Lessons in La Mode

Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising students bring their debut collections to Fashion Week El Paseo.

Miranda Caudell Fashion & Style, Fashion Week El Paseo, Watch & Listen - Fashion Week

FIDM designer Ashley Neville created this gown gown glittering with red, gold, and green.

Every day is a not-to-be-missed sartorial soirée at Fashion Week El Paseo — or so I’ve heard. Last night’s annual Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising/FIDM Debut Collections was my first time attending a fashion show … or any fashion event, for that matter.

Since 1980, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles has invited its students to apply for the Debut Collections fashion show, a chance for budding designers to showcase their first collections. Ten to 12 students in the third-year Advanced Fashion Design program are selected to participate based on a variety of criteria, from grade point average and references to portfolio review and pure raw talent. Last night marked the 10th year that FIDM has brought its finest to Fashion Week El Paseo.

When Palm Springs Life fashion editor Susan Stein told me in the last minutes leading up to the show that what she looks forward to the most about the FIDM debut each year is another chance “to see things I never could have thought of myself,” my ears perked.

Though I had never seen a designer walk out onto the runway, beaming with pride after the last model swept her train out of the way, I could sense that this night, this show in particular, was going to be special.

Maybe it was the ambition and brio the young couturiers gave off in their pre-recorded monologues, electrifying the air. Maybe it was the unapologetic honesty of their collections, which are, in essence, embodiments of their most personal and delicate inspirations.

As the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the show began, I held my breath. The first of nine black-and-white videos flashed across the floor-to-ceiling screens at the back of the runway, introducing the night’s first student designer, Iranian-born Peivand Mirzaie, whose collection, “Purity,” was an instant hit.


Peivand Mirzaie's collection had soft, sheer fabrics, draped in light layers.

Models glided down the runway in nearly head-to-toe white ensembles, a nod to the skeleton flower, the inspiration behind Mirzaie’s collection. Just as the flower’s petals become transparent in the rain, so too, did the soft, sheer fabrics, draped in light layers and often accompanied by laced tights and splashes of bright orange. They lent an ethereal glow to the wearers. A repetition of ruffle accents and long, flowing trains added a feminine touch while also creating a subtle cohesiveness between each outfit, recalling Mirzaie’s goal of representing the unity that exists among us once we are stripped of our differences.

Next came Dionard Campman’s “Floral Paradise” with a fun, flirty, and feminine play on resort wear, packing a powerful punch with the juxtaposition of bright tropical solids and floral patterns (and even a floppy hat appearance). Born in Curaçao, Campman moved to California in 2014 and says his collection is meant to be versatile, easily converted from day to night, as evidenced by one model’s swift removal of what appeared to be a yellow draped dress to reveal a solid fuchsia one-piece swimsuit. A sudden chorus of squeals erupted from the audience.


Three principal colors — black, white, and yellow guided Mahkam Khaki's designs.

Things only got hotter — and bolder — from there. Mahkam Khaki, who studied mathematics before attending FIDM, presented a minimalist yet sophisticated (and shall I even say seductive?) collection of menswear called “Chaos.” Three principal colors — black, white, and yellow (the latter of which Khaki says symbolizes “hope”) — played off each other brilliantly in color-block jackets and shirts … a splash of yellow outlining the collar, break line, and buttons of a fitted jacket or a pop of houndstooth on matching suit and pants. The real showstopper, however, was a floor-length, voluminous black-and-white houndstooth coat paired with a solid yellow shirt and more swagger than Blue Ivy Carter.

Zara Marchand’s debut collection was partially inspired by Dior’s designs from the 1950s and, in keeping with one of 2018’s hottest trends, floral patterns. Pinks and purples dominated the first half of her collection, with a subtle switch to more red and black midway through and a fair share of floral fabric sprinkled in for good measure. Elegant, sleek silhouettes found their voice in the form of blazers and pencil skirts, while a knee-length slit in a sheath dress showed just enough skin to make your heart beat a little faster.


But hearts completely stopped when a haute-pink, off-the-shoulder princess-style gown, whose voluminous skirt gave new life to the floral theme with a showering of matching pink flowers, closed out the collection.


Light and airy fabrics highlighted Lilit Markosyan's designs.

Lilit Markosyan gave us spring fever with her eveningwear collection inspired by butterflies, which, she said in voice-over during her introductory video, are unique, just like every woman is unique. Light and airy fabrics in equally dreamy colors — pastel yellow, blue, and purple — conjured a quasi-magical mood, while beautiful, intricate beading, some spreading all the way from the chest up to the neckline, and 3-D flower petal details made things feel feminine.

If the modern female rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” gave any indication of what was to come in L.A. native Nancy Elizabeth Hennessey’s collection, “Eve,” it was that of female empowerment. Inspired by female archetypes from film and literature, Hennessey’s collection played with texture, from shiny black leather to fur to feathers. What began as a representation of bondage through design elements such as polka dots, the pencil skirt, corsets, and bows metamorphosed into one badass woman on the path to freedom. Or as Hennessey puts it, a woman who is “losing the chains of societal labels and restrictions.” We’re talking a Cruella de Vil–worthy fur coat followed by a sheer one-piece black jumpsuit that little left to the imagination and created quite an excited stir in the audience. Nothing was off limits — not even a giant black feather headdress.


Christian J. Miller from West Islip, New York, mastered the effortless “grunge” look with just enough sophistication to keep it within safe distance of Kanye’s Yeezy line. Black with pops of red was Miller’s color palette of choice. But it was his use of black and gray leopard print, bursts of metallic fabric, and an off-the-shoulder sweater that really showcased this young designer’s efforts to redefine the male style.


Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” blasted through the speakers, keeping the crowd from ever forgetting Miller’s rebellious debut or the shirtless male model clad in nothing but skinny, partially sheer black pants and a matching maxi-length kimono. In this case, a little naughty went a long way.

“Restricted Freedom,” the debut collection of North Dakota native Jasmine ‘Yasi’ Sakak, told the story of a woman’s evolution to find herself, as shown through Sakak’s smart transition from heavy fabrics to light fabrics, from confined silhouettes to freer forms. Soft autumnal shades of orange, plum, rust, and olive green contrasted with metallic belts and shiny zippers. Sakak put her own twist on the classic jumpsuit with flowy, wide-legged pants, a full off-the-shoulder top, and a cinched belt. Her final design featured a flashy multicolored tulle train that fully embodied the image of a woman finally freed.


Ashley Neville found inspiration in the graffiti and urban art of Los Angeles near her hometown of Pasadena. Titled “Unapologetic,” her collection immediately stood out among the rest with trousers, shirts, and even a strapless bralette canvassed in hand-painted prints inspired by Jackson Pollock. Copper metallic accents paired nicely with the multicolored graffiti-style prints, which took new form on a full-length black dress half-covered in what resembled gold paint splatters. Neville was also unapologetic about the plunging “V” neckline on her solid red jumpsuit and the final sheer nude gown glittering with red, gold, and green.


As attendees trickled out of the tent, I held back for a few seconds, trying to soak in the swooping lights and chaotic chatter a little longer. In a mere 60 minutes I had gone from an en vogue virgin to a woman who finally understood the meaning behind “wearable art.” And it felt pretty damn good.

Though all of the designers exhibited an equal level of professionalism and talent that I never could have dreamed of prior to last night’s show, each is clearly a trailblazer in his or her own right. Stein is spot on when she calls their work “impeccable.”

It wasn’t just the novelty of the experience or of these designers and their collections that made this night special. It was the invitation to reflect not only the current state of fashion but also on its future, a future full of redefined florals, fairy-tale-like fabrics, floor-length everything, and female empowerment.

Hearing that two of the debuting designers recently received fashion scholarships (one being the John and Victoria Hill Scholarship, named after the night’s presenters who also happen to be two of Fashion Week El Paseo’s divas) only strengthens the special connection that the community has with the future of fashion. In keeping with this mission, the FIDM Debut Collection benefited Fashion Group International Inc., a global nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advancing men and women in the fashion industry.

For information and tickets to Fashion Week El Paseo, visit

VIDEO: Catch the entire FIDM show featuring designers from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.