MICA Experimental Fashion Show Offers Streetwear, Couture, Conceptual Art, and In-Between

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Earlier this month, on April 7th and 8th, the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Office of Culture and Identity hosted the school’s 29th annual Benefit Fashion Show. Established in 1994, the beloved event brings together local alumni and current students in partnership with the Black Student Union to raise money for the school’s Dr. Frankie Martin Diversity and Inclusion Grant—named for the event’s founder and MICA’s first Diversity Officer—which provides scholarships to students who create identity-based work. 

Entitled Flourish, this year’s presentation showcased the work of fifteen students representing eleven lines made by individual designers and two collaborations. Modeled by other current students and a few members of the community, the show was a mix of streetwear fashion, conceptual art, and everything in between—broadly exploring what this generation wants to nurture in the wake of the pandemic. In her opening remarks before Friday’s show, Dr. Martin, who is retired, gleefully announced that the show has “always been about the students,” passing all credit to the population that conceives of, produces, and oversees every aspect of the multidisciplinary production to benefit their peers.

Attendees of previous years’ shows would recognize the stage elements that stay consistent from year to year: top 40 hits alongside niche music providing the auditory backdrop for a truly art school blend of performance art, serious catwalking, and prerecorded designer statements shot Art21 style. Before the show began, a projection against the back wall of Falvey Hall read, “This show contains flashing/strobe lights, nudity, and strong language. Viewer Discretion is advised,” a warning and a promise of the entertainment to come.


Designers: Madi Diaz and Sarah Leiva Photo by David Neri
Designer: Echo Zhang Photo by David Neri
Designers: Katherine Luna and Maia Malakoff Photo by David Neri
Designer: Mo Green Photo by David Neri

And entertaining it was. Representing a mix of current undergraduates and recent graduates, the student-designers’ majors included fibers, sculpture, and photography. In addition to utilizing the talent of the students, assistant director Avionna Fitzhugh said in an interview before Friday’s show, “what’s been really interesting this year is how the community has shaped the experience of Flourish. Performance artist Isa Leal did a movement workshop with some designers and helped with stage performance […] and we got some music from John Tyler, a local artist.” Extending the community of the show beyond the school itself allowed students to realize a larger vision drawing upon the experience of these artist-mentors.

Director Kris Tapia shared that the idea for the theme first developed last summer when they did not have a stable housing situation. Tapia explains they were reliant on their community to help them find housing, stating, “It got me thinking about things that are grounding and also what do we need to be nurtured and what do we need to grow?” Certainly the students who modeled and made the garments on display last weekend have contemplated this question, many beginning college on Zoom, experiencing some hybrid classes, and maybe only now enjoying a full on-site college experience if they took time off during the pandemic. In the printed program and show branding the theme of flowers is evident, a point that is reiterated on the program introduction page, which asks, “What do we sow now to reap later? Who helps us tend to this burgeoning landscape?”


Designers: Madi Diaz and Sarah Leiva Photo by David Neri
Designer: Echo Zhang Photo by David Neri
Designer: Mathilde Mujanayi Photo by David Neri
Designers: Katherine Luna and Maia Malakoff Photo by David Neri

It’s safe to say that all sorts of things are growing at MICA; each designer’s collection encapsulates a unique viewpoint in 5 to 10 looks. Maia Malakoff and Kat Luna, one of two collaborative teams in this year’s show, made cocoon, a collection of pieces that are meant to make attendees contemplate the gifts of the planet that will fade and fall apart with the passage of time. Malakoff summarized their work together as a deep material research project wherein the designers “explored 20 different recipes with bioplastic and bio foams. Our biggest hurdle [was] our bio yarn which we’ve spent probably 60 hours trying to develop,” she explained in an interview before Friday’s show. Their collection also includes a fruit leather poncho and bag. 

In his prerecorded designer interview Jantzen Nolan got an audience-wide chuckle when he introduced the pieces of This Collection Cost $0 to Make by saying “this collection has been exclusively made of things that have been found, borrowed or stolen,” a fact you might not guess when observing his craft-inspired, tailored collection of vintage silhouettes composed of natural and synthetic materials which his models slowly paraded across the stage. Designer Mo Green’s Rodeo got raucous appreciation on Friday night as their models proceeded to dance enthusiastically in unison for the duration of their roughly seven minute showcase. Green’s collection, a celebration of the excellence of the Black Rodeo combines the expected hats and boots of that pastime with fake fur, bare midriffs, and extremely long fringe to great effect.


Designer: Belle Sargent Photo by David Neri
Designer: Echo Zhang Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Donovan Kramer Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Donovan Kramer Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designers: Katherine Luna and Maia Malakoff Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Ruth Huang Photo by David Neri

Included in the collections exhibited after intermission, designer Ruth Huang’s work SHEƎI collection is a play on elongating and enlarging the human body in yard and fabric. Huang said in an interview, “I started by researching [the Han tradition of foot binding], because to me, I didn’t understand why anyone would do body modification for beauty. [But I learned] there’s a lot more nuance in garments and accessories: they do not just restrict people. It is a way for people to empower themselves [through their aesthetic choices].” She sees her collection as an opportunity to increase the diversity of what is considered beautiful or flattering.

Considering the lasting impact they want Flourish to have, ​Tapia concludes, “I really want to platform other people. There are so many steps it takes to be at a point where you can safely create something. Still coming out of the pandemic years and everything that is happening at MICA right now, [the show is] a consideration of what we can do to make the future better and also envision something better for everyone that comes after us. Maybe we don’t exactly see the benefits of it now, but the people in the future will. And I think that’s just as important.”


Designers Include:
Sarah Leiva @sarahlleiva
Madi Diaz @easytolovve
Belle Sargent
Caelan McCollum @caelan_grace_mccollum
Paige Esposito @paigespo
Ruth Huang @winteryruth
Mo Green
Solli Kim @solli0_3
Jantzen Nolan @jantzenolan
Donovan Kramer @donovanoclay
Maia Malakoff @maiamalakoff
Katherine Luna @lunakathey
Mathilde Mujanayi @mujanayiismyname
Echo zhang @zao.zzz
Evan Cloeren

Photography by David Neri @david_neri and Miracle Kendall

Designer: Mo Green Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Paige Esposito Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Mathilde Mujanayi Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Mathilde Mujanayi Photo by Miracle Kendall
Designer: Mathilde Mujanayi Photo by David Neri
Designer: Mathilde Mujanayi Photo by David Neri
Designers: Madi Diaz and Sarah Leiva Photo by David Neri
Designer: Evan Cloeren Photo by David Neri

Header Image: Designer: Belle Sargent, Photo by David Neri

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