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Apparel Designers Delve Deep

Apparel Designers Delve Deep

With a live runway show out of the question, the Class of 2021 uses video to present their intimate and thoughtful work.

a woman in a sheer dress sleeps on the forest floor

from Growth by Apparel Design senior Yuki Xu 21 AP

A sleeper awakens to birdsong in a green field and dresses in fluffy white separates hung from a sun-splashed clothesline. A hand emerges tentatively through the cuff of a sheer shirtsleeve. A model wearing a colorful knit poncho swirls among the trees of a leafy forest. Art films? Yes. But these short videos were created by the 19 Apparel Design students in RISD’s Class of 2021 to highlight the pieces they’ve crafted for their senior thesis projects.


Instead of designing dazzling, over-the-top collections for an end-of-year runway show, this year’s Apparel Design seniors made intimate work responding to questions about fashion industry ethics, sustainability and the relationship between an item of apparel and its wearer.

male model with ruched lavender sleeves
Arvi Sulovari 21 AP creates garments for the expressive man.

“Each piece is a unique inquiry into the meditative nature of design and the haptic experience of wearing clothing,” explains Department Head Lisa Z. Morgan. “The students were encouraged to consider the context of their work, who it serves and what they stand for in the world.”  

“Each piece is a unique inquiry into the meditative nature of design and the haptic experience of wearing clothing.”

Apparel Design Department Head Lisa Z. Morgan

A compilation of the 19 videos premiered last Friday, May 21, across campus and is on view every evening from 7–10 pm through May 30. The 35-minute loop is being projected in Market Square and on the Steeple Street side of 20 Washington Place and running on multiple indoor screens accessible to the RISD community. Senior Aiyu Liang 21 AP has also created a unique website, Apparel21, where the films are posted along with artist statements from the entire class. 

woman in colorful knitted poncho swirls in the woods
Many seniors took up knitting during the pandemic creatiing haptic pieces like this poncho by Mina Şerbetçioğlu 21 AP/FAV. 


“I’m glad we moved away from the runway show this year,” says Liang. “We approach our work pretty conceptually and have been reflecting on capitalism and the industry’s drive to produce more and more clothes every season, which is kind of ridiculous. Instead of doing one collective runway show, we have more control over how we present our work, which is nice because everyone’s work is so different.”

“We approach our work pretty conceptually and have been reflecting on capitalism and the industry’s drive to produce more and more clothes every season.”

Designer Aiyu Liang 21 AP

Liang’s collection offers conceptual solutions to wardrobe malfunctions like tripping and falling or standing in a stiff wind. Work by Kylin Conant 21 AP reflects on “my obsession with pop star boys and the comfort I had in believing they could fall in love with me,” the designer explains. And Spectator Sport, by Lily Durbin 21 AP, considers the designer’s “internal ambivalence to the attention of others while exercising, a feeling of craving their validation yet being unable to control when and where I am viewed.”

detail of a white ensemble for women with exposed midrif
from Spectator Sport by Lily Durbin 21 AP


Chicago native Jeremy Miller 21 AP designed apparel to suit characters in an imagined video game: the Travelling Assassin Acrobat, the Solar Farmer’s Daughter, the Nightclub Hologram Dancer. “My collection was spurred by the increase in importance that our digital lives have,” he explains. “This led me to imagine a kind of virtual reality that encapsulates our new desire to live multiple lives—both in real life and digitally.”

detail of lacy ensemble for women
Jeremy Miller 21 AP designed ensembles like this one for imagined video game characters.


And Turkish student Mina Şerbetçioğlu 21 AP/FAV, who is completing a dual major in Apparel Design and Film/Animation/Video, was also inspired by the unprecedented conditions of contemporary life, creating henna-dyed Middle Eastern apparel for a magical world in order to “cope with homesickness and find an escape from the isolation caused by the ongoing pandemic.”

Members of the Class of 2021 who lived on campus this year were able to work communally in de-densified shared studios in the Apparel Building at 189 Canal. Many of them turned to knitting and other meditative forms of making.

back detail of knitted garment
knitted pieces by Aiyu Liang 21 AP


“My insecurity about my self-image, especially the fear of getting old, was intensified by the pandemic,” says Yuki Xu 21 AP. “My collection, Growth, explores how we define beautiful or ugly … [and how] human aging can be as beautiful as natural decay.” Her video presents sheer yet earthy ensembles set among trees, rustling leaves and stones draped in shadow.

“My insecurity about my self-image, especially the fear of getting old, was intensified by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.”

Designer Yuki Xu 21 AP

“The shift to remote learning was brutal, but it compelled us to make some necessary transitions in the department,” says Morgan. “Students are challenging what they see as the superficial nature of the fashion industry and taking a truly thoughtful approach to their own practices.”

Simone Solondz 

Watch all the student videos and read about their thesis projects at apparel21.risd.edu.

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