Designer Debut at New York Fashion Week – Albright College

Designer Debut at New York Fashion Week

by Carey Manzolillo

Nine Albright College designers debuted fashion pieces during a whirlwind evening in New York City, September 2021 as part of the venerable New York Fashion Week (NYFW). A major bi-annual event of runway shows and presentations, New York Fashion Week highlights designer collections for the following fashion season.

“Albright College is a private, liberal arts college located in Reading, Pennsylvania, with a prominent fashion program. The show is made up of nine designers, each showing six looks with diversity in terms of race and size.” – Forbes

Albright’s nine-collection show — the only show from a liberal arts fashion program — featured seven alumni and two current students. Each of the designers showed six of their exclusive pieces to top fashion media outlets, from Vogue to New York Magazine and Fashion United.

“… all of the [Albright] collections contained a real fashion sensibility, and something that is so important in this industry, especially for young designers, an individual style and a tangible joie de vivre.” – Fashion Reverie

The full house runway show was held at NYFW on Fifth — a three-story venue at 608 Fifth Avenue between 48th and 49th streets, transformed into a centralized location for fashion week events.

“Fifth Avenue is home to the most iconic heritage brands in fashion and we are excited to watch the future of fashion walk the runway at 608 Fifth Avenue in September,” said Jerome Barth, president of Fifth Avenue Association, only days before fashion week.

Stalled by the pandemic, Albright’s debut was promoted by alumnus and fashion industry expert, R. Scott French ’87 of VERY New York, who first brought the idea to Albright leadership.

“For a designer, NYFW represents the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Kentucky Derby all rolled into one,” says French. “[Albright alumni and students] are showing their collection on the exact same runways as the designers they’ve studied, admired and dreamed of calling peers.”

“If someone were to tell my younger self I would be walking down the runway at NYFW with a stunning model wearing my design, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Stephanie Vargas Hemmings ’22, calling the debut an opportunity of a lifetime. “Professor MeeAe Oh-Ranck pushed my design abilities and encouraged me to submit my design collection to New York Fashion Week. The support of the faculty, friends and family was an amazing part of the journey.”

Meet the Designers

Luisana Batista ’17
Studying abroad in Florence, Italy, as an Albright fashion design student, Luisana Batista ’17 found herself greatly inspired by Florentine architecture and Italian culture, which has tremendously shaped her design aesthetic. The experience pointed Batista in the direction of high-end womenswear where she creates strong, feminine looks for the women of today. She has worked as a design assistant and a technical designer, using her determination and work ethic to make the best of every opportunity. With eyes on creating her own high-end womenswear brand, she plans to continue her fashion design education and travel, collecting new inspirations for her designs.

Amanda Boandl ’17
Amanda Boandl ’17 first began creating designs inspired by her favorite songs in middle school. Studying fashion design, merchandising and costume design at Albright, Boandl found new areas of inspiration in nature, architecture, paintings and sculptures. As a designer, she enjoys drawing dramatic looks with sculptural silhouettes, as well as exploring the mixing of soft, delicate, flowing materials with heavily beaded, edgy, metallic elements. Preferring dress design, Boandl feels most at ease in the evening wear category. “When a woman wants to stand out and make a statement, they turn to their eveningwear looks,” says Boandl, who creates all of her designs to empower those wearing them and make them feel special. When not designing custom commissioned evening wear ensembles, Boandl can be found altering bridal wear, creating costumes for touring theater companies.

“I’m so excited to see my designs go down the grandest stage they’ve been on yet. And the fact that it’s live just heightens
the excitement,” said Boandl – Sourcing Journal

Amanda Castanon ’21
A senior studying costume design, Amanda Castanon ’21 can be found in the college’s costume shop, creating designs for Albright College’s award-winning theatre program. Castanon finds most of her inspirations in historical garments and nature. Drawn to darker, more muted colors with a splash of bright for emphasis and surprise factor, Castanon prefers to design with a specific person or character in mind. Her greatest pleasure is when she is able to use her designs to create character depth and tell a story. Following graduation, Castanon hopes to work in Broadway’s costume world, which she calls her “true passion.”

Jess D’Alessio ’17
A fashion design graduate, Jess D’Alessio is employed as a designer for the New York City based swimwear company, Breaking Waves Inc. Although she has changed her hobbies, sports interests and style “no fewer than a thousand times” throughout her life, D’Alessio’s desire to work in the field of fashion design has not wavered since she first proclaimed it to be her desire, at the tender age of eight. Doing what she loves each day, in the “city that never sleeps,” D’Alessio is eternally grateful for the sense of belonging that she has found in the world of fashion. Never resting her creative side, she draws, paints, sews, designs, crafts, plays piano and constantly documents new ideas and goals in any and all spare moments.

Ashley Hillegass ’21
Deciding as a middle school student that fashion was not only her passion, but also her personal ticket to bigger pastures from small town Bangor, Pa., Ashley Hillegass has been driven to succeed in the field, regularly pursuing out-of-class research, working one-on-one with professors, and even working directly with Albright’s president on a collaborative sustainable fashion project before earning her fashion design degree. As a designer, Hillegass is inspired by the textures of nature, architecture and textiles, trending toward monochromatic color palettes and business looks — made just fun enough via a pop color emphasis.

Kaleb Murdock ’20
A fashion design and arts administration graduate, Kaleb Murdock has always loved fashion and has been developing his personal style since a very young age. Before college, Murdock was constantly taking on creative projects with an eye toward upcycling clothing or repurposing store bought pieces into one-of-a-kind ensembles. He continues to be inspired by art, music and culture and has a knack for developing full collections based on a single spark of inspiration — imagining how the inspiration will look on the body before a single stitch has been sewn. He seeks to create fashion that is fun, exuberant and provocative, with a staying power beyond a single season. He currently works for a production facility, making protective clothing for firefighters.

“Fashion companies beware: Albright College graduates are coming to play in a serious way.” – Pop Style TV

Elizabeth Polley ’07
A theatre and fashion graduate, Elizabeth Polley went on to earn her MFA from the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music in costume design and technology. She has worked as a faculty member and costume shop manager at multiple universities, including the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her costuming credits include The Phoenix Theatre Company in Phoenix, Ariz., the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, N.J. She has worked wardrobe for numerous concerts, national tours and events including Cher, Pink, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

Joshua Polk ’17
A swimwear designer who was originally headed for dentistry before discovering his passion for the fashion industry, Polk deeply explored vintage menswear in college and began his post-college career designing swimwear for the InMocean Group. Now in his third year with the collection, he has played a role in designing several lines. Inspired by binge-watching the long-running television series “Baywatch” during the pandemic, it wasn’t long before Polk’s New York Fashion Week debut collection was on paper. From the rugged style of David Hasselhoff to the cover-girl glam of Yasmine Bleeth, Polk’s New York collection re-envisions 1990s cuts and figures with the fashionable lens of the 21st century, combining vintage leg lines and big open backs with giant bows, pleats, knots and trims.

Stephanie Vargas Hemmings ’22
The youngest designer to debut at New York Fashion Week, Stephanie Vargas Hemmings is a junior from Reading, Pa., studying fashion design and photography at Albright. Prior to showing her designs in New York, Vargas Hemmings was invited to show her research project, “Sustainable Fashion: Upcycling, Reusing, and Sustainability,” at the college’s annual student fashion showcase. She continues to be inspired by crossroads of haute couture and avant-garde fashion and is interested in pursuing an internship to explore these areas further.

“The collections were so beautiful, and you could just feel the energy and excitement from everyone in the crowd as the models made their way down the runway! ” – influencer and author, Caroline Vazzana ’14 – Garnette Report

“I honestly felt the work of the students was able to stand up to the best work going down the runway from many of the most celebrated names in American fashion,” reflects French. “The collections were cohesive, well sewn and truly deserving of being highlighted. The media in the audience took notice. I’ve already gotten requests from members of the press asking about the next show and how they can get tickets.”