On the evidence of their graduate collections, Pratt Institute’s class of 2023 had little to no interest in two of fashion’s current preoccupations: “stealth wealth” and “naked” dressing. Subtlety was generally not on their agendas; neither was minimalism, or, more surprisingly, the body. Instead, many students built clothes that surrounded the body, projecting outward from it, or falling away from it at strange angles. This deconstructivist tendency (seen in the collections of Yue Wu, Jo Lu, and Camille Bavera) is a relatable reaction to the uneasy times we’re living through. To understand this “distance dressing,” as I’m thinking of it, it’s useful to consider the unique circumstances within which this class studied.

Freshman in the fall semester of 2019, they became remote learners at the beginning of their second semester, when the COVID pandemic began. “For the following two years this class experienced a completely new model for teaching and learning: the majority of the required coursework was taught online,” noted department chairperson Jennifer Minniti in an email exchange. “Students were forced to find creative outlets in solitude—without a dynamic studio culture. I believe that the commitment of both our faculty and students, during a time of crises, resulted in a new form of freedom and strong desire for creative expression. Students created new silhouettes by using their imagination. Upon entering their senior year, completely in-person, students were able to focus on their creative vision while relearning and rediscovering craft and technique.”

The projection of garments into the space around the body suggests a need for connection as well as protection. Sculptural shapes are also tactile. If you look closely at Shuming Gu’s designs, you can see that she based them on everyday objects, including chairs and chair covers. Yichen Lu crafted volumes using painted sheets of foam.

Personal narratives continued to be the students’ main sources of inspiration. Zixin You’s experience with OCD was the starting point for a meticulously crafted, and executed, collection with school uniform vibes. Justin Cavone found the drawings his grandfather made while in military service and used them as prints. Peiling Helen Wu aimed to create beautiful, show-off clothes that took size diversity into consideration. Elsewhere, pop elements informed Heather Ortiz’s knits and nightclubbing was an influence on the strapped and logoed pieces by Mekinsa Emi Frith.

Among the more artful and experimental garments, there were glimpses of something that we’ve been seeing on the runways too, namely references to the American sportswear tradition (denim, uniform elements, etc.). For established designers this might be explained as a romanticized nostalgia for the post-war period (which is also expressed in movies like Elvis and Barbie). For the class of 2023, it might be instead a call for unity, a coming together of past and present in the service of a brighter future.

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