Ghost of Garments Past
By Jonathan Vatner
This past spring, as FIT’s new MFA in Fashion Design program wrapped up its first year, a student won a major national honor from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Kritika Manchanda ’19 took home the $25,000 Geoffrey Beene Design Scholar Award, given to “the most exemplary and innovative women's wear design student in a full-time graduate program at a leading American college or university.” Eliza Fisher, another student in the graduate program, was also among the five finalists.
Graduate students across America were asked to create a collection that respects the history and legacy of the Geoffrey Beene brand. Manchanda did research in The Museum at FIT and the Special Collections and College Archives unit of the Gladys Marcus Library, then purchased vintage patterns from the ’50s to the ’80s from an Etsy retailer. She constructed the garments faithfully, substituting white, sheer fabrics, such as organdy. She also shaped them using compression or fusing techniques, or stiffening the fabric with horsehair. The result looked like “a ghost of the garment that was,” she says. Jonathan Kyle Farmer, founder and chair of the Fashion Design MFA program, says her style is like “a futurist in a boxing ring with a historian.” “It’s very conceptual, almost whimsical, but not in a pretty way,” Manchanda says. “It’s almost eerie.” The Beene award is welcome recognition for the new program, whose first class will graduate in May 2019. Unlike the fast-paced fashion industry, the program allows students the time and space to embark on a personal journey of discovery within a structured, highly mentored environment. A unique four-semester thesis process results in student collections to be presented in four ways: at a thesis defense, at an intimate viewing in May to connect graduates with headhunters and financial backers, in a printed annual, and in a presentation during Fashion Week in September. “I encourage them not to think about clothes for at least half a year,” Farmer says. “Clothes can get in the way of being a good fashion designer.” It’s a controversial stance, but transcending common notions of fashion calls for a deeper approach. “When you experiment and play without knowing the endpoint,” Manchanda says, “it opens up whole new possibilities.”