Wearable artwork created by RIT students took to the runway for Rochester Fashion Week on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2018. By applying what they have learned in class, students in the Metals and Jewelry Design major created visual statements ready for the grand stage.

Leading the Charge

 Photo by Debmalya Ray Choudhuri

Leonard Urso, a professor for both the undergraduate and graduate-level Metals and Jewelry design program, worked to incorporate Fashion Week into the program.

“I was asked if I wanted to participate with my students, and of course I agreed,” said Urso.

Knowing it would be an opportunity for his students to challenge themselves and truly push their creative limits, Urso turned Fashion Week into an assignment. However, this project was more complicated than turning in a completed piece. Urso explained how the Fashion Week assignment is an experience. The students experienced what it was like to work in the fashion world by having to choose music, a model, and choreograph a runway presentation.

“Every year since we started, we have been asked to step it up and [we] are one of the most well attended shows,” said Urso.

The program has done so well in previous years that this year Nancy Munson, wife of RIT President David C. Munson, walked in the show.

"I view it as a performance on the stage, I want to make a story."

Students to Fashion Designers

Photo by Catherine Rafferty

Different students displayed different themes and concepts, creating an environment where they challenged each other to push their creativity further.  

Brett Baker, a fourth year Metal and Jewelry Design major, viewed Fashion Week as more than just a fashion show.

“Inspiration for this context with having it on a runway, it is basically a performance. It is a lot different than if you were to see a ready-to-wear fashion show,” said Baker.

Baker in the past has drawn inspiration from things that he would consider wearing, but usually do not fit the aesthetic that he would wear on his own.

“I like a lot of 'out there' pieces, that don’t communicate a direction of fashion,” said Baker, further explaining how his creations are inspired by elegance and class of runway collections.

Other students such as Shelly Xuelei, a second year graduate student in the Metals and Jewelry Design program, finds inspiration in unique areas. Xuelei’s work from last year reinforced the use of non-metal materials.

“I was inspired by the mushroom, and the mushroom's texture,” said Xuelei.

By manipulating fabric, she was able to create a unique experience with her piece. This year, Xuelei drew inspiration from the world of fairy tales.

Students also approached the assignment with different priorities in mind. Nat Yuan, a second year graduate student in the program focused on the performative aspects.

“I view it as a performance on the stage, I want to make a story.”

Telling a story or conveying a message is what drives students like Yuan’s work. Seeing the assignment as a holistic view — a performance — takes the assignment to a new level in which the students need to consider more than just how a piece looks.

Other students' work showcased high fashion concepts, medieval perspectives and simple but complex artwork.

Urso explained how he specifically does not choose a theme for his students, in order to promote collaboration and exploration. Knowing that he would most likely choose a theme that he wanted to pursue, he instead put his students first, allowing them to experiment with what they find interesting in order to create a piece that presents a visual statement all their own.

Program and the Project

The Fashion Week assignment requires students to take everything into account. The way the pieces move and fit to the body, the song playing as the model walks down the runway, how the piece looks in the lighting and how the performance pans out are all in the hands of the students.

“We sat down for an hour ... listening [to] and picking songs,” said Baker.

Choosing a song is more than just finding a beat to walk to. A song can change how a piece feels to be worn and seen. In order to create the vision that students have in mind, they sift through song after song until they find the one that correlates to their desired feeling.

More Than it Seems

Urso also mentioned how the arts at RIT are gaining more of a role in the perception of the university. With programs as specialized as this, students are truly immersed in their interested field and gain incredible opportunities.

“There is more to the program than just an art program,” said Urso.

Incorporating Rochester Fashion Week as an assignment is something that sets the program apart from those offered at other schools. Baker said that the assignment forces them to become better and better at their craft.

“The team as a whole brings different things to the table,” said Baker.

Having to create a piece to walk down a runway opens up a new way of thinking for students. Each member of the team has different experiences with fashion and in life, and this creates a unique work environment where students are challenged to broaden each other’s horizons.

Spreading the Word

The arts programs at RIT have been recognized for the talented students and professors that it hosts. Fashion Week is a way for them to showcase their skills for a large audience; however, some of the RIT population is not even aware that Rochester has a Fashion Week event. In order to spread awareness and gain publicity during the first two weeks of November, the pieces that students created for Fashion Week will be on display in the NTID Gallery.

The work of the students in the program deserves to be seen, said Urso. Having a space to showcase work done by students is important in that it shows the students that their work is worthy of recognition. 

“As artists do, we want to tell our story to people,” said Urso. He hopes that RIT will continue to further support and push the arts forward, both for the benefit of the community and the benefit of the artists themselves.