A multi-colored pastel backdrop made of strips of fabric behind nine models wearing clothing in a similar palette
Models Omani Cross, Noxteli, Regina Rodriguez, El Wettig, Soi Sauce, Micah Sweezie, Francis Carter, Lex Wooley, and Casey Knepley wear Knepley’s designs on a set also designed by Knepley. Credit: Sarah Gaglione

The long-awaited School of the Art Institute of Chicago fashion show was back in May after a two-year hiatus brought on by COVID-19. In the previous pandemic years students presented their work in beautiful highly-produced videos, but nothing substitutes the experience of seeing their garments IRL—especially so up close and personal. And this year’s show at the Chicago Athletic Association, with a particularly diverse slew of models, did not disappoint. Though each senior student presented their own collection—comprising eight head-to-toe looks—an overall theme of the show seemed to be “No Labels,” or better yet, “Labels? Who cares?” Many of the lines were blurred, which added to the impressive sophistication presented by the young designers. 

According to SAIC associate professor Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, who co-taught this year’s fashion design seniors along with adjunct assistant professor Yoshiko Fredisdorf, most students “almost dispensed with categories altogether.” Glaum-Lathbury points out: “Historically, in some ways, fashion is simultaneously about rules and then breaking those rules and subverting them. You used to see collections of evening wear, and that had a certain definition to it. Evening wear was for women, and it was understood that women were cisgender, probably heterosexual. There were all of these different assumptions that I think were being made. Our students now are just not interested in these categories. It’s not even that they’re fighting against it, because to fight against something is to, in a way, accept the terms of the argument. All these other categories are like a dead language for a lot of students, which I think is beautiful.”

So instead of outdated classifications, seniors focused on themes they truly cared about. Casey Knepley, for example, based her “What We Have” collection on the 1970s novel The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions by Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta. Knepley says that “the book speaks on queer survival through collective resourcefulness, community, and love.” She adds that “the belief that beauty and glamour can be made simply using what I have to work with was core to this project, leading to every piece in this collection being created with affordable, secondhand materials sourced around Chicago. Every look was made specifically for and in collaboration with each model, all members of the local queer community and arts scene that I met during my time in this city. Providing tailored clothes for each individual was like making love letters for each of them.” 

Micah Sweezie in Casey Knepley’s designs Credit: Sarah Gaglione

Knepley’s collection was festive yet gentle, featuring earthy and pastel tones on a wide array of body types. Other highlights of the show were the designs presented by Iyomi Ho Ken and Andrew Bohlin. Ho Ken’s collection explored the development of her own emotional world, showcasing garments that change color over time in progressively revealing silhouettes. Alluding to a broader kind of evolution, Bohlin’s creations—inspired by the Ediacaran and Paleogene periods—tell the story of life on Earth, with fascinatingly complex shapes and prints. The fact that Bohlin does every single step of their work all by themself makes it even more impressive. 

Two models wearing dresses
Sabriah Abdul-Wahid and Iyomi Ho Ken in Ken’s designs Credit: Gracie Hammond

“At SAIC a lot of the work that we make is really experimental,” says Glaum-Lathbury. “A lot of what we’re doing is teaching people how to think creatively, to have confidence in their own research and their own ideas. When you look at the collections and the runway show, each one couldn’t be more different than the next—there’s just not the accidental trend overlap. All of the collections really take radically different forms, which is not so much about distinguishing yourself amongst your peers, but about focusing on individual research and investment. 

A person in an immersive suit with gills and a helmet-like head covering
Andrew Bohlin in his own garments Credit: Andrew Bohlin

“The question is: how do you communicate ideas and what is it that you’re trying to communicate? It’s a very intense and complete process and I could not be more proud of this class,” she says. Not surprisingly, the pandemic made their arduous job even more challenging. “It was really hard for these students,” she adds. “This whole class spent the majority of their education in either online or some hybrid form of learning. And [fashion design] is a haptic skill—it is about touch and craft, which is hard to do online. So one more reason to give them credit.”

Casey Knepley
caseexe.com and instagram.com/casedotexe
Iyomi Ho Ken
iyomi.co and instagram.com/iyomi.co
Andrew Bohlin


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