When it comes to fashion in Detroit, the big names are making an entrance and getting comfortable. Gucci, the emblem of all things fashion, now has a corner store focused primarily on men’s, downtown at the corner of Grand River and Library. Hermes opened its doors at the Somerset Collection in Troy and brought its “In the Making” exhibition to downtown Detroit. Louis Vuitton expanded and refreshed its Somerset space last year, and to the surprise of many global fashion mavens, Bottega Veneta presented its Summer 2022 collection in Detroit.
Not to mention Detroit originators like Carhartt and Shinola, designers Kevan Hall and Tracy Reese, and industrial sewing and innovation Center ISAIC who are helping to pave the way toward a robust fashion industry in Detroit.
A common denominator that’s working with and connecting to and pushing forward all of the above is the College for Creative Studies Fashion Design Program and Linda Dresner Endowed Chair in Fashion Design, Aki Choklat, and – ultimately – education.
Says Choklat, “I fundamentally believe that education is the most important part of the fashion ecosystem and in developing talent that will have an impact in Detroit and around the world.”
CCS’s Fashion Accessories Design program was established in 2015 under Choklat, and has been heralded as the largest and most equipped fashion accessory design department in the U.S.
June of 2022 marked the appointment of Rey Pador as associate director and full-time faculty member overseeing apparel design as part of the College’s fashion design department, representing a major expansion of its offerings and a program in Detroit that is unlike others, and sought-after.
About what’s happening in Detroit, Choklat says, “I have this feeling of optimism about the city and the fashion scene here like anything is possible, and I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
This Friday brings the 2023 Annual Student Exhibition – open to the public through May 26 – which showcases work from all departments at the college. This will also be the first public viewing of the initial apparel collections to come out of the program, which Choklat says are “exciting and real and ‘total looks.’”
Regarding the growth of the industry in Detroit, Choklat says, “Detroit is the perfect place to establish as a designer. There are big companies here but it’s still developing and with that come even more opportunities. Detroit is this sort of big laboratory right now that’s churning out amazing and innovative work.”
An interesting aspect Choklat brings to Detroit is an international perspective, as does Pador.
Of this Choklat says,
We certainly don’t want to come in and say this is how it’s done, but rather we intend to bring best practices and ideas that came out of the established fashion education industries we came from and mix those things with what Detroit is all about.
Another element Choklat brings is a passion for teaching. He says, “It’s through education that students not only find their handprint in the field but also their business savvy and how to make it in this competitive world and industry.”
CCS not only educates, but it also helps graduates secure jobs and careers as well.
“The board is an important part of this,” Choklat says, “ and I’m so excited to have Hermes and Louis Vuitton join it. They have the first view of students from year one and can guide and help place graduates into fitting careers.”
Regarding how these new graduates may continue to shape Detroit’s industry, Choklat points to a shift he’s seeing with students. “My generation looked at their first job or internship as a trophy and wanted to go big. These students look at their own level of happiness and their lifestyle as a big part of the equation so they are not all making the decision to move away to New York or London or another big fashion city.”
As we head into the CCS Exhibition and then a new year in the Fall, the other thing Choklat brings – no matter where he is – is an enthusiasm for fashion, and of that he says, “I hope it’s contagious.”
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