Anita Szu-Yi Chen presented her graduate collection (MFA Knitwear Design) at New York Fashion Week during the Academy of Art University Spring 2017 showcase. Writer Jia Yang (MA Fashion Journalism) caught up with the designer to reflect on her Academy experience.
We are sitting in a Starbucks recalling that final walk through and curtain call. I remember Chen vividly: gray shoulder-length straight hair and deep red lipstick in an all-black outfit. I remark that, at the time, she looked unapproachable to me. She laughs and says, “My friends always say I am a case of cold hands, warm heart.” She grew up in Taiwan and studied Material Arts and Design as an undergrad. Then she worked as an assistant designer at several apparel companies in Taipei. Slowly, she came to appreciate the design process more than she ever thought plausible. “I began to ask myself, is design what I am willing to spend all my time and energy on?” An internal emphatic yes made her quit her job and enroll at the Academy. A knitwear designer must stay extremely focused to hand-make each shape, instead of cutting a pattern. Chen enjoyed the challenge and the chance to design her own textiles. “I never gave up on my dream!”
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For Chen, creative inspiration is everywhere: a fabulous painting, a beautiful melody, a good book. Sometimes the most insignificant things can become a special part of her work. The important matter is how to capture them. Playing with construction and deconstruction, she sourced her design elements from product packaging to structure the angular shapes in her thesis collection. She also crafted the reversible fabric with patterns representing opposing feelings on either side. “I was thinking about the difference between what something seems to be and what is unexpected at the beginning.”
Watching one’s design ideas take shape and turn into garments is a worthwhile process. Hard work and dedication are always rewarded. The School of Fashion has been presenting student collections during NYFW since September 2005 and being selected to show is a serious milestone for an Academy student. Chen cites time management as the most important skill in preparation for the showcase. “Until you can manage time, you can’t manage anything else.” According to Chen, the designers worked together helping each other to complete final touches during the last days before the big show. “We shared this wonderful moment together and we are all proud of it. I’ve learned many things and NYFW made me grow up quickly.”