Camera flashes, bright lights, polished runways, excited observers, beautiful models, captivating garments… such images flood the minds of young fashion lovers. High in the mountains of Southern California, these images also inspire the Fashion Design students of Idyllwild Arts Academy.
On a breathtaking forest campus, the Academy’s high school students explore everything that a bachelor's degree would entail. In new, state-of-the-art classrooms, they learn sewing, pattern making, draping, textiles, accessories, fashion illustration, fashion history, fashion photography, and conceptual design. They study with teachers who have thrived at every level of the fashion industry — including the new Fashion Design Chair, “Project Runway” season 16 winner Kentaro Kameyama.
Accepting the offer to become Chair was an easy decision for the acclaimed designer, since guest-teaching had already exposed him to the extraordinary calibre of Idyllwild Arts students.
“I’ve always wanted to be an educator and share what I know about fashion,” he says. There are many things people struggle with in the industry that I find easy and I know that helping young people master these skills will make their passion stronger.”
His responsibilities will include overseeing the fashion curriculum, supporting the work of the Academy’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Collaborative, monitoring student wellbeing, arranging masterclasses, field trips, and internships, organising fashion shows, and keeping resources up-to-date.
Kameyama has presented collections in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. He has rubbed shoulders with other renowned designers and with models, manufacturers, and photographers, building connections around the globe. He has run a business and maintained showrooms in downtown Los Angeles. His assistance will propel students directly into the industry with full knowledge of how to achieve similar success.
“I want to share these experiences with the students at Idyllwild. “They can ask me anything and I will find a way to bring in the professionals or send them to the spaces with answers.”
The industry connections of Kameyama and their other teachers make it easy for students to leverage the Idyllwild Arts advantage. In recent years, students have landed internship opportunities at Palm Springs Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, and they have worked with designers like Trina Turk, Michael Costello, and Edwin Oudshoorn.
After graduation, Academy Fashion Design students often go on to elite colleges for further refinement of their skills. This fall, for example, HyeLyn “Olivia” Lee and Seoyun “Clara” Kang, both from the Class of 2022, will begin studying at Parsons School of Design, in New York.
But every student's journey is unique. Consider the journey of Xinyu "Lisa" Li, from her birthplace in Shenzhen, China. Fashion has always intrigued her. As a child, her playdates revolved around discussing fashion magazines and the latest TV modelling competitions. When she reached her teens, she felt ready to explore schools abroad that could turn her interest into a profession.
Idyllwild Arts made the most sense because of its tranquil surroundings and unique curriculum.
“The Academy’s environment was beautiful,” Li recalls. “But it was its fashion curriculum that really caught my attention.”
Of course, a 16-year-old international student was not expected to immerse herself immediately in the blend of practical and theoretical lessons. Li’s first mission was to master English. She did so thanks to the Academy’s comprehensive English as a Second Language program.
She also dove into Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy, finding that the courage of the Dauntless faction helped her conquer homesickness.
“When I’m creating, I keep them in mind.”
Li’s first few fashion classes at Idyllwild were anything but rigid. Students were not expected to sit in rows to listen; they were told to start designing. Her class had one week to create a piece, and Li opted to go for an ear ornament.
“Our teachers gave us the freedom to use our own processes,” she explains. “They wanted to test our abilities — how we designed and what our handwork skills were like.”
Once assessments had been completed, Li and her peers began exploring the basics of sewing, both by hand and with industry-level machines. They visited fabric markets to choose the colours and patterns needed to make their visions into reality.
Li is now in China on summer vacation, ahead of her senior year. But it’s a working vacation: she is taking part in Gucci’s online learning programme, which involves weekly assignments to design garments for the globally-renowned brand.
“I’m using many of the skills I’ve picked up at Idyllwild,” she says. “The Academy taught me to design and produce exciting garments. Everything I’m doing now is similar to what I do back in California every day.”
Li is also working on her Senior collection, which will go on display once she returns to Idyllwild. She had her first taste of piecing together a collection in April, when she helped the graduating seniors. “Everyone’s designs were really cool and the audience was incredible,” she says. “I even got to design and sew a jacket, which I’m still really proud of.”
Teachers provided guidance every step of the way by advising changes and suggesting alternative methods during fittings. The process even fine-tuned Li’s illustration skills, which will come in handy for her next fashion show and the ones to come, as she pursues her goal of furthering her education at Parsons.
“I hope to complete another internship once I graduate from Idyllwild,” she says. Then, at some point, I would love to establish a brand in the US that everyone will love.”
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