Students Win Three Coveted CFDA Awards

Nkenglack Nchopa, Benjamin Halunen, and Cassius Read.
Nkenglack Nchopa, Benjamin Halunen, and Cassius Read.

Each year, the CFDA awards a handful of highly competitive scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students at institutions across the country, based on sketches and accompanying details for a fashion collection. Since 1996, the organization has given out 365 scholarships worth a total of $3.7 million.

This year, three of the 13 winners were FIT Fashion Design students in the class of ’24.

Benjamin Halunen won a CFDA x Crystal Bridges Heartland Scholar award, which came with a $25,000 scholarship. Nkenglack Nchopa was named an Amex Scholar and awarded $25,000. And Cassius Read, named the Versace Scholar, received $30,000.

Check out their winning submissions below.

Benjamin Halunen: “Queen of the Rodeo”

Black and white photo of a young man in a suit jacket
Halunen was photographed by student Max Balderas.

For his collection, Benjamin drew inspiration from his family, who own a ranch in Montana. His grandmother and her sisters wrote a book about ranch culture and the Wild West. “I was around ranchers and farmers and hunters growing up,” he says. “I never thought of it as something I could draw from.”

He also looked to vintage leather garments, queer nightlife, and the runway. He chose mainly materials made from food waste to help raise awareness of how much edible food is thrown away.

Benjamin says the scholarship has not only given him the confidence to start his own line, but also helped with the financial hurdles of launching a company—which he hopes to do in the near future.

Illustrations of Halunen's cowboy-inspired designs
Benjamin Halunen’s Wild West–inspired designs won the CFDA x Crystal Bridges Heartland Scholar award.

Nkenglack Nchopa: “Emerging Bodies”

Nchopa offers bold plus-size designs. Photo by Smiljana Peros.

Nkenglack’s CFDA submission originated with a fifth-semester project, designing foundation garments for plus-size women. Their inspirations included artist Michaela Stark, who creates lingerie that exposes areas that most people have been conditioned to hide; and the iconic Comme Des Garçons Spring ’97 “Lumps and Bumps” collection, with tumor-like padding in unexpected places.

“Typically, when we see plus-size designs, it’s forcing their bodies into a confinement that isn’t natural,” Nkenglack says. “I wanted to portray plus-size bodies accentuating the ‘flaws’ instead of hiding them.”

Nkenglack points out that plus-size customers are typically not offered sustainable options—and they specified recycled, organic, and deadstock fabrics to remedy this lack.

Sketches of clothes for diverse bodies
Nkenglack Nchopa’s designs for diverse bodies won the Amex Scholar award.

Cassius Read: “Planet X”

Cassius Read

“I never really do personal work,” Cassius says. “Usually it’s more storytelling, not based in my own emotions.”

For his CFDA Awards submission, though, Cassius focused on his own experience being gay and trans—and not feeling validated by either community. He designed a gender-neutral collection that is anything but neutral, with strong shoulders and accentuated waists, expressed in bold, shimmering fabrics. The collection is inspired by the fashion of queer subcultures and style icons, including glam rock icon and personal hero David Bowie.

“Most brands want to make simple, boring gender-neutral clothing,” Cassius says. “I wanted mine to be loud but still wearable.”

The $30,000 prize covers all his student debt—but the award offers much more. Cassius was a guest of honor at a celebrity-studded Versace event written up in Vogue and The Cut, where he learned that the brand’s top designers loved his work.

“I thought they’d give me the money and bounce,” he says. “But they all looked at it, and Donatella really liked it. It’s opening up a lot of opportunities.”

Cassius Read’s glam gender-neutral designs won the Versace Scholar award.

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