Bengali women serve as inspiration for CFDA award winner Mohua Goswami

Admiration and inquiry of Bengali women are at the center of award-winning knitwear design major Mohua Goswami’s CFDA collection. Goswami’s work showcases the free-flowing and personalized styles of the Bengal region in eastern India, where her family roots are. They are also influenced by the multicultural region around Pune, a city inland from Mumbai, where she grew up.

Mohua Goswami’s CFDA award-winning Grihini collection

Goswami’s collection, Grihini, was inspired by important women in her life. “It’s my attempt to give a physical form to the musings of a demure Bengali housewife, the ‘grihini.’ It is from a place of curiosity; I was born into a Bengali family, but never lived in Bengal. My family was attracted to the educational, cultural and business opportunities around Mumbai, India’s business and financial hub. Wanting to know more about what it means to be Bengali is what drove my collection.”

Pages from Mohua Goswami’s design journal

Goswami spoke to her grandmother about her grihini life in 1950s Bengal. She also watched her mother play the same role in real-time in Pune as society evolved. But Goswami also notes the influence of legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films.

“While society during his time [1950-1980] could not yet fathom a separate existence of women other than in relation to men, Ray portrayed these images successfully in his narratives. Rather than trying to show men and women as equal or not, Ray showed them as complimentary to each other. It’s in his depiction of women, that the character of a grihini changed what it meant to me,” she says.

Grhini collection: Mohua Goswami
“Mohua Goswani’s designs immediately captivated me with their ability to combine a personal vision with a larger cultural narrative. Her inventive knitwear thoughtfully combines pattern and material with results that speak to our moment. I am moved by the research that Mohua performs prior to creating her designs. She is clearly inspired by her family and its history, but equally committed to connecting that past with the future of fashion. Her determination and the power of her talent can be seen in every design and her CFDA award is well earned.” – Troy Richards, Dean, School of Art and Design
Grihini collection: MG

“As I was working on this project, I was subconsciously equating the housewife with the Devi–the many-handed goddess,” she says. “In Hindu mythology, the goddess is also a wife and a mother, as well as the protector of good and the destroyer of evil. That analogy crept into my illustrations,” she says.

Detail from a Kaledo knit, inspired by Satyajit Ray’s film “Devi”

“The purpose of fashion is not just to toy with the visual pleasure of the audience. There has to be an element that invokes certain feelings in the creators themselves. It has to be personal. That’s how we keep the novelty of fashion alive, by making it clear the different ways of telling a story,” says Goswami.

Ray had a “special knack” for portraying women. “One of his best films, ‘Charulata,’ analyzed the character of a grihini. Charulata is the childless, intelligent, and beautiful wife of Bhupati, a newspaper editor.”

From Mohua Goswami’s CFDA award-winning Grihini collection

In the acclaimed opening scene, Charulata moves from one window in her house to the next, observing the world with opera glasses. “She is like a caged bird in her mansion. We sense her curiosity and desire to know the outside world” says Goswami.

Publicity still from “Charulata”

“As she moves to the interior corridor, her husband walks past her without noticing her. She sees him the same way she sees the outside world. Distant. Without a single word being said, we sense Charulata’s loneliness and boredom.”

Of course, history has documented trailblazing feminists, who shattered the glass ceiling. “But we often forget the woman hidden away in kitchens and backyards, putting food on the plate and making sure the house still stands – the grihini.”

Key influences of the Grihini collection

Goswami’s challenge was to give a “physicality” to the nuances of a Bengali housewife. “My collection took from the subtleties of her world and wardrobe, and how they are linked. As she ties her keys to the end of her saree, she creates beautiful lines in the drape. The keys suggest crossing the threshold from woman to wife. As she evolves, so do the layers on her saree. Layering, lines, and a mix of masculine and feminine energy became the foundation for this collection.”

It can take Goswami considerable time reading and viewing movies before she’s ready to create her designs. “I can spend weeks with no results. Then I read a book, and one line sticks with me and I decide to base an entire collection on it.”

Exploration with styles and drapes

Next, she puts everything on paper, in her design journal. “This helps solidify my inspiration and translates it into design elements. It’s also the best way to explore different directions my collection might take. I then pick and choose from among them” she says.

Goswami won the CFDA Design Scholar K11 Innovation Award for her collection. “It was an honor just to be nominated, and a great surprise to win!” she says. “It is essential for an upcoming designer to gain exposure, and this award has done that for me. It has also helped me to network with like-minded creatives.”

From Mohua Goswami’s CFDA award-winning Grihini collection
“My collection took from the subtleties of [the Bengali housewife’s] world and wardrobe, and how they are linked. As she ties her keys to the end of her saree, she creates beautiful lines in the drape. The keys suggest crossing the threshold from woman to wife. As she evolves, so do the layers on her saree. Layering, lines, and a mix of masculine and feminine energy became the foundation for this collection.” – Mohua Goswami

Working under COVID has shaped elements of her creative process “When the pandemic hit in March, I was finishing touches to my Grihini collection. The pandemic has taught me to adapt. My creative process involves being amidst the action, going places, being physically present to take the atmosphere. With COVID, that came to a halt. I had to develop a collection within the four walls of my bedroom. With virtual museum tours, access to a vast sea of information, and the ability to meet with people virtually, bridges the gap,” she says.

Mohua Goswami

Goswami intends to pursue a career in knitwear design, textile development, and sustainability.

“With the pandemic the fashion industry has been given an opportunity to focus on solving a lot of its problems. With everything I have absorbed these past four years, I hope to channel all my energies towards that.”

On a page in Goswami’s design notebook appears a question about whether the grihini knows how to cook shukto. Most likely yes. The traditional Bengali dish is one that Mohua’s mother Oona has long mastered. She generously shares the Goswami family recipe with us here:

To follow Mohua Goswami on Instagram @museum_ofme and on Behance

All images used with permission.

 

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The semester’s first assignments

How do you teach remotely a curriculum grounded in creativity? Creatively. The high level of teaching and student engagement within the School of Art and Design shows how quality instruction can take place under unusual circumstances. First assignments are often what set the pace.

This semester, there’s no such thing as being too far away to attend FIT. These first assignments we’ve gathered, show how prepared we are to educate the next generation of creatives.

Remotely, it’s still a classroom, still a lab, albeit on a screen that’s likely to be no more than 17” across. But one thing is for sure. Learning is possible, and interaction with peers is possible, from wherever you are. Powering up, isn’t just about getting to class!

The following first assignment descriptions are extracted from the more detailed versions that our students receive.

“Isolation” by Jessica Garcia

Photography

Professor Curtis Willocks: PH251 Advanced Photo Solutions

When we spoke to Prof. Willocks he was on Governors Island conducting experiments with speedlights for a future assignment. “If I want them to do it, I have to do it first” he said.

“For the first assignment, I want them to use whatever lights are available – flashlights, night-table lights, window light,” he said. “They are to create an image of how they feel, how they relate to the concept of isolation because of COVID-19. I want them to be creative and draw on what’s happened to them over the last few months. Someone may be in an apartment with six or more people, others might be out in the country. This is something that makes them think.”

For this in-class assignment says Prof. Willocks “they need to think quickly. I don’t mess around, come on. Sometimes you have to set the pace the first class, the first hour! The first step it’s about creation.”

“Isolation 2” by Jessica Garcia

Prof. Willocks references similar assignments that were done for magazines and other publications during COVID-19. “I want them to think, then work quickly.”

Textile Surface Design

Professor Susan Rietman: TD356 Tabletop and Related Products

Want more on your plate? Students’ first assignment, ceramic products-formal dishware, for Prof. Rietman’s class, is part of a three-step project for fifth semester students. Says Professor Rietman “It’s one of my favorite classes to teach because students get really excited when they produce marketable product designs.”

Julia Ermacor, class of 2020

Students will create a series of four coordinated designs for fine china rendered at actual scale: a dinner plate, salad/dessert plate and cup and saucer. They develop a design concept by using historic/traditional references in a unique way and rendered in mixed media on watercolor paper.

Illustration

Prof. Cheryl Griesbach: IL326 Traditional Painting Media: Methods and Materials

This first assignment is to create an expressive, detailed and realistic portrait of a friend or family member. Students are encouraged to investigate their subjects’ personality “to add interest to the painting.” With their subjects’ input, students develop a concept using lightning, background, any props available, and Photoshop to make an exciting image.

By Amanda Bueno Veras

Last semester, Amanda Bueno Veras submitted her portrait (above) from this class and won the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition 2020 for $2,000.

Professor Kam Mak: IL484 Advanced Color Rendering I

This senior painting class is a “selective” and not a required course. Says Prof. Mak “It’s their first opportunity to use all the painting skills they have learned at FIT, and to find a voice through painting. Students’ first assignment is one they’ll work on all semester. It’s less about technique and more about learning how to express themselves.”

Oil painting of Joan of Arc in battle, by Nicholas Keslake

Students can use any medium — oil, tempora, acrylic, collage, and for some a mix of painted or embroidered 3D – and the human form to convey an emotion.

By Faythe Stone

The painting (above) by Faythe Stone was created in Prof. Kam Mak’s class by Faythe Stone. It was a winner in The National Arts Club 2020 Will Barnet Student Show.

Packaging Design

Professor Cliff Bachner: PK318 Design Process Studio

“Our first project for the semester is creating a brand based on our students’ individual family heritage and/or immigration histories” says Prof. Bachner.

Big Bastards juice, by Luke Paccione

“The project consists of creating a new brand name and identity as applied to three packaging forms with distinctively different proportions within the food and beverage category.”

Delicious Dictator snacks, by Jay Kim

Fashion Design

Professor Jerry Delova: FD462 Designer Sportswear Incubator

In preparation for the class, students this summer started a journal consisting of tear sheets, and concepts, fabrics, and precious objects that speak to their aesthetic and ideas as a designer. For the first fall class, students will give a short presentation of their journals and research so that class members can better get acquainted.

Prof. Delova describes the course as a “pre-thesis class, to investigate, experiment and conceptualize ideas that students carry forward into their final spring semester collections.”

Jewelry Design

Prof. Michael Coan: JD142 Introduction to Gemology and Gem Identification

Prof. Coan will be teaching students to examine and identify gem material, their synthetics and look-a-likes, using physical samples he has sent them by mail. Students all get the same selection, but the quality and imperfections in the gems will be different.

After defining critical nomenclature, Prof. Coan will have students practice a technique called “sight identification.” He says “We can learn a lot simply by looking at a gem but we have to know what to look for. Students will examine specific gem specimens and record their observations.  We will be adding a higher power of observation to the mix, as well — the 10X Jewelers Loupe.”

Prof. Coan invites prospective students to come to the first class and find out what “flawless” really means!

Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design

Professor Craig Berger: VP321 Sketching and Visualization

The students in this course will likely not have done field analysis and sketching, which is what most exhibition designers and architects do when conducting research, Prof. Berger says.

By Ralph Emrick

For the first project, students must analyze an exhibition space both in person and online and sketch the space plan, elevation and perspective. Because of COVID-19 that space will most likely be a retail or public art display space.

By Ralph Emrick

Labor Day gives the students an extra week. The two-week assignment, due September 15, students will have produced: an exhibition picture and a real life, two exhibition rooms (one from a book or online and one live and interactive), a floor plan, rough dimensions, a rough elevation view with varying line weights, at least one detailed or many sketchy perspective views and a presentation with title block, designer picture and name, scale, location.

Fine Arts

Professor Joel Werring: FA151 Painting 1 & FA143 Foundation Drawing 1

“The beginning of the semester is about encouraging students to experience the physical world— not just form, but the air around form, the spaces between objects,” says Prof. Werring.

“We understand form and scale because of the space that surrounds form. We take space for granted. The same with sound. We understand sound because of the silence around it, just as the intervals between words allow us to understand language.”

Giorgio Morandi still life 1932 scaled

“In painting and drawing, all areas of a flat, two-dimensional plane are equally important. An artist employs both positive and negative shapes. Students struggle trying to describe forms. So sometimes it makes more sense to draw the non-thing in order to describe the thing,” says Prof. Werring.

For the first assignment, Prof. Werring shows students moon studies made by Galileo, based on his observations through his crude telescope. “As Galileo’s moons wax and wane on the page, they exemplify the interdependence of figure and ground relationships on a flat plane. He paints the black sky to describe the light of the moon. Space becomes physical.”

Galileo’s studies of the moon

A similar thing happens in the work of Giorgio Morandi, who painted still-lifes, dusty bottles and objects in muted and subdued tones. “The more you look, the more you notice a beautiful tug of war between objects and the space between them. Their interplay creates movement and tension. His edges become slippery, allowing for objects to recede and negative spaces to advance.”

Prof. Werring provides black and white reproductions of a Morandi painting and asks students to create a large value scale with white, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and black. The students then cut and tear from those five values to create a value collage from their Morandi reproduction.

Student value collage after Morandi

The struggle to do this assignment produces beautiful results. “The collages feel constructed, built, handmade. Some are rough and ragged, others are clean, meticulous….The assignment puts the emphasis on practice and not the end result. It allows the students to be in dialogue with another artist, and with themselves.”

Textile Surface Design

Prof. Hidenori Ishii: TD473 Advanced Digital Studio

The first five-week project, a high-end scarf design, has special relevance given the need for face coverings. Still, Prof. Ishii is not limiting the class to the obvious. “Students can really take advantage of this project in many ways,” she says.

Art Deco Scarf Design, by Lucy Catterick

Students will be assigned a theme based on one of three current fashion trends. They select a target market, write a brief about the target customer, and develop a color palette that follows the current trend.

Final Scarf by Ju Hee Yoo

After her approval, students design one complex high-end scarf layout using the School’s software. The scarf must incorporate a field, a border and a smaller print repeat that will be incorporated into the border or field. The final scarf will be printed on paper. Students are required to color match their design palette to their final printout.

Communication Design

Professor Thomas McManus: CD134 Capturing Creativity

Professor McManus offered two different assignments he alternates between at the beginning of the semester.

One is The Exquisite Corpse: Create an “exquisite corpse” by working with two other students to create an animal in a zoo by not knowing what the other students are doing in the making of the drawing.

Exquisite Corpse assignments: Mouse, Cat, Muscle Man

The other is “The Getty Challenge: Go to the Getty Museum website and try to recreate a masterpiece there using only the materials you have in your home.

The Getty Challenge, by Christine Lee

Graphic Design

Professor Stephanie Tevonian: GD216 Foundation in Graphic Design

By their third semester, students take an introductory class in a choice of majors before deciding which one is right for them. Prof. Tevonian teaches one in Graphic Design. She starts with a two-three week assignment that touches on the basics. Students design a postcard and appropriate stamp starting with two different approaches (using only typography, and then original abstract imagery or symbols).

This year, the theme of the card encourages voter turnout. Through the design, they show why this is significant. The initial copy, subject to change, reads: Vote, Make Your Voice Heard, November 3, 2020. Students will design the stamp in class to match their card.

The subject is an obvious one right now, but students have to show why it matters using only the visuals.

(Since this is Prof. Tevonian’s first time teaching this course, we’re going with a photo (above) that shows a belt she wears mid-semester “to remind students to laugh and remember that communication is through many different means and methods.”)

Textile Surface Design

Professor Kimberly Lennox: TD334 Complex Wovens

The theme for this first class project is Finding Inspiration in Tough Times “This has been a rough year for NYC,” says Prof. Lennox. The city will rebuild, but we have lost so much. Stores and restaurants have closed and cultural institutions struggle to outlast this storm. Think about what life in NYC would have been like without the challenges of the pandemic.

Students will consider: What favorite places might disappear?  Pick one place, person, or thing in the city to be inspired by.

From Assignment 1 of Prof. Lennox’s Complex Wovens class

Students will share their inspiration with pictures and sketches. They will include color inspiration and three thumbnail sketches that can be translated into a twill fabric. Students will photograph their work so they can present it remotely.

All images provided by faculty members featured in this post.

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Illustrator and Story-Teller Brian Michael Weaver to Teach This fall

In a world gone buggy…What do you get when you combine a tough-guy detective, a sultry butterfly, a hungry ladybug, a hard-nosed mosquito, a missing pencil box and a tail the size of Brooklyn?…

You get incoming Illustration Professor Brian Michael Weaver, aka Neil Numberman!

Brian Michael Weaver

New this fall Prof. Weaver will be teaching Visual Storytelling for Evolving Media II. He’s illustrated such groovy graphic novels as the “Joey Fly, Private Eye” series. He is writer/illustrator of the monster-ific picture book “Do NOT Build a Frankenstein!” And he’s a frequent contributor to Highlights Magazine as a Hidden Picture artist. His most recent picture book series is “Flip & Fin.”

Get to know more about him!

The first story he created was of a cat and a spider under the dining room table when he was three years old: “I’ve always made stories through pictures. A favorite medium was flip books starring stick figures getting crushed by rocks, or a mural on a long piece of paper telling a story, usually about the Ninja Turtles or The Ghostbusters.”

“I want to encourage students to tell stories through their art, because there will always be a need for new voices. I’m so excited to help them grow as storytellers, and find the best way to do it.” – Incoming Prof. Brian Weaver

He won over his English teachers in middle school: “I would add illustrations to my stories, such as my take on Romeo and Juliet: ‘Pencilo and Penliet,’ about a pen and pencil that fall in love. In the end they throw themselves into the gap between the office desk and the wall, never to be seen again. Tragic!”

Brian Michael Weaver

Finding new ways to tell stories: “I’m keeping a daily journal about my life in the COVID-19 lockdown. I like using standard comic techniques like word balloons, thought balloons, and captions, but also less tradition comic elements. Sometimes I’ll throw in a photograph, a screenshot of a text exchange, or an aside to introduce a character… It’s an efficient, unique way to tell the story.”

Says incoming Prof. Weaver: “I’ve been a guest speaker at FIT for over five years. I am absolutely floored at the quality of work I’m seeing from the students. I swear at their age, I was making the most awful stuff. I think it speaks to the quality of education they’re getting from their teachers, and just as importantly, I believe, from their peers.”

He’s often hired to animate, and tell quick one- or two-minute stories: “I love brainstorming with a director and a team on the best ways to make a visual gag work, or to tell the story in the funniest and most efficient way.”

By Brian Michael Weaver

Engaging the young reader: “I’m also working on a chapter book that’s inspired by the collaborations between Ronald Dahl and Quentin Blake–Dahl with his dark, twisted humor, and Blake’s beautiful loose ink line. The books were chock-full of illustrations. The Twits had at least one drawing per page! I love how the writing and the illustrations work together to keep a young reader turning the page.”

The need for storytellers and new voices: “I live for storytelling–and the more creative, the better. The media is changing faster than a lot of us can handle, but content is king. I will encourage students to tell stories through their art, because there will always be a need for new voices. I’m so excited to help them grow as storytellers.”

Starting amidst the pandemic: “I admit I’m a little intimidated at beginning the school year in this pandemic, mostly because I won’t get the opportunity to meet my students in person. But I was a guest critiquer in early May and it went very well. I viewed their artwork through screen sharing with no problems. It very easy for us to have a dialogue about their projects. They were passionate about their work, with no lack of motivation. If I’m beginning my teaching career in a remote classroom, so be it! We’ll make it work!”

Prof. Weaver is one of 12 incoming Illustration professors. To learn more about the Illustration department go to:  Illustration at the School of Art and Design.

All images and videos used with permission.

 

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Opportunities in the Rebranding of America

There’s a wave of rebranding taking place across the country in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and a realization that Black dollars matter as well.

For many major brands, it has been a long time coming.

“The names and images on so many products were weaponized from their inception,” says Communication Design Professor Elvin Kince. “It has been part of a system that reinforces certain myths, stereotypes, and the social and economic hierarchy of America. For this reason, it has been tough to get rid of them.”

Three professors from the schools of Art and Design and Advertising and Marketing Communications (AMC) shared thoughts about this reckoning and their ideas for addressing it in the classroom.

“We need to empower students to get ahead of these issues and participate in decisions in the organizations they will work for” says “Sandra Krasovec, Program Coordinator of Packaging Design.

The need for rebranding is only one manifestation of racism and “present sudden awareness” says Professor Elena Romero of AMC and a correspondent for LATiNAS on CUNY TV. “It is not likely to be a short-term societal concern that will get swallowed up by the pandemic.”

Changing the name of an established product or service is not always simple. The name and packaging of Aunt Jemima is certainly racist, but how many other pancake mixes can most people name? On the other hand, a football team does not have to be chosen on a supermarket shelf. If you’re in Washington DC you really don’t have many options. But now, only after decades of complaints, is the Washington Redskins on the brink of change.

The situation differs from the 1970s, when companies realized their brands, slogans, and even corporate names meant different – often derogatory — things in different languages. As businesses globalized, they turned mainly to consulting firms that used then-new computers to search through hundreds of languages and check for bad or awkward words.

Reducing racism in branding today, however, requires more than a dictionary or thesaurus. And it requires a sustained effort.

Prof. Krasovec has seen rebranding efforts recede once public outcry has died down. “Black Lives Matter is the catalyst” she says. “Hopefully society sustains its outrage and we can do a better job teaching the next generation.”

Maybe this American branding issue  has hit a critical mass of rejection of the older ways and attitudes” says Prof. Kince. After all, ‘Black Lives Matter’ itself is a great slogan and a basic truth.” Yet it is controversial and even provocative to those who want to deny or dismiss the concept. Black lives matter doesn’t actually seem to matter to those who scream ‘all lives matter.'”

“We have a wide range of students of different backgrounds and experiences. To teach as if there’s one experience or expectation may not serve the student body as well as it once might have. For instance, when I was a student, our designs were focused on White Anglo-Saxon Protestant tastes” says Prof. Kince.

To answer the question of “What makes it different this time?” Prof. Romero suggests looking at historic moments that got corporate America to face systematic racism:

She notes the election of Barack Obama as symbolic and a historic first. “Finally America could see a Black man and his family beyond the usual stereotypical images perpetuated in the media. But we did not become a post-racial society as some predicted. Old wounds were still there” she says.

“We then moved from campaign slogans pushing ‘change’ and ‘hope’ to ‘Make America Great Again,’ leading to a retreat from ideas of diversity, inclusion and equity” she says.

The killing of George Floyd, of course, was not isolated. “Its impact was compounded by a long history of discrimination and outright ‘legal’ murders and incarceration of Black men and women making the time ripe for a cultural shift. BLM is a second Civil Rights movement” she says.

“Finally, the effects of COVID-19 made people re-evaluate life and the pursuit of happiness: COVID-revealed racial disparities and the fragility of life. This produced a new calling out of injustices, forcing individuals and organizations to take a hard look at what was considered to be the social norm or at least acceptable.”

Courtesy of Prof. Curtis Willocks

THE TEACHING MOMENT

Prof. Krasovec says students have to be equipped with more than platitudes.

“I worked on Uncle Ben’s in the 80s. Even then the name was in question. We took it off. We put it back on. As a young designer I was naïve but it made me uncomfortable. Brand managers were reluctant about changing. Now I agree it’s definitely derogatory. It’s alluding to plantations and an acceptance of slavery. Back then it was considered brilliant branding, but it’s shameful that they’re still around” she says.

“To train students to be sensitive to stereotypes, I have used that and other brands as examples. I worked on the Mars Inc. brand Suzi Wan. It was not considered racially insensitive by brand managers.” Yet Suzi Wan was based of the name of a 1957 novel Suzie Wong, a Hong King prostitute.

From Women’s Day

Diversity in corporations matter says Prof. Kraovec. “I remember using a pattern from Asian-Indian symbolism meaning infinity, but with no attention to a small inner piece resembling a swastika. A print run had been completed when a manager called and asked if we realized what the pattern looked like. The package was pulled and redesigned. These experiences made me more culturally aware about developing brand identities” says Krasovec.

“The future will not have these degrading references so easily available” says Prof. Kince,“but that’s a start, not the final goal.”

It’s important to address these issues “without sugarcoating” says Prof. Kince. “The various ways bias is used in society should become an active part of the classroom conversation and curriculum.”

After all, biases makes the economy less efficient and thus makes everyone poorer.

“We have a wide range of students of different backgrounds and experiences. To teach as if there’s one experience or expectation may not serve the student body as well as it once might have. For instance, when I was a student, our designs were focused on White Anglo-Saxon Protestant tastes” says Prof. Kince.

From midcenturymenu.com

“We need to practice what we preach” says Prof. Romero. “Whatever we say we are, or are not, how does that translate in our pedagogy, curriculum and faculty? We need to continually evaluate our course work. Are topics of race, class, and gender infused in the subjects we teach, not only in terms of history and context, but in terms of reaching audiences such as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+. And we need to diversify our guest lecturers and faculty.”

Prof. Romero favors “creating learning spaces that include student voices and experiences. Have students participate in projects where they’ll create solutions to real-life problems. For example, in AMC, we might develop anti-racist campaigns and propose solutions for businesses.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Says Prof. Krasovec, “Our students come from all over the world. They come with their own cultural biases and are sensitive to these issues. The challenge is to make those needed discussions comfortable.”

She remains cautious about industry. “I don’t think brands are doing enough. They’re just saying they are. The pandemic and global climate change have put a lot on their plate – new package safety and sustainability issues will continue to push innovation. Tackling systemic racism will force a new dialogue on the ‘why’ of  brands and what they mean. All are within our ability to teach.”

“The future will not have these degrading references so easily available” says Professor Kince, “but that’s a start, not the final goal.”

 

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Seeing Stars with Emmanuel Agwam

“The stars and big smiles around Black figures in my portraits tell the viewer that this is a person who deserves to be present and that the person deserves to ‘shine.'” – Emmanuel Agwam, Illustration (‘22).

“Outside When I’m Not Supposed To,” by Emmanuel Agwam

The smiles, stars and bright symbols in Emmanuel Agwam’s portraits express “a positive perspective on Black people and Black experience. Most people consider that a celebration” says Agwam. “I consider it a demand, that Black people be represented in a positive light.”

Agwam’s work has gained notice this year from both his professors and peers. In early 2020 he was featured in “Royal State of Mind,” a platform for young Black creatives, and was interviewed by “20XX Magazine.”

Illustration Professor James Hoston suggests that Agwam’s imagery is laden with meaning, from his use of color to “signify a present state of mind” to his contribution to a “positive vernacular” that was once negative in minstrel shows mainly during Jim Crow.

“Black Dollar,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Agwam’s affection for his subjects is clear.

“Everything and everyone I paint right now involves these characters that I have love for. Sometimes the people in the work are friends, family, past lovers. Sometimes they are people that don’t exist. Most of the time, I will simplify the characters and add things so my friends and family won’t know it’s them,” says Agwam.

“I Fell but I’m Smiling Now,” by Emanuel Agwam

“I am struck by the smiles of his subjects” says Professor Hoston. “I think of Chester Cat in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ The smile is crafted in a similar angle and with extra teeth showing as a flat aspect across the face. It’s seen as a mischievous grin.”

Agwam studied Illustration Rendering Techniques with Prof. Hoston. “Emmanuel has a great color sense in his painting. He embellishes to his own tastes. He has a natural talent for painting.”

“Star Crossed Lovers,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Fine Art, says Agwam, is now his career goal.

“Until last year all I knew was that I wanted to make a living from my artwork. But I’ve outgrown the mentality of putting money over creative satisfaction,” he says.

His works’ prominent use of rendered textures, and in creating a narrative with each piece, comes from illustration, he says. But his choice of subject matter comes from fine art.

“Star Born From the Bricks,” by Emmanuel Agwam

“Everything and everyone I paint right now involves these characters that I have love for. Sometimes the people in the work are friends, family, past lovers. Sometimes the subjects in the work are people that don’t exist at all. Most of the time, I will simplify the characters and add things to them so my friends and family won’t know it’s them,” says Agwam.

“Smiling,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Aguam says he is at a crossroads as a fine arts artist who practices illustration.

“In my alone-time I study fine art, but while in school I study illustration. I take from both. I’ve noticed that fine art and illustration are not really two separate entities. Many painters use elements of both in their work just as I do.”

Agwam’s current influences are a mix of Black contemporary artists such as Naudline Pierre, Jennifer Packer, Devin B. Johnson, and Geneva Ellis, and classical artists Johannes Vermeer and Francisco Goya.

“Cry if you need to I got you baby,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Prof. Hoston references connections he sees in Agwam’s work:  The “appropriated” art and sculptures of Betye Saar, whose work was recently on exhibit at MoMA, and the black commical minstrel movement in vaudeville during the eras of Jim Crow and slavery from 1840’s till 1870’s:

“Emmanuel has captured an expression used in the past, as a negative, but has instigated that same expression, into a positive vernacular for his paintings” says Prof. Hoston.

“Depending on your age and history within the United States, his paintings can teach you something about his struggle. The use of dark tones for the figures and bright colors to muted colors, in the background, isn’t something new. I feel he wants to signify his state of mind, in the present tense.”

“Boxing,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Agwam laments not being able to see more art exhibits during COVID-19 and says he’d like to see more museums fulfill their educational missions.

“It upsets me that galleries have the ability to do online walk-in exhibitions but often choose not to.  There are disabled people and people like me who live far from these galleries that, even pre-COVID, wouldn’t be able to view works in-person.”

Agwam finds ideas through conversations, literature, and recently movies.

“Movies have opened a plethora of new subjects and ideas to explore. Those experiences raise questions, sometimes a multitude of questions that I ask myself. Then I answer those questions in the painting.”

“The Lamb and it’s conscious,” by Emmanuel Agwam
“Grossly simplified my life goes like this,” he says:
  • I eat cereal, watch anime or I’ll sit on the bed and think.
  • I begin preliminary sketches of the painting and find references if needed. The thumbnails get developed and redrawn as a final layout of the work.
  • I paint the work, sometimes I’ll leave the work for days to weeks and come back to it, sometimes I don’t.
“Look Up,” by Emmanuel Agwam

Agwam does not consider his art political. “Black lives are not a political subject to me, but anyone is open to feeling that way — though I will kindly and swiftly disagree!”

Black Lives Matter is not just a movement, says Agwam. “It’s survival. It’s a reality that I’ve lived with since I was a child. It’s not anything new. The difference from 10 years ago is that it’s being shared on a gargantuan scale. People who have turned a blind eye or who have been ignorant to the issues, are now able to see what’s been going on.”

The greater “turmoil and rage” right now is necessary, says Agwam. It could change artwork and opportunities for Black artists.

Emmanuel Agwam posing with skateboard illustrated with smiles.  Photo: John Gutierrez

“I like the direction in which Emmanuel is heading with his paintings,” says Prof. Hoston. “I believe he can have a great future while exercising his freedom to comment on today’s issues.”

Follow Emmanuel’s work on Instagram @obi.agwam. Sales from his artwork from his webstite otmnyc.com benefit Black-owned businesJases.

To see prior post of Prof. James Hoston go to: “Robeson is Othello in Prof. Hoston’s 100th anniversary graduation tribute.”

All images used with permission.

 

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Art for a Sheltered-in-Place World

At a time when at best it is just getting safe for most museums to admit live visitors, consider “The Gates,” the massive Christo-Jeanne-Claude installation in Central Park, in February 2005. There were 7,500 orange saffron arches along 27 miles of park pathways… room for at least 24,000 visitors at a time, six feet apart!

“The Gates” in Central Park in 2005. Photo: Max Hilaire

Christo Javachevff and his wife Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon were famous for large, ephemeral installations, which live on both in our minds and in curious ways. Many were among the largest artistic installations built since the age of the pharaohs.

“Their artwork made a huge impression on me at an early age,” says Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette. “Their installations got a lot of attention in the 1970s when I first became aware of contemporary art and artists. The proposals were playful and yet monumental, like the one to wrap the Sylvette sculpture by Picasso in the NYU faculty housing on Houston Street, or the actual wrapping of the arch in Washington Square.”

Most Christo-Jeanne-Claude projects followed that long and winding path to approval. “The Gates” was conceived in 1979, but took over a quarter-century to achieve.

Puts the months of COVID-19 isolation in perspective, doesn’t it? These times will pass.

“The Gates” in Central Park, 2005. Photo: Max Hilaire

From FIT’s academic perspective, think of the skills required:

  • Artistic genius. Check!
  • Facilities and exposition planning. Check!
  • Publicity and fundraising. Check!
  • Fabrication and sustainability. Check!

And of course, photography. Check again!

Photography Professor Max Hilaire, whose photos are shown here, said following the recent May 31 death of Christo “Two of the most monumental art installations I’ve greatly enjoyed are the ‘The Gates’ and the ‘Mastaba,’ in London, in July 2018.”

“The Gates” in Central Park. Photo: Max Hilaire

Hilaire reminds us that Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009 (she and Christo were born on the same day, June 13,1935), “had the affinity to bring joy and beauty to an audience and create indelible memories.”

But, he said, he must “underline the fact that Jeanne-Claude was undeniably the driving force behind Christo’s success. She deserves a significant portion of his reputation for being the front person who had been key at bringing his projects to fruition.”

As a young feminist, Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette noticed that “originally, just Christo himself was credited as the artist. That began to change in the 1980s. The artwork began to be referred to as being by ‘Christo and Jean-Claude.’ That Jean-Claude had not been given credit as a collaborator for years was tremendously disheartening to me as a young woman artist. That she finally was being acknowledged was a relief, but seemed long overdue.”

“The Gates” in Central Park. Photo: Max Hilaire

On that sunny winter Sunday in New York City 15 years ago, the buzz about the Gates project, “proved to be a revelation to the great height of the human spirit,” Hilaire said.

The saffron fabric gates whispered in the wind while displaying their translucency in the sun. The gates snaked through the superficies of the whole park with a crowd determined to walk the whole distance,” said Hiliare.

Hilaire recalled the “Mastaba” at the Serpentine in London as well: “The birth of the idea for “Mastaba” dates back to 1958 and materialized in 2017 to 2018.”

“The Mastaba” at the Serpentine in London, 2017-2018. Photo: Max Hiliaire

Mastaba, an Egyptian word, refers to a pyramid tomb with a flat top. The planned original setting was Lake Michigan but the negotiations for that location fell through.

The visual impact of a colorful semi-pyramid in a lake translates best in films and aerial photography, Hilaire says:

“At 492 feet high, 984 feet wide, 738 feet deep, it makes its presence felt. It required 410,000 oil barrels, painted in different colors inside and out and arranged to create a pointillistic effect at a distance. The sketches and drawings for that project stressed every detail and the joint effort for the achievement of such a masterpiece.”

“The Mastaba,” at the Serpentine in London, 2017-2018.  Photo: Max Hilaire

“There were factors aside from the artwork that were notable to me as a young artist. Christo and Jean-Claude created numerous project proposals — often using a combination of collaged photos and drawings — and sold those to finance their proposed projects. The drawings-collages were explanatory and cool looking; the strategy itself was impressive: making artwork, about the artwork, to fund the artwork.” – Julia Jacquette, Chair of Fine Arts and author of the graphic memoir “Playground of My Mind.” 

(Detail) “The Mastaba,” at the Serpentine in London, 2017-2018.  Photo: Max Hilaire

Hilaire noted that Christo was an optimist and never concerned himself with the ephemeral aspects of his projects. When asked about the monumental aspect of his art he replied: “they are not as huge as a bridge or a skyscraper.”

One might imagine that Christo and Jean-Claude had studied everything that FIT has to offer. Their skill sets include Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design; Photography; Fine Arts, Fabrication; Marketing and Public Relations.

The granting of access, engineering, labor and cost … remain the most time-consuming hurdles to deal with. His tenacity combined with his wife’s determination formed an immeasurable creative force. Every component used in every project was sold or recycled.

“The Mastaba,” at the Serpentine in London, 2017-2018.  Photo: Max Hilaire

“Christo’s success shines in his effort to make us experience something entirely new, beautiful and unforgettable,” says Hilaire speaking of Christo’s passing.

To see more work by professors Max Hilaire and Chair Julia Jaquette go to: MaxHilaire.com and JuliaJacquette.net.

All photos courtsey of Prof. Max Hilaire.

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The Image-Makers: Documenting Protests

By now, we’re no strangers to photos and videos of police escalating confrontations with demonstrators and the killing of individuals in custody. Such visceral imagery has been captured for decades: “What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and the bigotry, by showing the people who suffered most under it,” said photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks in 1983.

Photo: Maiya Wright

What’s newer is the immediacy between the act and distribution of the images, and the new dangers to the image-capturers. Police have attacked more than 100 credentialed press photographers, reporters, and video camera operators in just the last weekend of May, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But the immediacy of image distribution also can magnify the outcry and in turn, the response to it. Four police officers in Minneapolis were fired on the same day George Floyd was killed.

“It’s shocking today how quickly images and videos can be transmitted via Instagram and other social media outlets,” says Photography Chair Brad Paris. “Politicians are expected to respond in real time to interactions between police and protesters. Hopefully, the new media landscape will lead to increased accountability.”

Photo: Alex Golshani

Photography senior Maiya Wright and alumnus Alex Golshani have been capturing images at recent protests in New York City. They talked to us about how photography has helped propel the protests, about the emotions and experiences shared among the protesters, and how that gets translated, and sometimes mistranslated, to the public.

Photo: Maiya Wright

Q. What were the expressions such as pain, anger and frustration that you were observing as photographers?

Maiya Wright: As a photographer and a black woman at times it became overwhelming and painful being in a crowd full of rightfully angry people. I witnessed a protester stating to an officer: “What are you going to do, shoot us?” while the officer stood  there looking down on us and grinning and laughing. Sometimes I needed to put my camera down and just breathe, but I knew I had to keep photographing because otherwise who was going to believe any of this happened?

Alex Golshani: There were a lot of emotions being expressed, a lot of people giving monologues of their experiences and the pain they feel. It’s striking to listen to someone’s account of their run-ins with police and how it has hurt them, and experiences of police brutality. There’s a combination of fear and resignation about society’s silence.

Photo: Alex Golshani

“It’s so important to have photographers and videographers documenting these protests. Maiya and Alex are working in the great tradition of photographers like Danny Lyon, whose photographs of the Civil Rights Movement brought images of marchers and their conflicts with the authorities to the rest of the country.” – Brad Paris, Chair, Photography

Photo: Alex Golshani

Q: Images can be a convincing record that moves rapidly through media channels. How does the process advance or alter the discussion and reaction?

Alex Golshani: I came across a woman (above) lying on the pavement. The cops were saying she had a seizure. Other people were saying she was pushed by a cop and her head hit the ground and she became unresponsive. People sent footage of her sharing her story from her hospital bed, as well as video of the cops pushing her.

Maiya Wright: It finally shines a light on what we have to face in society. It is legitimate proof that these are things that happen to black people on a daily basis.

Photo: Maiya Wright

Q: Is that enough?

Maiya Wright: No; there are people who will try to justify the images as something other than what was actually captured. When a form of racism and violence is caught clearly on camera, it is the job of the viewer to decide whether to ignore it or not.

Photo: Alex Golshani

“It’s shocking today how quickly images and videos can be transmitted via Instagram and other social media outlets,” says Photography Chair Brad Paris. “Politicians are expected to respond in real time to interactions between police and protesters. Hopefully, the new media landscape will lead to increased accountability.”

Q: What were the protesters’ messages and demands, and how are they being expressed?

Alex Golshani: The messaging is very clear, the demonstrators want reform within police departments across America. They want police officers who break protocol in their conduct with people — whether they’ve allegedly committed a crime or not — to be professional and not brutal. You hear a lot of  “We just want you to stop killing us.”

Photo: Alex Golshani

Maiya Wright: At the Barclays Center on May 29th, an officer began talking through a loudspeaker saying that, “This assembly is unlawful. If you do not disperse, you will be subject to arrest.” This was after they began pepper spraying the crowd, beating people and arresting people for peacefully protesting.

Q. What were you capturing that might not otherwise come across or even published in a news story?

Alex Golshani: There is a lot of debate about the role of photography and video at protests because of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri; the photographs and video footage that the press published was used by police and private thugs to hunt down protesters and carry out violent acts against them. Video in particular is important because it can show a sequence of events. Yet people covering these protests have to be sure that what they’re capturing and what is being published cannot be used to harm peaceful protesters.

Photo: Maiya Wright

Maiya Wright: The focus in news stories is mainly on the violence that occurs and rarely on what the healthcare people are doing to help the people who have been pepper-sprayed or beat up. They are an important part of the story that is not being shown! You have to be observant about every little thing that occurs, the good and the bad, to get the correct story into the media.

Photo: Maiya Wright

Q: What, if anything, defines these protests as specific to NYC?

Alex Golshani: Protests in New York are different. If the city’s police department were a military force, it would have about the 25th largest military budget in the world. Also, the scenes are iconic, in locations that people are used to seeing. That has a visual impact. A protest in Times Square or Union Square strikes an extra visual chord.

Photo: Alex Golshani

(Golshani, con’t) The police are being fairly facilitating up to a point. I have witnessesed, however, police being wrongfully agressive such as shoving protesters when it didn’t seem at all necessary. They’ve mainly stepped in to prevent looting and violence. The main message is peace and change.

Photo: Maiya Wright

Q. How might this experience impact your direction as a photography student?

Maiya Wright: I have become fascinated and inspired by documentary photography. This semester I took Intro to Journalism and fell in love with it. With the protests across the world, it is important to me to photograph the truth. It is important to get photographic proof of exactly what is happening. We have to be seen.

To follow the work of Maiya and Alex, visit their websites and IG accounts at: MaiyaWright,  IG: @maiyaimani, and AlexGolshani, IG: @alexgolshani

Photos used with permission

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Jasmine Garoosi: compassion, art and social distancing

Since her college experience was dramatically altered by COVID-19, two things have been brought into greater focus for Photography major Jasmine Garoosi: her mother and her photography. To help her mother by day, means having to hone her craft by night.

Night time series by Jasmine Garoosi

“My mom is working full time as a guidance counselor but she has so many added responsiblities now and so many meetings that she is working non-stop. We are really close so it is hard to see her stressed out” says Garoosi who just completed her AAS and will be working toward her BFA this fall.

“Parents always try to lessen stress for their children. It was important for me to do the same for her. I have been cooking her meals and cleaning. To stay out of her way I started shooting at night after she goes to sleep.

Garoosi’s night photography both for self-exploration and class work, often focues on self-portraits.

Night time series by Jasmine Galoosi

“I would define Jasmine as an artist who uses photography to create. She’s an old soul in that she responds to film. She’s been processing it, exploring it, making mistakes and embracing them, doing research. She’s 19-years-old and curious and always trying to do something different. She’s using books, videos and personal experiences.” – Photography Professor Curtis Willocks 

Night time series by Jasmine Garoosi

“My goal is to shoot the human body and not have it be seen as sexual,” says Garoosi. “I grew up with Middle Eastern culture and saw how men perceive women as sexual no matter what they’re wearing. I wanted to document the body as a form, not in the context of sexuality.”

Garossi began learning to shoot film at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park, NY. It’s now very much her passion. But with the campus closed, she hasn’t able to process or print her work.

Night time series by Jasmine GaroosiShe’s resorted partially to digital. “To produce work I like I am experimenting with overexposing, high ISOs and shooting out of focus,” she says.  Black and white also suited her work . “The images have a more dream like quality. There’s a tendency to associate color with reality.”

Says Prof. Willocks “Photography is not something you do. It’s something you are. That’s how I see Jasmine.”

Night time series by Jasmine Jaroosi

Garoosi makes dinner for her mother most evenings.  Being of Iranian, Chinese and Colombian background her repertoire of dishes is eclectic:

“I experiment with different types of food, so one day I might make Chinese rice porridge and the next penne pomodoro.”

Night time series by Jasmine Garoosi

When her mom retires to bed she plays meditation music before falling asleep. Garoosi then departs for the backyard and works until 1 am on her images.

The lighting from the house and street are not as ideal as the controlled studio lighting, but Garoosi has found a way to shape the light to her esthetic with her physical form.

By Jasmine Garoosi

“This is the first time, people of my generation are on their own in a changed world. It’s important that we explore and experiment,” she says.

See more of Jasmine Garoosi work at JasmineGaroosi.com and follow her on Instagram:  @JasmineGaroosi

All images used with permission.

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Prescient Design for What a Pandemic Evokes

“Washing hands and disinfecting groceries are vital right now,” says Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design student Alvina Alex, ’20. “Wiping doorknobs and surfaces has become an important task. But what happens when all the disinfecting products are missing from the shelves? Dr. Bronner’s to the rescue.”

Alex is reflecting back on the Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Liquid Soap 3D window display that she created for her Product Presentation class.

Alvina Alex’s Dr. Bronner’s 3D display

Soap has renewed importance right now. There’s no reason not to pay some homage to it, especially when good design is at work!

Alex’s homespun graphics on the product label served as an eye-catching proscenium and naturally dried slices of citrus emphasized the organic ingredients.

“I shaped the bathtub by heating a small sheet of Sintra, and purchased two mini tile squares for the floor. The foaming bubbles are miniature opalescent ornaments and a touch of hot glue!” she says.

Alvina Alex’s Dr. Bronner’s 3D display

“Three-dimensional skills are the heart of what we do as designers,” says VPED professor Anne Kong.

“Physical prototyping unveils every phase of the design process for our students. Connecting branding to materiality, while fabricating and sourcing provides students with a 360 degree design experience. They see their ideas transform from sketches into 3D displays. Great work, Alvina!”

The project was on exhibt last year, as part of a series, in the display cases located on the third-floor hallway between the Pomerantz and Feldmen buidings.

Because of the pandemic, Alex has since had to make some abrupt changes in order to work on projects from home.

“I had to create my own work space. That’s hard when your family has a tendency to interrupt when you’re in class, and expects you to do chores when homework needs to be done!” Alex was able to maneuver through these obstacles and now says “I appreciate how much more time I have for perfecting my work and assignments.”

For her senior capstone project, she is currently working on a virtual exhibit “Life in their shoes: The Migrant Experience.” She aims to bring awareness of the living conditions in immigration detention centers in Texas.  “We all want the same thing, a safe life for our families,” she says.

Segment of Alvina Alex’s VPED capstone project

Shown on display are the items migrants carry on their journey, such as medicine, clothing and a second pair of shoes. There are descriptions of the locations they came from and what they left behind. In a display case are a pair of upside-down shoes with worn soles that indicate the traveler’s exhausting journey. Above each image is a projection of each migrant’s course that include the varied terrain of hills, rivers and deserts.

Upon graduation, Alex hopes to work for a firm designing museums and exhibitions. “Designing for a cause is a passion for me” she says.

Images used with permission.

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Car Seats and Eveningwear: The World of Detroit’s Ashley Harris

After combining an FIT AAS degree in fashion design with a BS from Western Michigan University in fashion apparel design, a minor in general business, and her innate design sense, Ashley Harris is on her way … in Detroit. She’s a product engineer at Magna International, designing car seat upholstery, while running her own up-and-coming design house. Harris has been working on her own label in addition to a full-time job for nearly seven years.

Ashley Harris design

Harris says she wouldn’t trade her “experiences in New York for the world. FIT taught me so many valuable skills in textiles and materials, draping, patterning, and even creating tech packs and bills of material that I use today.”

She makes this career path sound logical in every way. “While designer labels hold their status in Detroit, there’s an authenticity that surpasses trends here. In Detroit, you can dress a certain way for 20 years and it will still be cool as long as it’s a representation of who you are” she says.

“A new generation is planting its roots here,” says Harris.

Ashley Harris design

Like New York, Detroit is also eclectic, says Harris. “Many venture off before making their way back. I spent a few years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Among the shiny new stores and buildings, we still have that raw Detroit edge. There is so much history and culture here, around which that newness is being built. The new is not replacing the old. It is a cool evolution to watch.”

Ashley Harris design

Dean Troy Richards of the School of Art and Design recalls “the people of Detroit being remarkable for their grit and determination” during his time there as a graduate student at Cranbrook Art Academy.

“Even when the Motor City was only in the early stages of turning around its economy, there was an optimism and energy that empowered the creative community,” says Dean Richards.

“Ashley Harris clearly possesses that same positive force and is using it to contribute to the growing fashion industry of Detroit. We are lucky to count her as an alum of FIT”  – Dean Troy Richards

Ashley Harris design

For Harris building her name in a rapidly changing Detroit has been rewarding. Multiple apparel factories have opened, and more are coming in, she says.

“Although we have a small fashion industry in Detroit, the people involved are close and are working together to build it into more.”

Ashley Harris design

Harris’ client base represents Detroit’s growing diversity and economic vitality. She mostly creates originals for clients in the Detroit area now, but says she hopes to eventually manufacture small runs. She’s been specializing in cocktail dresses and eveningwear.

Ashley Harris designs

“I love being one-on-one with a client and creating something that makes her feel empowered,” says Harris.

“The women I’ve had the pleasure of designing for are from diverse backgrounds, and those cultural influences can be seen in some of my pieces. I’m proud to be able to touch the lives of so many women from my city through my designs.”

Ashley Harris design

Harris lists her fashion influences as Giambattista Valli, Alexis Mabille, Zimmerman, and Johanna Ortiz. “I love Zimmerman’s iconic romantic ruffles, pouf sleeves and mini hemlines. Johanna Ortiz’s roots from her Columbian background also inspire her work with ruffles and fluid silhouettes. Alexis Mabille and Giambattista Valli are my favorite couture artists because of their dramatic silhouettes.”

Ashley Harris Design

So what reflects good design in car seats?

Fashion Design is much like seat-trim engineering, Harris says.

“Designing a seat trim cover is actually very similar to designing apparel. I worked on a model year 2021 vehicle this past year and learned the in’s and out’s of seat development. I start by draping material on the foam pad of the seat – exactly like draping a dress on a mannequin – and then I make changes to improve fit and appearance. I also use flat-patterning techniques within seat design.”

Ashley Harris design

She notes that car seats are intricate with decorative stitching and dramatic shapes. Part of the engineering goes into how the different materials react when sewn together and how they react when the seat functions to recline or move in any other way. Another interesting part of seat design is how the trim-cover attaches to a foam pad or the structure it’s rested on.

Miss Michigan. Ashely Harris design

Some seats are really “stylish” she says. “Some manufacturers and custom car designers use quilting, ruching and pleating within their designs. Some use multicolored decorative stitching. I’ve worked on seats with specialized leather perforation patterns that make the seats look very chic.”

Ashley Harris Design
Ashley Harris Design

Harris’s time-juggling ability is a key asset. Note that minor in business on her way to her undergraduate BS degree. “I work full time at my engineering job. Time outside of that is dedicated to dress-making or a show or photo-shoot that’s in the works.”

Her dual FIT majors also help tie things together. “When I was in college, if you would have told me I’d have ‘engineer’ in my job title at 30 years old, I would have laughed. I knew I wanted to do fashion, but I wanted to do it my own way.”

Ashley Harris Design

When Harris returned to Detroit in 2013 she managed high-volume retail stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Coach and Club Monaco for four years there before landing the job in automotive seat trim design.

“Management experience, my internship for Vera Wang in NYC, my knowledge of textiles, sewing, draping and degrees set me apart from other candidates. My management roles played a huge part in being successful.”

“Ashley represents what FIT students do so well and that is creatively adapt and succeed in the world, while staying true to a personal vision,” says Dean Richards. “She has found success and satisfaction in her job in the auto industry, but continues to pursue her passion in her fashion design and that is truly inspiring” says Dean Troy Richards

Harris says that when things get challenging she reflects back on her FIT experience. “While interning I got to see how a design studio was run, how pieces were created, reviewed by teams of people, and ultimately got to attend a show at fashion week. We do the same process in seat trim and the big event is the auto show. For me, seat trim design has been equally as fulfilling as fashion design” she says.

Ashley Harris sewing masks. Her employer MAGNA, has goine all-out worlwide to make them in its factories.

“I have been given incredible opportunities in the city that has my heart” says Harris.

Follow Ashley Harris on Instagram @ashleyharrisdesign, and on Facebook: Ashley Harris Design.

Read the Detroit Free Press article about how Harris and others at Magna are using their car seat sewing skills to supply surgical face masks to the medical community.

Images used with permission.

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