A jubilant festival of color and texture seemed to dance from every piece by Sofia Masuda, one of nine graduates of FIDM in Los Angeles showing her collection March 24 at Fashion Week El Paseo in Palm Desert.
PHOTOGRAPH BY YASIN CHAUDHRY

FIDM night has long been a Fashion Week El Paseo darling. The only evening to exclusively showcase emerging talent has won over Coachella Valley hearts as an event where bright newcomers bring unbelievable originality and surprise to the runway.

On Thursday night, a largely female contingent put on their sparkliest dresses and crowded the tent for a full hour of audible enthusiasm, all in support of nine debut collections by recent graduates of Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Attendees eager for a peek into the minds of the next generation received just that. Seven designers from the 2021 cohort and two from the previous year presented 10 bold looks each — just enough to leave you wanting more.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES
Graduates of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles debuting their collections at Fashion Week El Paseo include (from left, in the front row): Fabian Renteria, Sofia Masuda, Jiarui “Ruby” Cai, Dustin Argumedo, Zak Weinreich, Jesua Rodriguez, Sakura Mizutani, and Bella Madden. Missing: Maryam Varshochi.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY L. CLARK

So, what are the kids into these days? Ruffles, voluminous sleeves, and pleats. Pink, gray, black, and pleather. But an even stronger common thread among the grads’ designs was clothes with a message. These designers are more interested in honoring their heritage, promoting individual identity, and pushing boundaries than something merely pretty.

Video clips before each collection revealed glimpses of the designer in the studio with a voiceover of his or her philosophy on how fashion can build confidence, challenge stereotypes, and ideally change the world.

“The students who enter the Advanced Fashion Design Program go through a rigorous interview process and are ultimately hand-picked to create a capsule collection from inspiration to conception in a nine-month period,” says Nick Verreos, co-chair of fashion design and film and TV costume design at FIDM. “This is a master class in learning how to develop a professional mini-collection to industry standards. [Co-chair] David Paul and I are very proud of the variety of creativity and design on display. These graduates are the future of fashion!”

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES

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PHOTOGRAPH BY YASIN CHAUDHRY

Bows on frocks from Bella Madden opened the up-tempo show with a rush of candy colors. Her current work as a video game character designer burst through in a whimsical display with flouncy overtones of mega-cuteness akin to Holly Hobbie gone wild. Neon lime-green and lilac-pink became best friends in her alternate reality of ruffles, tiers, and tulle, with a swag of black plastic chain for edge.

Japanese designer Sakura Mizutani deconstructed the forms we typically associate with gray pin stripes, neck ties, suspenders, and white collared dress shirts for her “Out of the Box” collection. If art school had a uniform dress code, this might be it. “It is okay to be different from others,” she emphasizes.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY L. CLARK

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES

Expressed in her collection that moved from dark to bright, says Jesua Rodriguez, is “a narrative about myself.” Told as a visual story of a blossoming flower, a balloon-sleeve black pleather jumpsuit transitions to a floral print on black silk organza, later repeated on hot pink. Orange high-waisted pleated palazzo pants led into hyper-ruffled floral drama. The “full bloom” reveal is a pair of ruffled wrist cuffs and a top with an empowering three-dimensional flower on the front.

Zak Weinreich says his looks embody “strong women who only need to stand and be present.” Elegance and an air of mystique surround his collection, as elements of intimate apparel — like body suits, bustiers, thigh-high stockings, and corsets — blended with fine tailoring and traditional wool fabrics and cotton shirting. The collection walks a self-assured line between boudoir and ready-to-wear.

Celebrating his Hispanic heritage while combatting cliché perceptions of manliness, Dustin Argmedo let hoodie sweatshirts do the talking, printed with “Machista Los Angeles” and “Latinx Los Angeles.”

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES
Dustin Argumedo thanks the Fashion Week El Paseo audience.

Orange puffer pants and a long puffer orange vest preceded a brown suit with exaggerated shoulder pads and a stretched animal print on shirts, shorts, and pants.

Heart-eyed emojis floated across the video screen to underscore a cartoon-like collection by Jiarui “Ruby” Cai. Huge plastic wiggle eyes were buttons, yarn created amplified stitching, and applique pockets were in the shape of your hands, but bigger. A sunflower-esque ensemble included sleeves edged in oversize petals. Those reading fast caught her embroidered phrases: “Enter PIN” and “Someone asked me to do a gown FINE!”

Maryam Varshochi from Iran says her largely black-and-white collection infused with geometric shapes and patterns along with pops of yellow found a springboard in “optical art and 1960s mod fashion.” Micro-pleats and a neck-swallowing turtleneck joined pieces in neoprene fabric. Hidden wire provided additional structure, crucial that foot-tall fascinator hat.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ROGER MORALES

A jubilant festival of color and texture seemed to dance from every piece by Sofia Masuda. “Handmade organza and crochet flowers made by me and all the strong Latina women in my family,” were scattered across vibrant pants and dresses — one with a high-low hem that finished in a long train of flowers. The party continued with floral crowns, pompom details, gauzy fabrics pushed into ruffles, and digitally printed knitwear, from jumpsuit to cropped cardi.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY L. CLARK

The FIDM show closed with a glimpse even father into the future. Fabian Renteria mobilized a crew of black, winter white, gray, metallic silver, and glossy red PVC for a fantasy that felt red carpet-worthy in a sci-fi way. Pieced garments had a color-blocking effect in contrast to a solid red rain slicker dress, pair of short shorts, and mini dress with decorative zippers and matching face mask.

In today’s world, we never know what’s going to be coming down the runway. These nine young designers are comfortable designing in that realm. Each harnessed the power of the unanticipated.

“I am always inspired by these graduates who have created so much at the beginning of their career,” says Palm Springs Life fashion director Susan Stein, who has been producer and fashion director for Fashion Week since its first year in 2006. “This year’s class impressed us once again, just as they have for the last 10 years.”