Fashion School Diaries: An Otis Student Bends the Rules a Bit for Her Final Project

Fashion School Diaries: An Otis Student Bends the Rules a Bit for Her Final Project

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

Fashion school students around the world are preparing to enter an industry that's rapidly changing. There are courses to pass, design prompts to ace, runway shows to prep for and professional connections to make. In our series, "Fashion School Diaries," those students give us a firsthand look into their day-to-day lives. Here, we meet Jinny Song, an Otis College of Art and Design class of 2018 fashion student, ahead of her student show.

Jinny Song always knew she wanted to work in fashion. Growing up in Orange County, she would draw outfits that she wanted to wear but couldn't afford. "That would be enough for me," she says. "And then Otis actually came to my school when I was a sophomore in high school, and they showed us this whole presentation on fashion and I was like, 'Oh, you can do this and you get money?'

Still, she initially planned on becoming a dentist. "I took all the AP classes in high school, studied for the SAT, but then junior year, summer, I was like, wow, I can't do this. I have to live my dream, I have to be creative, that is who I am. I put everything down and I worked on my portfolio and here I am."

"Here" is putting the finishing touches on her two senior projects which were both chosen to show at Otis College of Art and Design's (alma mater of Rick Owens) annual runway show, which took place Saturday.

Her work, as well as that of the rest of the students showing, is the result of a year-long mentorship program with industry talent: Her two projects were led by designer Chris Chang, who challenged students to design an outfit for a socialite, and Libertine founder Johnson Hartig, who challenged them to take inspiration from aliens.

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Song showed me her near-finished looks and chatted with us on campus in Los Angeles a couple of weeks before the show. Read on to learn about her experiences at Otis, fulfilling the parameters of her projects while occasionally breaking the rules, how she got a stranger in Florida to send her fabric and more.

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

"So this is actually my first senior project, and just personally I'm a very conceptual person. This is the first project where I've really pushed the boundaries and it's very… At first, when you look, you go, 'What's going on?' But that's kind of what I want you to think. It's more of an art piece on a body. I just love the collaboration between art and fashion, so I feel like this was my step into my passion for that.

Chris, our mentor, gives us the direction — the slogan, stars, the sunset — and then we design a minimum 12 looks for her with treatments on mini mannequins. She chooses one sketch, which was this, and then I go into my studio class and I start draping and making it life-size.

The whole inspiration was based on sunset, and I found this really awesome sunset to go with it, it's red and orange and blue. I love primary colors, so I feel like this is the time to shine, because in no other projects I will be able to use these colors. I started there, and I looked at a lot of really conceptual designers like Martin Margiela. I also love Rei Kawakubo, also like Yohji [Yamamoto], just a lot of Japanese designers.

Photo: Tina Jo

The other thing that I loved about sunsets was about the transparency, all these clouds overlapping and it creates different levels of transparency. That's why I used a lot of light, sheer fabrics. Where the colors overlap, it creates orange when I didn't even use orange, so I really like that.

Initially it was more of like a silk chiffon that I used, but I realized that on the mini [version], it worked out fine because it's so small, but on the [full] body, it was kind of heavy, so we switched over to organza, which I pleated. 

We get pitched the idea, I think we get maybe six or seven weeks to design this whole thing, basically a concept, and then we start. We get a direction and then we go out and we research a lot — a lot of swipes of inspirational photos that we find, and then how can we change that and be inspired but not copy? That's usually how we did it, but for this project it's so treatment-based.

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

Then we go into studio and then the first fit is around seven weeks as well. We have 15 class days to work on the first muslin fit. She comes in, she says, 'Okay switch, switch,' and that's when the chiffon became the organza, because we realized it's not working. Then there's maybe seven more weeks, and then the final, the second fitting, some changes there and then we go to the show.

It's basically just small finishing touches [from now until the show]; some people have pretty big changes. We have a fit model and sometimes maybe the fit model is a little different than the model that we're assigned to, so then maybe you have to fix the coat hang a little bit or maybe fix the treatment a little differently. Once I pin it down tomorrow, then this is pretty much ready to go.

[The models] will be finalized on the 20th and then we'll buy our shoes and accessories so that it fits our girl.

This was a crazy project. People might not get [this look] it but it's really special to me. I mean, [Chris] didn't even really like it. It's because I didn't really follow all the rules, and it's my fault, but I was so inspired by so many things and I just had to do it. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

When we start out, most of us have never sewn. We had an interest in fashion but we don't really know what we want or what we like, so it's really great that they set [parameters] for us and we follow this direction. For some reason, I just wanted to do something for this project and I just did, but [for the second project] I stayed true to the direction and it turned out great.

This whole concept [for the second project] was aliens in outer space. I was inspired by this movie called 'Ultraman,' an old Japanese sci-fi movie; he's not really an alien but he looks not human, and when I was younger I always thought he was an alien. No one can tell me who's not an alien because they've never seen an alien. In the movie, he's always saving this girl he loves and it's a romantic-esque part of the movie, so I took that direction. For a lot of my treatments, I did hearts — this is a heart, and then this is an actual heart with the aorta, and then I have chains that will be going on top. I also bought acrylic circles and I drew aliens and I put some eyes on there.

The reason why I use a lot of oversized silhouettes was, I felt like if they landed in LAX [airport], I think there could be both male and female aliens, right? And how would they know what's menswear and what's womenswear? All they would know is what looks good on them. And that's kind of where I went: it does not have to be tight or feminine, it just has to look cool. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

We also got to design our own shoe and then it got approved. I'll be making it once my model gets confirmed and I get her shoe size. It's pretty fun. I made all these small eyeballs with red leather and it's gonna have eyelashes coming out.

It's super maximalism, but I've came to the conclusion, after four years of my life here at Otis, I realized that I personally, as a designer, love 'too much.' I love when it's too much and I love when you kind of have to look back at it twice, because you can't take it all in with one glance.

This fabric, I found it and I fell in love. I love yellow and I love plaid and I love red and black, and I saw this fabric and I was like 'It's perfect!' It's wool, it's elevated but also quirky at the same time. I told the guy at the fabric store, 'I'm coming back, I need a yard and a half' to save that for me, I will buy it. He said, 'Sure, no problem.' I come back a week later, because after this gets chosen [to be made] I need to buy fabric, and he's like, 'What fabric are you talking about?" And I go, 'Sam, you told me you were going to save it for me,' and he goes 'I sold it to a Florida man.' What, are you kidding?! I need this! They chose this, I have to make it and I cannot find a replacement for this fabric. This was that one fabric that when I saw it I was like, 'That is beautiful.'

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

I was like, 'Give me this Florida man's phone number, I will call him, I will do anything in my power to get some of this.' There was a whole bundle of 14 yards of this and he bought the whole thing. So I got his phone number, I texted him, I sent him my treatment, my sketch, my fabrics, and I said, 'I just need a yard and a quarter, please, please, please, I will pay for expedited shipping, everything.' He owned a small company too, he's like, 'Let me talk…but I'll try my best." And he was able to just give me one yard, so I had to patch it a little bit here, but you can't really tell.

We got it, and he was like, "This is so cool — send me a photo when you're done because I'd love to see it.' He was such a nice guy. He was so supportive of young designers and he said, 'This is dope, sick, fire emojis.' And I styled it with Airmax '95s, and he noticed it so I knew he was a younger gentleman. He was very helpful. I'm just so glad that he was the one that bought the fabric because he gave me some.

[In the future] I definitely want to be in fashion, but in a company where I can really challenge everything, where we don't try to follow the trends but be the trendsetters. That's kind of the reason I want to go to Europe, is because I want to end up in high fashion and I feel like I definitely need to further myself as a designer and get better in order for me to get to that level. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

The biggest blessing that Otis has given me, for sure, is the people. The people here, the knowledge and everything that you can learn — I'm pretty sure that we have a really great curriculum and everything, but just the people here are nothing like anywhere else. Our teachers will stay late for you if you need something, they are here for you. Our student teachers, they come in during break, they stay five hours after their shift is over, just so we can make it to our first fit, or second fit, or to the show.

[Working with the designer mentors,] I felt like an assistant designer working in the real life field, because, realistically speaking, you're not going to have your own brand and be your own boss. You're probably going to work under somebody, right? You're going to start off as an assistant designer and one of the biggest things is, wherever you work, you have to learn to be true to the brand, whatever you design. That was the challenge, being given a direction and being able to follow it and really have the brand live through your design. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jinny Song

Outside of school, like at my church, people [will suggest that] 'my daughter or son who goes to UCSD's A [grade] is a better A than yours here at Otis.' They don't know, if they were to come here and if I told them to sew this jacket — they can't compare one to the other. They just don't know how much work goes into this. One of my friends was saying her sister, she's a twin, said, 'You guys work harder than my med school students.' Just because you're in fashion doesn't mean you just draw a couple things and someone will make it for you. Everything from start to finish is your manifestation, it's you and your design it, you choose the fabrics, you make it. All of this was hand done.

I think we're one of the fewer schools that do that, where all the students really make everything by themselves, so maybe they don't know that, but we do work hard. Class ends at three but everyone stays until seven, even the teachers. And we do it because we want to, it's our passion."

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