Springtime in New York means many things to many different people. For fashion school graduates, it means an end to countless hours in their school workshops (or shoebox apartment kitchens) etching away fabric on a garment as part of their school's senior showcase. It's an honored tradition, one that famous alumni have done before them. Only this time, it's virtual.

Zoom waiting rooms and YouTube chat livestreams, filled with supportive friends and family, are the runways for this year's Class of 2021 — must like those of last year graduating within the midst of a global pandemic.

Many elite institutions have gotten the hang of digital connections over the last few months — Parsons School of Design's student festival is digital only for the second time while Rhode Island School of Design's graduate-led show premiered on YouTube. For these Gen-Z graduates, mixing technology and garments with forward thinking approaches to fashion is just another day at school.

Presenting the Class of 2021, hailing from the nation's top design programs, including Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, College of Creative Studies and FIDM, among others. From hauntingly beautiful collections mirroring society and rebirth to bedazzled club kid dresses Paris Hilton would be jealous of, here's the rising student graduates you need to watch.

Lily Durbin, Rhode Island School of Design

"While we may see opulent historical fashion as absurd, ["Spectator Sport"] aims to connect that performance to our own self-obsessed way of life today. We may not fully remove our eyebrows as Queen Elizabeth did, but we take drastic measures to appear presentable, fashionable, and fit."

Kylin Conant, Rhode Island School of Design

Inspired by male pop stars, deep sea angler fish and the illusion of unrequited love with famous figures, "Galvanistic Monstrosities of Carnal Desire" is a bedazzled self-reflection of the beauty and isolation of being alone.

Yuki Xu, Rhode Island School of Design

Viewed through the lens of society's negative view of aging, Xu's senior collection, titled "Growth," blurs the lines between garment and human by reflecting signs of natural wear and tear like wrinkles and fungus on wrapped garments contorting to the female form.

Madelen Nyau, Pratt Institute


As a recipient of the "2021 Christopher Hunte On Point Award", the Queens-born designer focuses on lasting luxury necessities, crafting garments as staple pieces in one's wardrobe rather than overconsumption due to outside social media influences. Nyau's thesis collection, "The First Cosmic Dance," is inspired by Chicago Bulls basketball players of the '90s and their emotional, fluid performances on the court.

Bettina Wagner, Pratt Institute

Wagner's graduate collection, fun and playful, often takes a nostalgic approach, referencing the whimsical, exploratory nature of childhood and the "dream" closet. "I try to have a lot of crossover with my fine arts background when I create textiles because the impact for me reads differently, which is what I want," she writes. "I want my designs to have an impact on whoever is wearing it and for it to feel like an experience that they're a part of.

Matina Kulusic, Pratt Institute

Photography: Logan Simons

With colorful, patterned jumpers and mini skirts that would make any Gen Z fashion girl jealous, Matina Kulusic uses her knitwear expertise to craft a sacchrine body of work, titled "Liminality." Using her background, one rooted in being an outsider looking into a perfectly polished industry, she hopes her clothing starts conversations revolving around what defines "normal," and what it represents within our current cultural landscape.

Chu Shiao Michelle Han, Parsons

Han's graduate collection revolving around the marriage of Eastern and Western medicine practices feels all too meta, the student working under one of history's most catastrophic global health crises. By pulling inspiration from practices like acupressure, posture alignment, massage and nutrition, Han's thesis capsule provides intimate, meta pieces to inspire daily living.

Shaodong Liang, Parsons

Using VR to mirror a disjointed surveillance state, Parsons graduate Shaodong Liang provides a deep introspection into privacy and identity with his senior showcase collection. Capture within the intimacy of his living space, bedroom and bathroom, the trippy, technicolor collection of cut-and-sew pieces is an apocalyptic look at digital relevancy.

Max Donahue, Parsons

Can I hear a little commotion for "The Dress,"? Donahue's thesis collection, the construction of a graduate portfolio that is his existence, reality, and heart, revolves around more than just one garment, he writes. "The Dress," is a culmination of tights, knitwear, and yes, even dresses, to capture overarching change throughout the seasons of life. Colorful tulles and fabrics are wrapped around feminine models, creating a brightly-illuminated fantasy of femininity in the 21st century.

Jesua Rodriguez, FIDM

Honduras-born and Texas-raised, Rodriguez delivers an intricately beautiful graduate collection for her final year at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA. Her collection, titled "Blossom," explores the personal narrative of opening up with her life story.

Fabian Renteria, FIDM

Inspired by the Award-winning 2015 film, "The Revenant," Renteria's thesis collection of the same name is a technical glimpse at man's relationship with chaos. Interjected with futuristic, fighting elements found within the "Mortal Kombat," gaming universe, a standout look from the collection is a red, patent, spiked coat, perfect to wear when stomping on your enemies.

Jiarui “Ruby” Cai, FIDM

Dreaming of another life, Cai's accounting degree was abandoned when she decided to pursue a creative, fulfilling life within the fashion world. Both inspired by her personal story and the novel "The Moon and Sixpence," Cai's thesis collection of the same name focuses on utilitarian comfort and color-blocking.

Isabella Foti, CCS

Inspired by the sights, sounds, and textures of the vast, uncharted sea, Foti's "Liquid Labrynth" is an eccentric tale of the ocean and it's creatures. Boots and beaded facial jewelry on winged sea nymphs provide a glitzy, glamorous look at what lies beneath the waves. Ariel who?

Ava Kaloustian, CCS

Kaloustian says she never really "fit in," the concept of adulthood not dawning on her fully. "Growing up we are told that once we turn 18 we become legal adults — but what does it really mean to become an adult?" the CCS graduate writes in her thesis exploration. "Oddball," with its colorful curation of chunky heels and printed handbags, brings childhood into the forefront of her mind. "If 'growing up' has taught me anything, it is that adults are just big kids."

Josie Teachout, CCS

Revolving around the quiet details of our universe— the moon, stars, sun— Teachout's graduate collection "Interbeing," is a whimsical look at the world around us. With constructed hoop-esque skirts, wrapped heels, and a berry bag, Foti proves nature really is healing this summer.

Cat Pfingst, Drexel

"Upside Out," is a knitwear-focused thesis collection revolving around intimate basics. Pfingst's thesis collection, no doubt carried by it's neutral color palette and breathable fabrics, is aselection of comfortably oversized essentials. Working with photographer Tom Scanlan, "Upside Out," is the perfect addition to an upcoming Fall wardrobe (you can never have too many knits!).

Neena Bui, Drexel

Bui's "Apophenia," a tendency to find human faces in inanimate objects, finds its ethos in proving sustainability and consumption are not mutually exclusive abstract ideas. With a focus on human expression and relationships, the collection, dyed and stitched by hand, Bui details elements of the body within her garments.

Stephanie Popa, Drexel

Popa's "Dichotomy," thesis collection zones in on texture. The multi-layered textiles, juxtaposing each other, serve as a metaphor for the difficulties of making a decision – something graduates know all too well. Black and white graphic patterns printed upon garments also serve as a contrast for the harsh reality facing us all with the illusion of choice.

Jinjing Lin, FIT

Lin's thesis collection at FIT, aptly titled "WE ROBOT," is a cyberpunk inspired capsule exploring the link between humans and artificial intelligence. Through sustainably-sourced yarns and UV-sensitive effects, Lin aims to merge the marriage between technology and nature.

Anabelle Hernandez, FIT

Inspired by human imperfections like stretch marks, scars, cellulite, and winrkles, Hernandez's "Skin," graduate collection is an ode to self-love and acceptance. "Should this inspire you to love the skin you're in, it will have fulfilled its purpose," Hernandez wrote to PAPER. "For the time has come to fill your cracks with gold; you are more beautiful broken."

Abigail Ohene-Kyei, FIT

In an direct homage to her Ghanian roots, FIT graduate Ohene-Kyei honors those who supported her dreams of attending fashion school in her thesis titled "Abusua Pa." The phrase, an Adinkra symbol meaning "A Good Family," is present throughout the West African-inspired collection, weaving traditional textiles like Kente and linen, to create sculpted dresses and tops.

Hector Diaz, SCAD

An ode to the deep introspective nature of dreams, Diaz's graduate collection, "'Deep Redux' focuses on the subconscious ways we express ourselves through clothing. "I came up with a process I call 'Dream Weaving'," Diaz told PAPER. "It is the idea of taking secondhand clothing and garments, cutting them down to strips, using these strips to weave on a hedge loom, and creating a new textile out of it in the process."

Ifeade Adedokun, SCAD

Inspired directly by the chaotic times we're currently living in, "Random," is a culmination of Adedokun's mental state as she's graduating into an uncertain world. Directly crafted with textured denim and upcycled materials, the graduate's collection has a near zero environmental impact.

Nzingha Helwig, SCAD

Hailing from the lush, cultural landscape in Jamaica Bay, New York, Helwig's "Beautiful Invasion," thesis collection explores the duality between peaceful nature and parasitic beings. Inspired directly from her COVID-safe walks throughout the pandemic, the sustainably sourced collection uses texture and textiles to incorporate elements of human touch and intentional connection.

Photos courtesy of colleges and universities listed

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