world. They’re your go-to shoe every day. A sneakerhead is going to wear sneakers to a funeral to a wedding, to a baptismal, through the park, deer hunting. If they could swim in them they would,” he says.

“If Carrington’s work doesn’t visually define what a sneakerhead is than I don’t know what does. Art is a visual language. Sometimes it’s open to interpretation and guessing, but this is clear sneaker culture. Each illustration defines its customer as seen in fashion houses.”

Shaniya Carrington

Carrington began with her Nike Sneakerhead, her “gateway” piece she says. “After countless adjustments I saw it was going somewhere. The cup and straw are a little extra spice. There’s no way for a person with a sneaker for a head can possibly drink this! Once I completed it, I knew I would make more.”

Prof. Christofilakos is taken with “the bold feminine color,” of it. “She’s young pink and fabulous because she doesn’t know what’s ahead. She’s bold and she’s a temptress.”

“Sneakerhead: Doc Martens” by Shaniya Carrington

While considering her senior thesis, illustrator Jessica Karpishin ’18, spoke to Carrington’s Mentor and Specialized Projects class taught by Prof. John Nickle. She showed work from her final thesis and suggested that students ask themselves what makes their work unique. “I got onto Procreate and began planning a Doc Martens Sneakerhead character,” says Carrington. I proposed the idea to Prof. Nickle, and he loved it. I created a gothic persona with a leather jacket and a choker. I added an animal to it.”

“These are so fun and funky. I love the surreal collision of visual elements. She combines high fashion with street fashion and I like the way that Shaniya uses flat graphics with realistic, and stylized rendering. Shaniya’s Sneakerheads idea has so many potential avenues to explore. I am interested and excited to see where she takes it. – Illustration Professor John Nickle.

“It’s like an homage to the late, great Eartha Kit, says Prof. Christofilakos. “It’s an Illustration of a well-known brand. It’s part of our lives. Doc Martens has become as iconic as Cat Woman from Batman.”

“Sneakerhead: Converse” by Shaniya Carrington

Carrington worked with another favorite brand, Converse, and incorporated it into her next thesis piece. “I wanted a more relaxed character wearing street and a tattoo. I went for a sitting pose. By going for a variety of poses and personas, not one piece is similar to another,” she says.

“Sneakerhead: Vans” by Shaniya Carrington

Vans Sneakerhead was a “no brainer” for Carrington. “Vans have so much personality. I joke that no one owns a clean pair of Vans. Within a week of wearing them they’re filthy and torn up,” she says. 

Carrington’s Gucci Sneakerhead is her final thesis piece (below). “I wanted a classy persona with a classy dog that’s wearing a Gucci collar,” she says.

“The Doberman is powerful,: says Prof. Christofilakos. “Gucci sets the trend. Who is the powerhouse here, the Doberman or the wearer?”

“Sneakerhead: Gucci” by Shaniya Carrington

Carrington says the piece was challenging because of the number of elements involved and the textures of the clothes. “I enjoy looking back at my first Sneakerhead to this one. It really shows growth that I take pride in.

“They’re part of my permanent style now. I’m into conceptual portraiture and playing with cool ideas that come into my head. I want to show that wacky side of me.” 

As for Prof. Christofilakos, he has designs of his own — for Carrington to consider Fashion Illustration as a component to her career.

Watch for Shaniya Carrington’s illustrations on NYC kiosks as part of NYCxDesign Student Spotlight initiative. She is a recent winner of the Black Student Illustrators Award. To see more of her work, check out her website: Shaniya C. Illustrations, and follow her on Instagram: 

To learn more about the School of Art and Design Illustration program go to Illustration at FIT.

All images used with permission.


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FIT Experience Guides Dahlia Ferrera

When Dahlia Ferrera, ’20, talks about her experiences as a Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design student, it’s never fully in the past tense. Delve deeper and you learn why. So much of what she learned, she draws on in her day-to-day professional life. While student VPED projects are often large-scale and awe-inspiring, it’s exciting to see how these skills transfer to the industry.

Dahlia Ferrera, VPED, ’20. Photo: Madeline Morrell

Here Ferrera talks about exhibits, brand activation projects, site scouting, and a heap of software and communication skills she learned in her VPED courses, and how her education translates to her work with clients:

“My view of design changed completely in my seventh semester Experiential Design class with Professor Barbara Salzman,” says Ferrera. The turning point came while working on a brand activation project: Spotify’s “For the Ride” campaign.

“The campaign typifies the experience of losing yourself in a favorite song,” she says. The project coincided with the heartbreak of losing her father. “The event I created stimulates emotion and vulnerability. It inspired me to create spaces that cultivate community, conversation, and emotion. It’s why I segued to interior design.”

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The experience carried over for Ferrera, who is now a designer at Havenly, a company offering interior design services. “I love that different parts of our homes cultivate different emotions based on the intention of design,” she says.

Recently a client asked Ferrera to create a living room that would help bring family closer together. “It’s challenging to create a living room that resonates for each family member and their guests. I took a sentimental approach, one of human connection. I started with questions about color, decor, additional accent seating, and room dimensions to allow for the pieces I would be sourcing. We decided on family photos, shades of blue and neutrals, and sculptural abstract decor for a relaxing atmosphere,” says Ferrera.

Living room concept for client

Says Prof. Salzman “It’s incredible to see an already talented designer like Dahlia find her purpose through our lessons. One of the special parts of the VPED program is seeing all the unique techniques and skills we teach come together in such visually stimulating and inspiring ways that impact others.”

Living room concept for client

“The takeaway” from Graphic Strategy for Visual Presentation class with Prof. Anne Finkelstein, was the ability to get ideas across quickly, says Ferrera. “I learned to create photo montages, to curate and deliver ideas with moodboarding. This helps to quickly understand a client’s style. It’s very valuable to my process with clients.”

Crosley, Point of Purchase Fixture, Photo Montage

For the design of a patio Ferrera worked on, these skills helped better define her client’s vision early on. “It was followed by feedback, subsequent adjustments to the design, and then a design layout of the client’s space for the team to bring to life as a 3D rendering,” she says.

Idea board for client
Concept board for client

With Intro to Exhibition Design class with Prof. Brianne Muscente, Ferrera created an exhibition for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. “I learned how children interact in spatial environments, the proper heights of chairs, bookshelves, tables and softer materials free of sharp edges,” says Ferrera.

Nature in Color and Entrance Elevation Dreamscape

Designing rooms for children is now a specialization for Ferrera. “I recently created Bohemian glam interior designs for a client with a four-year-old. This style can have a lot of glass with sharp edges. I adapted the designs to child’s needs in an aesthetically pleasing space. My client loved it. It’s safe for her daughter with storage space for toys,” she says.

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Ferrera learned how to create floor plans, design showrooms, and about furniture styles in her In-Store Design class with Professor Reginald Rogers.

“I created a showroom for BoConcept, a Danish contemporary style furniture company. Using vignettes to tell the specific story of each room, I used Sketchup and Vectorworks for creating floor plans, 3D rendering, and then created a merchandising plan.”

Boconcept Living Room Vignette
Boconcept Office Vignette

This time Ferrera was hired to do a design project involving a contemporary bohemian outdoor patio with a luxurious outdoor dining section.

“I knew the questions to ask in order to lay out my client’s vision. I was able to show her the ways we could go with the design, the materials that could be sourced,” she says.

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“Dahlia bookended her education being in my fifth- and eighth-semester class. She started with a strong interest in theatrical experience, but working with Profs. Saltzman, Kong and Rogers over the course of her education built discipline and process into her passions. In her capstone [course] she was truly well rounded, taking her skills from school into her career directly.” – Craig Berger, Chair, Communications Design Pathways

Professors Anne Kong and Craig Berger’s combined capstone course, taught Ferrera how to gather information to scope out projects at site locations. The list of considerations is exhaustive and necessary:

  • “What are the space dimensions? How many people will be interacting? What are their demographics?
  • How will the space be used? What will the flow of the space be like?
  • What feeling does the client want to invoke?
  • What duration of time will the space will be used for? What is the client’s budget?
  • How will the location affect store or exhibit traffic? Are they a luxury brand, or a mom and pop? What’s the culture of the brand, its color and visual identity? How can the design considerations be used to help them be more recognizable?”

Ferrera says her research and communication skills improved immeasurably in this course. “I learned to design with intention. A great designer does more than create spaces that look pretty,” she says.

Warehaus Orlando Photo Montage

Ferrera applied these skills in a consultation with the owner of Warehaus Orlando. “He wanted to grow his business for the very next quarter, while maintaining the brand’s existing stylistic approach,” she said.

“I advised him that a redesign of the storefront with a new paint job, grass hedges and a logo mural would make the space more inviting and give it new energy in ways their customer demographic would enjoy.”

Daliah Ferrera grew up in Queens, NY, in a largely Hispanic neighborhood that she says exposed her to “the beauty of small businesses and importance of community.” She is proud to be a first-generation, Cuban-American college graduate and passionate about design that serves communities. “It is an essential human right for people to live in spaces where they feel safe.” She draws inspiration from artists and musicans Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith and Claude Monet. Fererra was recently named a NextGen Collective “Latinx to Watch.” 

To follow Ferrera’s work go to her website, and follow her on Instagram at: @dahliawho.

To learn more about the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design major visit: VPED at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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Williams Perez captures four seasons of a “crazy” year

“They’re like photos of the crazy year of 2020 — spring, summer, fall, winter,” says Williams Perez about his four-panel illustration with scenes from his desk that depict each season.  For Perez, a recent Illustration grad, getting a running start to his career took place mainly from his home studio.

Illustration by Williams Perez, ’20

Perez’s other topics often have a similar light-hearted, inviting feel: Santa ordering presents online; monsters in a terrarium; a tiger relaxing in a cup of green tea. Others are weightier, like a BLM protester being embraced by the Statue of Liberty. What carries throughout, are dynamic colors with contrasting large and small elements.

“Williams is a strong visual communicator. His illustrations translate the challenges of real life into images that educate, inspire and bring joy,” says Illustration Chair Edward Soyka.

Along with freelance work, Perez teaches art to children. He tries to instill the principles of traditional drawing before transitioning to digital. It’s the training he received as a Fine Arts major, and again after transitioning to Illustration. “If you don’t know the essentials there’s no point in going digital,” he says.  Prof. Soyka agrees: “He learned the skills of visual communication by drawing, painting and using technology. It’s what we offer all of our students.”

Illustration by Williams Perez, ’20

Throughout Covid, Perez has observed how individuals connect in ordinary but spirited ways. Above, a bundled-up couple enjoy a meal in an open-air, partitioned section of a restaurant. It’s cold but the heater above is scintillating. Another couple look pleased to be leaving with take-out.

Even the small elements — the heater above the plywood ceiling, a bouncy ponytail, a trail of blue flowers, the steam coming from the take-out bag — suggest small pleasures and caring touches.

“We’re outside in the cold eating, but we’re with loved ones,” says Perez. “We had a crappy year, but I wanted to show that there was joy too.”

Check out more of Williams Perez’s work on his website:, and on Instagram: @will_illustrate. To learn more about the Illustration major go to: Illustration at FIT.

Illustrations used with permission.

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Don’t Blush. It’s Nicole Windram

She’s a fashion director who can repurpose clothing as if performing a magic trick. The transformation of one look into a completely different one is something Nicole Windram practices continually with her own wardrobe. She does the same for the designs that appear in the layouts of FIT’s student-run fashion and culture publication Blush Magazine. The ability comes from many classroom and studio hours, but it’s also her personal life’s practice. We caught some glimpses of how style and function, personal outlook, and a curious intellect works for this Fashion Design senior.

Nicole Windram. Photo: Danielle Windram

What’s the most lavish outfit you’ve worn under Covid? “Definitely this outfit. I made the top from an old dress and hand placed the ostrich feathers, which came from a previous project. The pants are Adidas x Danielle Cathari.”

Nicole Windram wearing Auntie M’s Cornicello necklace with a Mano Fico charm

What’s your favorite accessory that has special meaning to you? That would be my Cornicello necklace with a mano fico charm. They are Italian good luck symbols. They belonged to my Auntie M who passed away last year. I wear them every day to remind myself that she is always here with me. And the necklace is cute!”

Nicole Windram in tracksuit on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Namra Khan

What makes one person’s track suit chic and another’s for workouts? “Athletic wear is one of the most versatile areas of fashion. I love wearing my athletic clothes to work out, and then elevating the look for a formal event. I feel confident in my tracksuits.”

Nicole Windram wearing a tracksuit. Photo: Ellie Vogel

Cont: “I think we’re going to see a lot of multi-functional clothes that can be used for sport as well as dressing to the nines.”


The bodysuit, above, Windram created from her first pair of track pants.

Nicole Windram pre-Adidas bodysuit. Photo: Jack Khan

Windram, above, in her trackpants before they became a bodysuit.

Namra Khan with Nicole Windram. Photo: Ashna Patel

When should you coordinate outfits with a friend? “Always. I have wonderful, talented friends. When school was in person we would coordinate outfits or makeup all the time. Fashion and style creates a special bond with people. My friend Namra and I didn’t even mean to coordinate outfits with big sleeves. It just happened and that’s special.”

Blush Magazine layout. Model: Phoebe Argente. Photo: Gabriella Spiegel

What’s been your favorite Blush Magazine layout? “That would be ‘Birthday Blues,’ my first time styling for Blush. It featured one of my garments, a purple alpaca wool with leftover ostrich feathers. I had wanted to create a garment with a unique silhouette and fun trims. The jacket features a raglan sleeve as well as a matching belt and skirt. I’m now really excited about our team’s new designs.”

Nicole Windram at Rags-A-Gogo record store. Photo: Danielle Windram

There are some great photos of you at Rags-A-Gogo record store, and another at the Strand Book Store. How can someone acquire your type of everyday style? “That’s kind. It comes from years of trial and error. I dress to express myself.  I wear what makes me happy and feel confident. If you mix and match the clothes that you own, your options are limitless.”

Nicole Windram with friend at the Strand Book Store. Photo by: Jack Khan

You have a near obsession with independent bookstores. Which are your favorites“Bookstores are remarkable in that there’s something there for everyone. They are places where you’re among people having completely different experiences but all to do with books. My favorites are Rizzoli, Strand Book StoreMercer Street Books and RecordsPrinted Matter, and The Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn near where I grew up.”

Nicole Windram’s favorite titles

What books are on your night table? “I just purchased ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson‘ by Wally Koval. I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan. I’m also reading ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney and then “What A Time to be Alone” by Chidera Eggerue and ‘The Body Keeps Score’ by Bessel van der Kolk. They’re not all on my night table; I use the New York Public Library app for renting books.”

Nicole Windram’s reversible bathing suit

What class assignment has brought you the most joy lately? “Last semester in Childrenswear Niche Market class with Prof. Barbara Segio, I made a reversible bathing suit that could be worn in different ways. It was my first project using mixed media to present it. Having real life elements interact with 2D art is an exciting concept.”

Tea and Honey Cabinet

What’s your caffeine intake like? “At home we have an entire cabinet of teas and honeys. I start my morning with Earl Grey. Later in the day I have a matcha latte that I make with almond milk and locally sourced honey from Andrew’s Honey.”

Crystals & Gemstones

Is there something in your workspace that gives you inspiration? “I have gemstones and crystals around me when I “create art. They remind me how infinitely inspiring nature is. I have amethyst, rose quartz and hematite on me right now.”

The current issue of Blush Magazine, “The Vital Issue,” features Nicole Windram’s styling for “Feel Good Fashion. Blush Magazine is a student-led publication that began in 2013. It covers topics related to fashion, beauty and culture. Throughout COVID-19, it is being published in digital format only, otherwise it is available in both print and digital formats. Over 60 members contribute their writing, styling, modeling, makeup, graphic design, and print layout skills to Blush. Follow on Twitter: @blushmagfit and IG: @blushmagfit 

To follow Nicole Windram on Instagram go to: @nicolewindram and @hausofwindram.

To learn more about the Fashion Design program go to: FashionDesignFIT

All images curtesy of Nicole Windram.
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New York Times Bestselling Illustrator Nina Mata Tells All!

When “I Promise,” written by LeBron James and Illustrated by Nina Mata, (Illustration, ’08), was released last August, it became an instant New York Times #1 best selling children’s book. Shortly after it was named by Amazon and Barnes & Noble as among “the best books of the year” for young readers.

It was a high profile achievement for Mata, but it was one of only many celebrated children’s books she has illustrated since graduation.

“I Promise” by LeBron James is Illustrated by Nina Mata

Mata paid a virtual visit this fall to Illustration Professor Anthony Capparelli’s Pictorial Problem Solving class. She spoke about the direction of her career, her current practice, and the figures both on paper and real, who play an integral part in her life and craft.

“Here in a nutshell is what led me to this amazing, thriving career,” she said. “The hardest part was to own my story and find my voice, what my purpose was for illustrating children’s books. It came through drawing my childhood and the diverse community I grew up with.”

Mata spoke about working on “I Promise,” with LeBron James. It’s a case study on how elevated a children’s book can become.

“I Promise” illustration by Nina Mata

The children’s book became a calling card for basketball superstar LeBron James and Mata as well.

Time magazine, in naming LeBron James 2020 Athlete of the Year wrote: “On the way to another NBA title [he] transformed what an athlete can be.” Especially for his nonprofit “More than a Vote,” with the single-minded focus of getting people to the polls. It was, Time said, the highest profile example of a surge in activism across the world of sports in 2020.

“I Promise” illustration by Nina Mata

The book’s big 10 x 10-inch pages expand the idea of LeBron’s I Promise school, in rustbelt Akron, OH, where he grew up. The school is aimed at helping kids reach their full potential. The young students promise every day to work hard, set goals, and hold themselves accountable.

“I Promise” illustration by Nina Mata

In a nod to Mata, LeBron James told the New York Times:

“It was important to us that the artwork in ‘I Promise’ reflect all students, so that everyone who reads it can see themselves in the images…The inclusive and diverse illustrations are one of my favorite things about the book” said James referencing Mata’s work.

“I Promise” is written by LeBron James and illustrated by Nina Mata

Mata, who gets full cover credit, says the “instant” success was almost two years in the making. She was asked in early 2019 to be one of numerous illustrators auditioning for the hush-hush project for an unnamed author. The list was soon down to two. She won the championship-level job about several months later.

Mata says she essentially drew her childhood. Daughter of Philippine immigrants, she grew up in a multi-ethnic Queens, New York, neighborhood. Despite her surprise at hearing James was the author, she was ready.

“I Promise,” by LeBron James. Illustrated by Nina Mata

“I Promise” highlights young people of all backgrounds working together to help each other in classrooms and playgrounds, basketball courts and swimming pools.

By the time it arrived last August, the pandemic had changed the world, but the book’s message and its art still held true. The promises are even more important now.

Illustration by Nina Mata

“Kids and families are going through a lot,” James told the New York Times. “I hope this book can bring them some hope and positivity, and encourage them to keep pushing, because we will make it through this tough time.” When the book came out, he was not allowed to be with his own three children due to COVID dangers.

Illustration by Nina Mata

Mata has many other credits. She was nominated for the 52nd NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature and is a 2021 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honoree for her work in “Ty’s Travels, Zip Zoom by Kelly Starling Lyons.” Her book projects also include one by American gymnast Laurie Hernandez, “She’s Got This,” (also a New York Times bestseller!) and books in the Ty’s Travels I Can Read series.

“It was a joy to be visited by my former student, Nina Mata for our IL 262-15A Pictorial Problem Solving Class! Nina was a pleasure as a student, and has become an accomplished professional through a fierce commitment to professional excellence. Nina offered invaluable career advice. She exemplifies FIT’s commitment to professional excellence with an inclusive educational experience for future artists and illustrators,” says Prof. Capparelli. 

“She’s Got This,” by gymnast and Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez. Illustrated by Nina Mata

Mata emphasized that the journey took time. After her first six years – a career that started with national economic collapse just two months before her May 2009 graduation.

On her husband’s advice, Mata gave herself a year to step back, have fun, and develop a true “look” and illustration style. She did just that, evolving a looser, more carefree approach.

“The hardest part (of my career) was to own my story and find my voice, what my purpose was for illustrating children’s books. It came through drawing my childhood and the diverse community I grew up with,” says Nina Mata, ’08

“She’s Got this,” by Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez. Illustrated by Nina Mata

During that year “I played with a lot of patterns, dabbled a lot with abstract art,” says Mata. She began to incorporate the patterns and textures into her work. “I stopped over rendering and just had fun. It was my year for letting go.” She created a piece of her childhood friends in front of a bodega that she was an “homage to the carefree days of growing up in Queens….It made me realize we don’t see enough diversity on books with illustrations. It really inspired me to change that.” Mata had found her style and her purpose.

She told the students:

  • Step outside your comfort zone. Draw things you don’t usually do
  • Take a business class
  • Promotional postcards STILL work
  • Watch the trends and give it your own twist
  • Attend conferences. Take online classes, keep learning
  • Never work for free or for the “experience”
  • Illustration is an isolating career. Make friends
  • Follow Instagram and Pinterest, especially, for trends
  • You’re ready when you say you are. Go out and do it!

Mata credits her agent with much of her success. “It’s like the saying if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far, you have to go together,” said Mata.

Illustration by Nina Mata

It took her a long time to find an agent, and then six months to get an assignment. During that time “she helped me build my portfolio to where it needed to be. She knew what art directors were looking for and editors were looking for.”

Although she does some of her own promotion, she says her agent’s advice has been key. For instance, one time her agent told her that dragons and unicorns were a coming thing. Naturally Mata practiced drawing them before she had assignment that called for them. She reads all the contracts herself after her agent does the negotiating.

Also key has been her membership in The Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustators, and has been part of many illustrations groups like an Illustrators Happy Hour. “Share resources and celebrate successes. Connect with other illustrators. Learn from each other.

Illustration by Nina Mata

“Finally, you’re ready when you say you are,” says Mata. “You have to be courageous and believe in yourself. If you keep going you’re only going to get better. Like me, I was able to work and grow as an artist at the same time.”

To hear Nina Mata read “I Promise” go to: I Promise Storytime with Lebron and Nina.

To follow Nina Mata check out her website at: and on Instagram: NinaBonina.

To learn more about the Illustration major go to Illustration at FIT.

Art work courtesy of Nina Mata.

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Sydney Hawes’ plush children’s coats go to Washington with Kamala Harris’ great nieces!

Lady Gaga wore Schiaparelli at the Inauguration. Kamala Harris’ two great-nieces wore iloveplum. FIT graduates designed for all three…but this is about two-year-old Leela and four-year-old Amala, and their adorable hooded faux-fur leopard-print coats.

Embed from Getty Images

Fashion Design alumna Sydney Hawes,’08, not only designed the coats, she cut and sewed them in three days, drawing on her FIT experience. Her former FIT roommate, Susan Trotiner, sketched them for the client, the new Vice-President’s niece Meena Harris. They work for iloveplum childrenswear, which specializes in tutus and in having fun.

Hawes, the company’s design director, lives and works out of Oakland, Kamala Harris’s home town. “That was a special connection,” says Hawes. “It’s an amazing moment for Oakland. Kamala is a positive face for the city.  We pitched the idea of Inauguration outfits to Meena around Christmas. We saw that her daughters were in all the family pictures wearing white outfits and white Doc Martens. Might they be going to the Inauguration? This could be kinda cool.”

Inauguration coat made and designed by Sydney Hawes

The Inauguration was a pinnacle moment for fashion. “Fashion reporters want to breakdown who’s wearing what and why. A huge part of being a fashion designer is the storytelling, which obviously was a big focus at FIT, says Hawes.

“We started brainstorming. We had a lot of ideas, given the family heritage, the suffragette movement, the colors, all the real fashion nerd stuff. We were winding down and I was getting into the CAD mood, and then I found the childhood picture of Kamala with her family.”

Kamala Harris family photo with young Kamala wearing her leopard coat.

Hawes continues, “I said wait a minute why don’t we make this coat? Meena had kept saying it has to be cozy and warm. So when I saw that picture, and all the the other ideas just melted away.”

Susan Trotiner, ’08, who dormed with Hawes in Nagler Hall, and is iloveplum’s sourcing director, did the sketches of the coats.  “We always joked (at FIT) that she helped me with drawing and I helped her doing sewing. So it was a perfect thing. She did the sketches and I did the sewing. It brings me back! It’s a great FIT story.”

Inauguration concept sketches

When they pitched it to Meena they got an immediate, enthusiastic response: “’I love the coats. Oh, I have to have the coats. This is amazing!’” says Hawes recalling Meena’s text message.

But it was a Thursday, almost three weeks before the January 20 ceremony. The two coats had to be ready the following Tuesday. “This was two weeks before the inauguration,” says Hawes.

“It’s a classic fashion story. Here I was, casually driving to look for fabric. I get the message. I think I need to drive faster!”

Hawes got onto the iloveplum messaging system with her colleagues and said, “’I think maybe I should just sew these.’ Talking to a pattern maker, talking to a sample room, rushing around getting all these people involved, would just take too much time. So I made the patterns and made the coats that weekend. I felt like I was at FIT working on a project the night before it was due.”

“When I heard that I had three days to make two children’s coats for the incoming Vice President’s great nieces, it was more than enough time. The confidence, to know that I could do that from start to finish, I learned that at FIT.

I learned how to make patterns, including grade pattern to make the two different sizes of coats. The prototype that I made first before the actual garments, of course tailoring, these were notch collars. I had under collars, over collars. I had to compensate for the faux fur, all of those technical concepts I got to apply. These are things I learned at FIT, like how to roll sleeves, getting the supplies I needed. I didn’t just blindly commit to that. I confidently committed to it. That comes from FIT.” – Fashion Design alumna Sydney Hawes

Hawes and Trotiner both studied childrenswear together and say they were most influenced by Prof. Sandra Markus, now chair of the Fashion Design department. “We had her for senior thesis and portfolio class. Most of our classmates wanted to dress celebrities. We wanted to design outfits for kids,” says Hawes.

“Childrenswear students tend to have a particularly close relationship with one another,” says Chair Sandra Markus. “Sydney and Susan were a dynamic duo—they really poured their heart and souls into their work–and formed a partnership that has lasted beyond FIT.”

Sydney Hawes and Susan Trotiner

When the coats were delivered, iloveplum got a note of appreciation but nothing more. “We didn’t know if they fit or if they would wear them. They just basically said thank you and that was it. So we waited,” says Hawes. “Meena did ask us for black turtlenecks to go with the coats. That was a good sign. But we had no idea or what was going to happen at the Inauguration. We were hoping for images we could post. Maybe Meena would post a picture. They can’t tag or promote any brand, so it’s up to us to get the news out there,” she said.

Inauguration Coat

“We were all watching on January 20. It was 6 am for me, 9 am in New York. We all had our TVs on and waited. We saw that everyone was leaving church and heading to the Capitol” says Hawes.

“And there’s Meena in her gorgeous emerald outfit and there’s this little furry arm holding her hand. It was like OMG! I must have woken up all of the East Bay screaming! We’re all texting each other:  ‘They’re wearing them…They’re wearing them!!!’”

Embed from Getty Images

Hawes says it was a great moment for childrenswear. “The childrenswear market has changed since I graduated. There wasn’t so much high-end then; we were taught to design for function. We expected to have fun designing childrenswear but it’s not glam. That’s what makes this event so cool. It’s really special for FIT because they taught me all of the chops for that. I learned it all there!” says Hawes.

“Children are the future. I think that’s why they became such a visual of the day. Kamala has them around because they represent our future. Little Leela  was in her dad’s arms throughout the day, so the coat is in every single shot, from Lady Gaga singing to the swearing in. There was this little furry hood in the background the whole time!”

And then Meena posted a picture on social media of the girls alongside the picture of Kamala as a child. “Coats just like Auntie’s” it says.

Meena Harris’ IG post: “Just like Auntie’s.”

“Meena has authored the children’s book ‘Ambitious Girl‘ and the bestseller “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea.” She’s a lawyer who went to Stanford and Harvard law school. She’s a voice for feminism and empowerment, with a big social media following” says Hawes.

So when broadcast news picked up Meena’s post in real time fashion lightening struck. Rachel Maddow, CNN, CBS and others began talking about the coats, says Hawes.“ They had all those cameras, doing different angles, ‘How cute are these coats!  Who wouldn’t be warm in these sweet outfits?’ And then the comparison with Kamala’s childhood coat.”

Sydney Hawes Inauguration Day coat sightings:

Says Hawes “It was such an historic moment and on top of that for fashion, especially for children’s fashion.”

To follow Sydney Hawes on Twitter go to: Sydney, on IG: pina_kit, and on her website: Sydney L. Hawes. Follow Susan Trotiner on IG: hautetootrot.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Fashion Design program go to: Fashion Design at FIT.

Images courtesy of iloveplum and Sydney Hawes.

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Corky Lee the Unofficial Historian of NYC’s Chinatown and beyond

Corky Lee, a chronicler of Asian culture in Chinatown and nationwide, has succumbed to COVID-19.  Lee put Asians back in the historical picture of American life. He was a great friend to FIT faculty and students, introducing them to chronicling Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Corky Lee

“Corky Lee was the unofficial historian of Chinatown and Asian life throughout New York City and beyond. He led the way. He documented living and working in the Chinese community: factory life, protests, police abuse, Asian-American veterans, the many cultural events. He documented the immigrant experience. I am a part of that. His work is all about people like me. He was a mentor to so many people including me,” says Prof. Kam Mak.

Corky Lee and Prof. Kam Mak

One of Lee’s celebrated photos recreated the Golden Spike Ceremony marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. The Chinese workers who laid the tracks were excluded from the original photo. Lee’s recreation featured 400 of their direct descendants. He referred to it as “photographic justice.” Since his passing, many on social media have said: “He helped us see ourselves.”

Lee’s photos are among the few that chronicled Chinatown events and everyday life 50 years ago. He continued photographing until shortly before he died at age 73. “Don’t get hooked on photography unless you’re willing to make tremendous sacrifices,” he once said.

Corky Lee with FIT students

“Corky and I we always ran into each on the streets in Chinatown,” said Photography Professor Curtis Willocks who frequently brought students to photograph there.

“The last image I have of Corky Lee — I was with my students at a gallery on Broadway in Chinatown. Corky was there.  He took them on a grand tour and engaged them. That was him, all about sharing, education and enlightening.”

To learn more about Asian-American life in NYC go to:

Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), located at 215 Centre Street. MOCA is a national home for the narratives of diverse Chinese-American communities. The Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) is part of a national non-profit civil rights organization promoting and protecting the political, economic, and cultural rights of Asian Pacific Americans in America. The Asian-American Journalists Association works to ensure fair and accurate coverage of communities of color.

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It’s More Than a Game for Clever Evolving Media Students

Entering FIT’s first full semester of remote learning last fall, Prof. Dan Shefelman says he was searching for a way to approach his Illustration BFA course, Visual Storytelling for Evolving Media II, in an engaging and relevant way. This course, true to its title, is designed to embrace the changing media landscape.

Team Reflect

“It would be hard to imagine a more drastic change than we are going through now,” says Shefelman, “so how can we actively evolve our visual communication methods and engage an audience?”

Team Red Zone

Tapping into the feelings of isolation, frustration and a powerful need for students to connect from their remote locations, Shefelman called for a video game designed to respond to current events.

Team Red Zone

Students worked in five teams throughout the semester. This was their assignment:

Create a mental and emotional vaccine for the isolated, crisis-ridden, change-inspiring world we are living in. Using a game format to tell a story of some sort of journey, we explore fantasy, reality and/or inner worlds relevant to the events of the times. Think about why you want to make this game. What do you want the user to experience? Is it pure escape? Working out frustrations-aggressions? Connecting with others in a virtual way? Call to action in the actual world?

Team Possums vs. Racoons

Now, let the games begin!

Team Disasterville: 

Instructions: The world as we know it is ending, but you’ve got a plan…to get off the damn planet! You are a dedicated doomsday conspiracy theorist who has known the end is near for ages, but now is the time to act! Gather resources, recruit a team, steal top secret government plans to build your rocket, and find a new planet to call home.


Team Disasterville
Team Disasterville

Team Reflect: 

Instructions: Enter into the world of Reflect, where you reflect on the emotions of grief through a series of mirrors. The main character embarks on an emotional journey through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.


Team Reflect

Team Rodt: 

Instructions: A girl wakes up in the middle of the forest; she recognizes herself as the Little Red Riding Hood. She needs to get to Grandma’s house but she’s lost in the woods. The goal is to solve puzzles, find keys, open gates, collect items, and defeat shadow monsters to clear out the way in order to reach grandma’s house. The girl will receive help from fairy tale animal characters, such as the frog prince, blue bird, the little mer-witch and seven dwarfs.


Team Rodt
Team Rodt

Team Red Zone:

Instructions: The game begins in March, 2020 when lockdown first began in New York City. Players will have to conquer obstacles along the way that will increase in difficulty with each level. Each level will take place in the five boroughs and have a time limit.

Team Red Zone
Team Red Zone

Team Possums vs. Racoons:

Instructions: Collect that trash! A battle between your average trash cats. Whichever side collects the most trash wins!

Team Racoons vs. Possums

The proposals from the student teams surprised Shefelman, “in sophistication, depth of meaningfulness,” he says. As the semester progressed “the collaborative process brought more depth to the ideas and some fantastic visual development art and storytelling.”

Team Reflect: Adesewa Adekoya, Brigid Coleman, Thamara Gomez, Yumi Kamata, Claudia Reese
Team Red Zone: Aqil Balogun, Cameron Costabel, Angelica Guevara, Marielle Lamothe, Stephanie Wan
Team Rodt: Sadia Bhuiyan, Bruno Cruz, Sydney Heihs, Ziben Li
Team Racoons vs. Possums: Ashley Chavez, Fiona Fitas, Nicole Hogan, Jia Min Liu

To learn more about the Illustration major go to Illustration at FIT.

Images and video used with permission

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