Designer Jason Wu, Stylist B. Åkerlund Fete Otis College Centennial at Fashion Show

B. Akerlund, Bao Tranchi, Kim Giangiuli, Jason Wu -Otis College of Art and Design- H 2019
Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com/ Courtesy Otis College of Art and Design

“It’s the home of Hollywood,” said Jason Wu. “I work with a lot of amazing actresses that inspire me.”

On May 4, Otis College of Art and Design celebrated its centennial anniversary as well as the 37th annual Scholarship Benefit and Fashion Show.

The school tapped Jennifer Tong (design director for Adidas/ Agron, Inc.), costume designer and stylist B. Åkerlund, fashion designer Bao Tranchi, Eduardo Castro (known for costume design work on Once Upon a Time), designer Jason Wu (who also represented the foundation Madworkshop), Kim Giangiuli, Mia Stephens and Meng Wang of Ralph Lauren and Patrik Ervell, Debbie Sabet, and Arthur Thammavong (who design for Vince) to mentor their junior and senior Fashion Design Class.

The call resulted in seven fashion presentations in which students took fashion direction from their guides to translate the theme Limitless into 125 designs.

“The whole theme is about being limitless, so we wanted to celebrate diversity,” Tranchi told The Hollywood Reporter. “We wanted to celebrate inclusivity and body types. You don't just design for stick thin models. You need to know real customers, real clients, even celebrities. Once you know how to design for a fuller-size woman or a thinner-size woman, you're a better designer because you see the woman as a 360.”

Tranchi also relayed key red carpet intelligence to her students who sent models down the runway in dresses reminiscent of her designs worn by Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys that often include unexpected cut-outs and form-fitting silhouettes. 

“The excitement never goes away and each time is a new challenge because every celebrity is a different size,” she said. “I just did Miranda Lambert for the CMT Music Awards. My whole thing was, I always want to bring a new perspective to the celebrity. How can we make it more exciting? So then you consider things like, ‘What is the event? What are they going through in their lives? Did they just have a baby? Did they just break up with someone? It's very psychological too. You can control a room just by what you wear. You don't have to say a word and it's total control.”

Nearby was Åkerlund whose students took on her whimsical designs giving nearly every model an elaborate mask to accompany ensembles featuring fur jackets, sweeping coats with oversized eye motifs, and embellished kilts for men.

“It’s inspiring,” she told THR of styling Madonna and relaying that same energy to her students. “She just keeps you on your toes. I like that.”

Åkerlund, who has culled 25 years in the industry and worked with names including Beyonce and Katy Perry also noted, “I feel like I gave them a few curve balls in there which I think they found interesting. I always like to push the limits and keep things fresh.”

For Soo Min Chun, the curve balls inevitably landed her the Designer of the Year award after the show ended.

Regarding the nod, Åkerlund told THR.“I picked a winner. What can I say? Her designs are incredible. I wish I could hire her to work for me.”

Wu also had “a soft spot” for his students who took inspiration from one of his favorite eras to create a collection that featured structured blazers and gentle pleated skirts.

“I'm no stranger to the west coast,” Wu said. “It’s the home of Hollywood. I work with a lot of amazing actresses that inspire me. Hollywood glamour is something that is very much a part of my work. The forties and fifties, that's really the heyday of Hollywood glamour, you know, the movie stars were impeccably dressed at all times. That’s always been a huge influence of mine."

When it came to influencing his mentees, Wu noted, “I would say that to a designer or a non-designer, you never really stop learning. I'm 36 and I'm still learning every day.”

He continued with a laugh: “I was with my dad in Taiwan, he’s an avid gardener and I've been working on a lot of fragrances. We were doing this tour of a garden and he’s showing me the cinnamon tree. It never dawned on me that the cinnamon we buy is actually the bark.”

After the show, guests migrated to dinner and honored Shelley Reid who was being awarded for serving as the chair of the benefit for nearly 20 years.

“There’s one person we should be celebrating tonight,” she told the room. “It was her brainchild to start this show, and that’s Elaine Goldsmith. Elaine is a force to be reckoned with. She has been a very dear and special friend. She is a dynamic role model and she is an inspiration because her motto is anything is possible. She always says it’s about the students. That’s what this community of patrons and supporters and faculty are all about. To have been a small part of this legacy and to be able to help who might not otherwise have an opportunity to pursue a creative career in any capacity means the world.”