by John Russel Jones

Last week Pratt Fashion held its 122nd annual runway show at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York. The event honored journalist Robin Givhan with the Pratt Fashion Visionary Award, and showcased innovative ready-to-wear collections from 21 graduating seniors from Pratt Institute’s Fashion Design program.

Designer Byron Lars, second from left, is Pratt’s next Jane B. Nord Professor of Fashion Design. Photo by Andrew Werner.

Pratt Institute President Frances Bronet welcomed guests to an evening that offered a “glimpse into what our future of fashion looks like,” citing an adage by the Institute’s founder, Charles Pratt: “the present life of the young is an outline of the future.” This sentiment was echoed in the announcement of Pratt Fashion’s growing faculty, with the appointment of fashion designer and 2014 Visionary Award recipient Byron Lars as the next Jane B. Nord Professor of Fashion Design, recognizing his achievements in pushing contemporary American style forward with creative, inclusive, and playful design. In addition to introducing fashion’s next guard of innovative designers and leaders, the evening celebrated the importance of fashion as communication, honoring The Washington Post critic-at-large Robin Givhan for “her thoughtful criticism, her expert eye, her unwavering celebrations of diverse voices and perspectives in fashion design.”

Robin Givhan and Teri Agins. Photo by Andrew Werner.

The award was presented by Givhan’s longtime friend and peer, Teri Agins—an author and former fashion reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who helped develop the fashion beat for the newspaper. Agins, who has known Givhan since 1992, spoke on the trajectory of the honoree’s career, from her time as Fashion Editor at the Detroit Free Press, to assuming the role of fashion critic at The Washington Post in 1995, to being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her work at the Post in 2006; becoming the first and only fashion journalist to win a Pulitzer.

Design by Justin Cavone-photo by Fernando Colon

Givhan thanked Pratt for the award, inspiring students who are about to embark on their own career paths with insights on her professional journey. “I want to accept [this honor] on behalf of all the journalists that the fashion industry welcomes into its midst, knowing that sometimes the stories will be critical, or skeptical, or tough. And I thank you for that generosity and graciousness,” said Givhan. “Fashion has never been more powerful as a form of communication. It helps people tell their stories when their voice fails them, or when society simply doesn’t want to listen to their words. Fashion helps us sort out our identity, define our power, and find our place in the world. And we all need a little bit of fashion… But we also all need to understand it. And so, to every student embarking on a career in the fashion industry, my wish for you is that you find satisfaction, joy, and meaning… And I also hope that you make the industry more inclusive, more sustainable, and that you continue to graciously welcome the journalists who would chronicle this business with fairness and sensitivity.”

Design by Aimee Schmale-photo by Fernando Colon

Before introducing the student collections, Pratt Fashion Chair and inaugural Jane B. Nord Professor of Fashion Design Jennifer Minniti thanked Givhan for continuing to write and craft pieces that inspire and challenge the Pratt Fashion community, and announced the creation of Pratt’s new Master of Fine Arts in Fashion Collection + Communication, which will launch in the fall semester of 2024. “Robin is one of the foremost fashion writers and critics of our generation and her insight into fashion as culture reflects the ethos of the Fashion Department and our new MFA program,” said Minniti. “She is an inspiring woman: her thoughtful critique and examination of politics, race and the arts will guide and inform the next generation of creative leaders in fashion practice.”

Design by Mekinsa Emi Frith-photo by Fernando Colon

Titled ASSEMBLAGE, the annual runway show showcased the next names in fashion to an audience of over 350 guests, with students each presenting collections composed of eight to 10 complete looks, including accessories. The designers who presented their collections include Camille Bavera, Cameron Bourne, Justin Cavone, Zoë Crane, Dominique Fiorino, Mekinsa Emi Firth, Shuming Gu, Kristin Guo, Jo Lu, Yichen Lu, Annie McWilliams, Phoenix Mei, Mackenzie O’Mara, Heather Ortiz, Aimee Schmale, Haozhe Wang, Mingyi Teresa Wu, Peiling Helen Wu, Yue Wu, Eden You, and Xiran Zhao.

Design by Yue Wu-photo by Fernando Colon

Said Minniti of Pratt Fashion’s graduating seniors: “This year’s class is the first to have completed the foundational years of their studio education remotely, learning how to cut patterns and sew on Zoom. Many students were half-a-globe worth of timezones away from each other, necessitating the program to develop a sense of communal flexibility, students and instructors alike. Despite these challenges, students devised techniques that push the boundaries of the textiles with which they work, such as using 3D knitting machines to create garments out of technologically-enhanced recyclable fibers, and explored sustainability as a guiding design principle, combining innovation with traditional craft methods, such as quilting. Thematically, the concerns of their generation reverberate poignantly in their work—besides using clothing as a medium to interrogate the tension between perpetuating a material culture and caring for the planet, the designers parse motifs of gender nonconformity, identity, and, crucially, interpersonal connection.”

Christopher Hunte Award Winner Yichen Lu.

The event also presented senior Yichen Lu with the Christopher Hunt “On Point” Award, a $5,000 prize selected by the fashion department faculty.

Photo, top, by Andrew Werner.