A pair of Philadelphia University fashion students opened the Designers’ Premier show at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 11 with their stunning work. Seniors Maria Balestino and Ashlee Bowers, whom both collaborated with textile design graduate students, showed five looks each at the Affinia Hotel.
“Most designers only dream of one day showing at NYFW, so for Maria and Ashlee to get this opportunity so early in their careers is an incredible honor,” said Carly Kusy, PhilaU fashion design instructor. “It’s also a chance for them gain exposure as many industry professionals attend these events. We’re so proud of them, especially since they were the only student designers at this show.”
Armor, grisaille windows and illuminated manuscripts from medieval history inspired Balestino’s “Iron Illumination” spring/summer ready-to-wear collection.
She chose high-quality fabrics to bring sophistication and luxury to the collection, including silk organza and chiffon, metallic novelty wovens and lambskin leather, said Balestino, who worked with textile design graduate student Rachel Snack in creating a handwoven textile that became a pair of cropped pants in the collection.
“An armor-inspired bustier paired with a fluid chiffon sleeve top creates a contrasting silhouette repeated throughout the looks,” she described. “Leather meets lightweight georgette and corduroy is paired with sheer organza in other looks to bring transparency and layers to the garments.”
The colors in her collection came from a painted manuscript of mermaids, which showed blue and blush tones faded with age. She translated this image to create an ethereal palette of steel gray, blush, cream, rose gold, peach, cloudy navy and smoky blue.
Using fabric dyes, she hand-painted many of the fabrics in the collection. The painting done on the organza dress was inspired by the geometric designs from the medieval Book of Kells illuminated manuscript.
She also quilted a design inspired by armor fluting and decoration on the blush leather jacket. The geometric shapes seen in medieval stained glass windows are visible in the hand embroidery on the bodice of the laced-up dress.
The art installation “The Boscar Project” inspired Bowers’ activewear collection. “I wanted to highlight the body and create interesting negative space between clothing and skin, all while making the figure look strong and empowered,” she said. “It was important for me to design pieces that could be functional for athletic activities and have some others that had more of a fashionable, sports luxe feel to them.”
The collection featured sports bras, jackets, leggings, shorts and a bodysuit in pale grays, pinks and blues with a contrast of white, dark gray and electric yellow. Bowers used spandex, mesh, nylon ripstop and neoprene with a hint of reflective tape for the materials. One of the jackets was a blue tech fabric that she sprayed with bleach and washed to give a splatter-paint look.
She also collaborated with textile graduate student Alyssa Zebovitz to create a print featured throughout her collection. “Working with her was great,” Bowers said. “She took my inspiration and created exactly what I was looking for.”
Catherine Casano, PhilaU fashion design instructor, said seeing Balestino and Bowers craft their collections was inspiring.
“From the very beginning, they were both extremely focused on pushing the envelope creatively,” she said. “Though totally different, the two collections show a level of sensibility and sophistication usually reserved for more seasoned designers’ work. I am so proud of the work they have done and know the future holds incredible things for them.”