You don't have to be a famous couturier in Paris or New York City to put on a super dope fashion show. In fact, you could just be a college senior. Briana Arrington and Ashley Lian—students at the Maryland Institute College of Arts—recently co-directed MICA's annual fashion show, a vibrant event that brought together 26 student designers. This year the show was called Hueman, a punny nod to how color can inform both style choices and the perception of entire cultural groups.
"Fashion is a vehicle for carrying culture on the body." —Ashley Lian
Lian, a humanistic studies and fiber major, and Arrington, an illustrator, are both immersed in the fashion scene at MICA (Lian herself is a designer) and wanted to demonstrate the diversity of their fellow students' fashion sensibilities. While the designers they included in the show all have different aesthetics, each understands color both as a source of self-expression and controversy for many cultural groups. Lian and Arrington also sought diversity in their model casting, sending gender queer students and students of color down the runway.
Work. Those. Colors.
Sweet got the chance to catch up with the two during their post-show glow, and talked about how fashion and the intricacies of color play a role in our ever-changing world.
In the current political climate, why is fashion so important?
Ashley Lian: Clothing is a really important aspect of self-expression since we all choose what we put on our bodies every day. I think going forward, especially in today's political and racial climate, what people wear really determines how people are going to perceive them. That's why fashion is a vehicle for carrying culture on the body. It's important for us to think about the associations we have with the clothes we wear.
Briana Arrington: Quite a few of the designers in the show made lines based on their own cultural experiences. So in a climate in which we view so much cultural appropriation, this was an outlet for students to create clothing that is about them.
We've all seen plenty of tees with political slogans, and people made hats to look like vaginas for the women's march. How do you feel about protest clothing?
Arrington: Protest fashion has its ups and downs. To wear something with a slogan on it is like protesting in and of itself. If I wear a Black Lives Matter shirt, I am letting everyone in that space know that I in fact matter. But the problem comes when there are large companies who might not care about the issue and are just using it as a marketing tool. I'd rather go for a smaller T-shirt business, because it's often a matter of me supporting a black woman's business or it's me telling the world what I believe. Those big companies take advantage.
Lian: We're both women of color and seeing these issues be brought into a mainstream light is really nice. But when Forever 21 takes some saying and puts it on a shirt, people think that they're really cool for wearing it, but then in a couple months they'll forget. Or even the Pepsi commercial that recently came out—people are trying to take activism and downplay it to cater to a very specific crowd. I think if you're wearing it for the right reason and supporting the right people, then it makes sense. A lot of people, even if they don't know it, are wearing it just to be trendy.
Your show was about color. What are some shades right now that you think are making an impact?
Arrington: Black. [Laughs.]
And, of course, one of the big things on the internet right now is millennial pink.
Lian: I know about millennial pink. I read that. I think it's really funny because it's one of my favorite colors right now.
Arrington: I wouldn't think of one color as necessarily trending, but how color can be used in certain media to evoke emotions and to portray feeling. There's the red, white, and blue in the American flag, and people are using it in a certain way to get their point across. You can look at the movie Get Out, and together the characters [Chris and Rose] make up the colors of the American flag with their outfits. His shirt was blue and her shirt was white with red stripes. Also, recently, a group of diverse high school students, when asked to create a photo about diversity, put their hands up to an American flag. That's how I think you can use imagery and color.
"It took me 21 years to realize that it's not my body that has a problem, it's fashion that has a problem."
I think it also has to do with what you think of color and how it looks on someone. With our generation, we're more open to people wearing whatever they want and more open to people knowing pronouns, gender identity, sexuality, and what have you. So, what does it mean when you see someone who's unidentified wearing pink? The ways in which color is being used are different than how they were used a generation or two back. I think that's what's special right now.
What's something you would want to change in the fashion industry?
Lian: I'm a humanistic studies and fiber major and for my thesis I'm writing about all of the issues surrounding fashion right now. There's a huge volume of clothing in the world, with still more being produced continuously. There's economical and environmental waste with people owning a lot of clothes and not knowing what to do with them. Going forward, as a designer myself, I'd like to see a situation where people invest more money in their clothing and think about pieces they would use for a long period of time—there's a lot of that going on already.
"I know about millennial pink. I read that. I think it's really funny because it's one of my favorite colors right now." —Brianna Arrington
Arrington: Ashley knows that I've been praying about this all the time—but being a plus-size woman, I believe fashion does not love me. That's what I want to change about the fashion industry. It caters to a particular size or it has a size cutoff. A lot of the top places where I want to shop, I can't—when my friends go shopping I can't go into H&M too. It just ends up being very tiring and I end up having an anxiety attack because it's just so stressful. It took me 21 years to realize that it's not my body that has a problem, it's fashion that has a problem. The places that do cater to plus-size fashion, they're often more expensive for college students like myself or they don't go hand-in-hand with the trends that are happening right now—they sell to women twice my age!
Lian: Customization in fashion is going to be really important. The future of fashion relies on comfortable clothing that fits everyone, can be customized to specific body types, can be high quality, and last a long time.
Any last words that you think should get nixed from the way we talk about fashion? Like, I hate the words "silhouette" and "chic."
Arrington: Words like "slimming" or any other words that suggest a piece of clothing gives you a body shape other than your own.
Lian: All those articles that are like this is how you dress for an A-line body or this is how you dress for this kind. I mean, I get what they are trying to say, but then they're saying if you're not this body shape you can't wear this.
I also think it's weird to equate a body with a piece of fruit.
Lian: Like pear-shape and apple-shape.