At The SoFA Design Institute 2024 Graduate Show, Personal Narratives Take Form on the Runway

Photo by Kieran Punay

At the SoFA Design Institute 2024 graduate show, “Beyond The Seams,” 19 emerging designers explored vivid expressions of the self via form and color. 

The National Museum of Natural History’s indoor courtyard is centered by the Tree of Life; curved lines provide structural support, carrying the glass dome that allows light to cascade along all-white walls and sheer tapestries. But it’s also said to be a symbol of growth and connectivity, making it a poignant setting for this year’s graduates of SoFA Design Institute to mount their debut collections for their show “Beyond The Seams.” 

In digital set cards handed out to guests prior to the show, designers prefaced their collections with original sketches and brief descriptions, elaborating on themes that ranged from vulnerability and fear to self-acceptance and healing and every rough point in between. Prior to the show, SoFA president and founding partner Amina Aranaz-Alunan would set these schemas up nicely for the audience, addressing the graduates and speaking about their efforts. “As you showcase your collections today,” her voice echoed, “remember that you are not just presenting garments, you are telling your stories and sharing a snippet of your inner selves. Each piece reflects your unique perspective, cultural influences, and artistic expression.” 

True to her word, the ideas that were presented on the runway were focused on extending the self, literally and figuratively: cocoon-like structures, soft armor, billowed and blown shapes that take up space, undulating lines that rippled over the body and extended down to the floor. In Myca Bulanadi’s blue-hued collection, she let fabric fall in natural, fluid shapes, evoking the “ebb and flow” of surrendering to healing. Erica Terol designed in a similar vein, using erratic and wavy lines across wide silhouettes to communicate the feeling of giving up control in favor of spontaneity. John Valenzuela presented a slew of looks that appeared to be patterned over the last, with his rounded proportions acting as visual cues for his constant growth and transformation as a person. 

Elsewhere in the show, designers used color as a meditation. Dev Kuramoto’s searing red was a mark of overcoming a personal fear, while Gerald Farofaldane’s jewel-toned gradient patterns came from a desire to use beauty as a tool in raising awareness and overcoming the stigma in relation to HIV and AIDS. Kayla Flores’s collection documents a point of self-discovery; time spent navigating the in-between was translated to gray padded jackets and jumpsuits, while the joys of finding the self are rendered in hints of vibrancy—pinks and oranges, to symbolize coming to terms with her own sexuality.

Across the 19 collections, it’s difficult to single out any one particular trend; neither one took a ready-to-wear approach, relying more on concept to carry their vision. For “Beyond The Seams,” the designers allowed themselves to find inspiration from within. In the end, the results felt deeply personal, with collections born out of advocacy, meaningful experience, and steps taken to healing. As they enter the Philippine fashion industry, perhaps this is the shift we can expect: design that comes from a personal place, building on novel expressions of the self. 

As the designers take their closing bows, Farofaldane gives the closing remarks, telling the audience that, after losing themselves in the technicalities of design for two or four years, the SoFA class of 2023 decided to look inwards for their culminating (and debut) collections. They had asked themselves, “‘What stories do we want to share with the world?’” he said. These stories came to them freely, uninhibited. “We started to craft them.” He continues, “We found ourselves in the midst of connection, that these stories that we tell as designers bind us as friends and as humans.” 

See some of the looks from backstage at SoFA Design Institute’s “Beyond The Seams” show below, and learn more about each designer on the official SoFA Facebook page

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