Arts of Fashion Foundation Symposium — Celebrating a Decade of Emerging Design Talent

New York, London, Milan, and Paris—these are the global fashion capitals. Generally when one thinks of California fashion and more specifically San Francisco fashion, a more socially-conscious sustainability and relaxed-bohemian glamour are what come to mind, but Arts of Fashion Foundation’s President Nathalie Doucet is one of those lone pioneers changing the context and perceptions of San Francisco within its evolution as a pivotal fashion player.

While the Bay Area has become a haven of ingenuity for former Silicon Valley executives comingling e-commerce and fashion in a renewed sense of entrepreneurialism (with companies like Sugar, Inc., Polyvore, StyleBistro, Joyus, etc.,) Ms. Doucet has steadily become the purveyor of unearthed talent. Since relocating from Paris, the former designer, who is an educator at heart, has taught in Georgia and Ohio—sourcing America’s heartland; giving aspiring designers a voice; and providing them with the instruction, tools, and training to maximize their potential.

The Arts of Fashion Foundation has expanded this vision further, by not only aiding students financially, but more invaluably by facilitating mentorships and apprenticeships with some of Europe’s most progressive design houses including: Didier Grumbach, Charles Kleibacker, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, and Anne Valerie Hash. Much like the prestigious CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, these partnerships foster emerging talents, bridging the gap between established veteran and burgeoning designer, such as a young Oscar de la Renta benefitted under the tutelage of celebrated couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.

The organization marked its tenth anniversary, with a fashion symposium the last weekend in October at the San Francisco Art Institute. The event was a triumvirate of ephemeral fashion show exhibition, design competition, and lecture series, which notably included Council of Fashion Designers of America CEO Steven Kolb, who gave a brief history of his organization’s past 50 years, ongoing projects, mission, and challenges.

Culling the work of 65 designers from more than 32 countries, last October’s symposium continued to celebrate the industry’s most promising efforts in innovative design and avant-garde fashion. Originally exhibited at the Louvre’s Musee des Arts Decoratifs, works from the 2011 Summer Masterclass Series graduates were staged in a fashion exhibition titled Modern Dancer, in the Spanish Courtyard of the San Francisco Art Institute. The Grecian-inspired gowns featured designers Stefanie Ayoub, Angela Denny, Elsa Ellies, Kaycee Houchin, Justin Jamison, Danielle Leja, Joyce Liang, Leah Mendelson, Alexandra Meynier, Eunjin Song, Nika Amy Ting, and FengChen Wang. Also on display were samples, portfolios, sketches, and materials from this year’s competitors. The new format was expanded to give participating students greater visibility and visitors a more comprehensive fashion experience. This year designers were inspired by the theme of tension. The 2011 winners included: Elizabeth Barbaro, Alicia Declerck, Jo Eun A, Miranda Kaloudis, Pavla Podsednikova, Maxime Rappaz, and Xiaotian Zhang.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 2001 with a mission to develop and foster young talents—providing opportunities to hone their craft and positioning them for the kind of exposure ordinarily they might not have. Partnering with designers Veronique Branquinho, Martin Margiela, and Sandra Backlund, the Foundation has hosted Masterclass Sessions, runway productions, and exhibitions in multiple cities.

Clearly the emphasis here is on more avant-garde fashion. With omnipresent mass retailer partnerships, discount luxury consigners/e-tailers, and fashion reality shows—the fashion industry as a whole and its players, in particular, have enjoyed increased recognition and popularity. Some may argue that this homogenization and emphasis on commercialization may actually be stifling creativity as the pressure to produce more, even faster escalates—not if Ms. Doucet and her discerning committee have anything to say about it. Ironically enough, the more ubiquitous a trend becomes the less currency it holds, especially for an individualist like me. The backlash of pervasiveness breeds individuality and so the seemingly new trend is to be distinctive, unique, and original, to stand apart from the rest.

Since high school, I’ve overlapped high and low, blending designer and vintage finds with more affordable pieces to create my signature look. The palette is predominantly neutral, so I can experiment more with silhouette (structured or draped), texture (malleable or rigid), and layered proportions. My longtime appreciation for all things special is what first drew me to the Arts of Foundation. Ms. Doucet has cultivated an impressively multicultural group of design students from dozens of countries. Expanding on her mission to foster these talents and partner with prominent houses, she founded Invest Fashion, an innovative and sustainable platform, geared towards uniting the general public who want to be financially and emotionally linked to the development of a new generation of emerging designers.

For additional information on Arts of Foundation, please visit

For additional information on the CFDA, please visit

For additional information on Invest Fashion, please visit


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