Fashion colleges across the country this year have canceled their senior thesis collection shows — a tradition that many graduating students weigh heavier than commencement. These longstanding shows, typically held en masse in mid-May, act as a young designer’s coming-out party to the industry — with some standout collections even leading to immediate store orders or jobs with prestigious labels.
The class of 2020 has seen this tradition upended by the coronavirus crisis. In mid-March, many students moved back to their childhood homes to complete their thesis collections and finish coursework remotely. They were left with limited materials and equipment — forcing some to alter their collections and adapt to their surroundings. For students now living at home, it remains unclear when they can resume an independent life and look for job opportunities.
WATCH: Meet Graduating Students From The New School’s Parsons School of Design
Lisa Morgan, department head for apparel design at the Rhode Island School of Design, told WWD last month that both educators and students find the current situation, “profoundly and deeply distressing. Every year you work with these students and they leave. Even though it’s a little upsetting you have completed a cycle and this year the cycle was severed very abruptly. There is a sense of loss before even completion and resolution.”
As graduates are unable to currently showcase their designs in the typical fashion, WWD extended a platform to show them off. More than 160 students combined from The New School’s Parsons School of Design, the Pratt Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology submitted video content of their thesis collections, the best of which are featured here in clips organized by school.
WATCH: Senior Collections from Students at the Pratt Institute
WATCH: The Rhode Island School of Design’s Graduating Seniors
Young designers can be particularly sensitive to the cultural headwinds that surround them — translating current events and modern ideology in wearable form. This year’s graduating class is a prime example, with many students noting that eco-conservation, upcycling, ideas of domesticity and family, mental health awareness and the concept of protective armor were key concepts in their thesis designs.
Colleges remain unsure if school can resume in the fall, but some are now making contingency plans to show the Class of 2020’s work and hold commencement ceremonies in the fall. In the meantime, smaller fashion programs are holding presentations online. Marist College, located in upstate New York, has produced a documentary about its 2020 graduating students to mark this moment in their lives.
WATCH: Inside FIT’s Class of 2020 Graduate Collections
Said Yvonne Watson, associate dean of curriculum and learning at Parsons: “It’s deeply upsetting for them and for us; what we have to bear in mind as well is that this is happening globally. This year anyone who is a 2020 graduate is deeply impacted by this…None of it is taken lightly and we are in conversation with the dean’s office of what could be possible for graduated students, whether that is some form of access to post-graduation when things have died down.”