To Fashion Department Chair Jennifer Minniti, her students aren’t just future designers: they’re the next generation of tastemakers.
“We’re trying to graduate students who are equipped to become leaders in the field and land positions at prominent design houses,” she says. “Because when you look at the broader commercial market—national clothing chains, department stores—they're copying and re-imagining the creative work of higher-end designers.”
With that goal in mind, Minniti has reshaped the fashion curriculum to help students develop their own unique tastes and perspectives, an approach she calls “concept-led.” Students will now present collections every academic year as opposed to just senior year. They will be able to naturally gravitate toward their interests—whether in accessories, sportswear, the avante-garde, or some other arena—rather than facing heavier requirements in a broad set of fields.
Lucy Trower (B.F.A. Fashion Design ’13) noticed a shift in priorities immediately when Minniti arrived two years ago. “Suddenly the focus was on individual voice and knowing how to express your ideas. We had to defend things creatively and not just constructively,” says Trower.
The curriculum also focuses on new technologies: 2-D and 3-D processes and in-depth knowledge of materiality including emergent textiles and technology, like students printing digital images on fabrics—organza, silk, cotton, and a bamboo fabrication among other options—on campus.
Minniti says enrollment is increasing and she believes it will expand further. Last year, there were 216 students in the program; she hopes to see 270-275 in the coming years. The 2014 senior class will be significantly larger than last year’s—60 students as compared to 28.
The department is currently exploring two minors: one in in fashion, photo, and film (in collaboration with the Film/Video Department) and another focusing on fashion history, theory, and curation, and further into the future, perhaps a new bachelor’s degree for fashion scholarship and a master’s degree in fashion photo and film, which might include styling, communication, and promotion.
Since arriving, Minniti has also placed a greater emphasis on attracting big names to engage with students, teach, and/or review work. For instance, Thom Browne, winner of the 2013 Pratt Fashion Visionary Award, critiqued six seniors’ collections this past spring.
Under Minniti’s leadership, the department also received a grant from The Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation for the establishment of the Liz Claiborne Award—Concept to Product, a $25,000 award given to students for five consecutive years starting in 2012. This year, Madeline Gruen (B.F.A. Fashion Design ’13) won the honor, aimed to help a young designer develop their business. In addition to the award, she was also given a workspace—rent-free for a year—in the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation.
Gruen says designing her collection was grueling, but ultimately rewarding thanks to Minniti’s forceful critiques. “The first time I designed my collection they wanted me to throw everything out. They were unwilling for me to slide by. I kept being pushed and pushed,” she said.
Student Trower agrees and also appreciated the rigor: “I’m really glad I got to experience that over the last two years. I think it’s going to change a lot—in terms of the opportunities that students are afforded.”
Text: Ruth Samuelson
Video and Production: Peter Tannenbaum