Clothes, confidence and the stubbornness of joy

Sam Fox School Fashion Design Show coming to Instagram and YouTube May 15

From left: Designs by Genna Torgan, Sasha Bash and Mirai Patel. (Photos: Patrick Lanham. Makeup: Smaila Mujakic)

Sometimes joy is a radical act.

“When I was in middle school, I wore bright, patterned pants that I called my ‘confidence pants,’” said Emma Rubinson, a senior in fashion design in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. “They made me feel bold, expressive, and a little uncomfortable. Facing my fear of judgment helped me gain confidence in myself, and inspired me to always wear my heart on my sleeve.”

At 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15, Rubinson and six classmates will present their work as part of the Sam Fox School’s 92nd Annual Fashion Design Show. Filled with sleek silhouettes, saturated palettes and crazy-quilt textures, the show — titled “The Collective” — is a full-throated rejection of pandemic-era dourness.

“It’s important to find joy in the clothes we wear,” said Zachary T. Adams. His collection, “I’m not completely found, but I’m not as lost as I used to be,” contrasts crisply tailored blacks with hot pinks, bejeweled details and billowing tulle. “While I see the collection as a way I could personally heal, I hope that others will find something of themselves in it as well.”

Streamed on YouTube and IGTV (Instagram TV), the fashion design show will feature fashion films showcasing Adams’ and Rubinson’s designs, along with those of fellow seniors Sasha Bash, Lauren McGinnis, Maggie Miller, Mirai Patel and Genna Torgan. The collections also will be exhibited May 14-22 at the Sam Fox School’s Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Ave.

From left: Designs by Emma Rubinson and Zachary T. Adams. (Photos: Patrick Lanham; Makeup: Smaila Mujakic)

The Collective

All seven seniors were mentored by acclaimed French designer Xavier Brisoux. Over the course of the fall semester, Brisoux regularly met with students by Zoom and pushed them to stretch and refine their creative processes. To produce the fashion design show videos, Mary Ruppert-Stroescu paired each designer with a student from her spring “Fashion Promotion and Exhibition” seminar to serve as client representative.

“The client rep really has to understand the designer’s creative vision, then plan the editorial photo shoot and direct the video,” Ruppert-Stroescu, associate professor at the Sam Fox School, explained. “Fashion Promotion” students also worked with St. Louis publisher and fashion director Paulette Whitfield Black to promote and develop a visual identity around the fashion show; to coordinate the Des Lee exhibit; and to develop an accompanying website and online catalog.

“They chose the name ‘The Collective,’ because when working with the designers, the promotion students were struck by the supportive attitude the designers have toward each other,” Ruppert-Stroescu added. “While each designer’s visual vocabulary is distinct and collection is unique, together they project an amazing creative force.”

The fashion design program’s senior class is (from left) Sasha Bash, Emma Rubinson, Zachary T. Adams, Maggie Miller, Mirai Patel, Lauren McGinnis and Genna Torgan. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

In addition to Adams’ “I’m not completely found,” and Rubinson’s “Liminal,” senior collections include Lauren McGinnis’ “Claiming Space,” which she describes as a series of “versatile pieces rooted in subtle detailing designed to make the wearer feel effortlessly put together.” Mirai Patel’s “Kensho” collection explores themes of color, culture and “coming to peace with all aspects of my identity.” 

Maggie Miller’s collection, “Kryptography,” explores the idea of codebreaking in ways both literal and conceptual. “In our world there is always something to try to understand, a message to decode,” Miller said. Sasha Bash’s “L’Dor VaDor” takes its title from the Hebrew for “from generation to generation” and explores her Jewish roots. 

“I think the pandemic has reminded us all that life is very precious,” said Genna Torgan, whose exuberant collection, “Life Cycles,” focuses on sustainability in fashion. Looks include embellishments made from dried orange slices as well as plant-based leather alternatives made from pineapple and cactus skin.

“Nature is full of life and color,” Torgan said. In making this collection, “my goal was to create garments that are also full of life and color.”

From left: Designs by Maggie Miller and Lauren McGinnis. (Photos: Patrick Lanham; Makeup: Smaila Mujakic)

Honors and awards

As in past years, the Fashion Design Show also will feature the live announcement of the program’s annual awards. These include:

  • The Saks Fifth Avenue Honorary Designer Award. Now in its ninth year, the award is presented to the senior fashion design student whose collection is deemed most marketable.
  • The Dominic Michael Silver Scissors Designer of the Year Award. Sponsored by the Dominic Michael Salon for more than two decades, the award is presented t​o the senior fashion design student who has shown compelling creativity and exceptional skill in fashion design conception and execution.
  • The Silver Ripper Award. Sponsored by alumna Susan Sanders Block for more than two decades, this award is presented to the junior or sophomore fashion design student who has shown the most growth.
  • The Riverbend Textiles Sustainable Design Leadership award, presented to the student who has demonstrated exceptional thought and practice toward sustainable fashion design.
  • The Fashion Citizenship Award, presented to an outstanding sophomore who demonstrates civic and community engagement.

Judges for the senior awards include Xavier Brisoux, principal of Xavier Brisoux Knitwear Design and Consultancy, Lille, France; Bret Schnitker, CEO of Stars Designs in St. Louis; and alumna Emily Rubin (BFA ’17), assistant buyer for Neiman Marcus in Dallas.

“The Collective,” the 92nd Annual Washington University Fashion Design Show, will begin streaming at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15, on the Fashion Design Program’s YouTube and Instagram pages. For more information about the program, visit



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