In Review: “Identity” Apparel Design Fashion Show 2016

For 48 years, graduating seniors of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota–Minneapolis-St. Paul have put their most stylish foot forward at the annual Apparel Design Fashion Show. Every February, they showcase their final project: a collection of four to five looks created over the course of a semester. This year’s show, dubbed “Identity,” was held at Rapson Hall on the university campus and featured 15 senior student designers, creating everything from women’s formal evening wear and children’s clothing to lingerie and swimwear.

The top lines of the night, however, were women’s ready-to-wear, and shared a strong minimalism bent and inspiration culled from interior design and contemporary art—an ongoing trend in fashion that is showing no signs of slowing. Below, I spotlight 9 of the best collections from this year’s show.

Heidi Woelfle

all images by Rod Hasse

For her senior line, Heidi Woelfle took inspiration from Italian futurist paintings and cubism—and that inspiration was apparent in the collection of angular, rectangular, sleek looks she sent down the runway. The look was very “art-school-girl turned gallery-associate-in-a-contemporary-art-gallery”—sophisticated yet cool and slightly edgy. Individually, the pieces demonstrated Woelfle’s strengths—structure, tailoring, and use of texture—throughout. A boxy cardigan, paired with matching shorts and a knit crop top, was a standout piece, as were a pair of pleated, elegantly draped pants paired with a beautiful textured wool coat, and a textural top with bold shoulders paired with a slightly shimmery pencil skirt. She also nodded to the current trend toward unisex fashion with a menswear look that could easily have been worn by any gender.

Grace Chen

Similarly, Grace Chen showcased a strong foursome of looks that wouldn’t have been out of place in the closet of a gallerist. Taking inspiration from the tranquility of Japanese Zen Gardens, the Missouri-born Chen presented looks in an all-white palette, diaphanous fabrics, and delicate textures that had a clean, ethereal quality as the models moved across the runway. A simple, structured sheath dress relied on the strength of the textured fabric—a smart choice that demonstrated a sense of restraint that is often rare among student designers—and all four looks were boutique-ready. (The washed-silk gauchos need to find their way into my summer wardrobe.)

Regena Yu

Like Chen, Regena Yu took inspired from minimalist interior design, using a white palette with subtle black accents. Her line emphasized tailoring, seaming, and dart manipulation, and for the most part, it was an all-around solid effort. A cowl-neck duster and mock-neck tunic were lovely pieces, and I loved the seaming detail that visually connected the separates in the collection. My only quibble was that a couple of the looks were too tight. If she can perfect her fit and tailoring, Yu should have a bright future ahead of her.

Holly Welwood

Holly Welwood showed promise in her collection that incorporated minimalist, architectural silhouettes, neutral colors, and natural fabrics with textured, embroidered touches. Welwood’s strongest when you deconstruct the collection piece by piece: her navy anorak, cropped structured top, and embroidered chinos were great pieces on their own. But I’m not so thrilled by the way the pieces were put together—the embroidered mint tunic styled underneath the anorak made for an awkward, unbalanced silhouette, and the rolled jeans made a chic silk tunic look sloppy. With some cleaned-up styling, Welwood’s designs would shine.

Catherine Menzel

According to the video proceeding her collection, Catherine Menzel specializes in working with organic and recycled materials, hand-dyed fabrics, stitch work and beading. There’s a lot of love about Catherine Menzel’s collection: the juicy and unexpected color palette of red, fuchsia, orange, peach, and hunter green; the richness and texture she achieved with her hand-dyed fabrics; her stitch work and beading—a painstaking, time-consuming process—and the quirky styling of the John Fluevog shoes and red pom-pom earrings. And while I wasn’t really a fan of the fit of the pants (though I’m told the drop-crotch on the green pants was intentional), the collection overall was full of personality, skill, and a clear point of view.

Aly Gates

Aly Gates’ collection, “Desert Rising,” mined the Southwest for inspiration, from the peach, mauve, and taupe color palette to the Coachella-esque styling. The first two looks looked straight out a Free People catalog, and that’s no knock—the looks were well-executed, it’s just nothing that I haven’t seen before. She’d do well designing for a California brand like Free People, actually.But I loved the tie-dye ruffled blouse—a chic twist on hippie-dippie tie-dye—though I would have liked to have seen it paired with some tailored shorts instead of the high-waisted granny panties. And the final look, a swingy coral silk dress with bell sleeves—was completely on-trend yet still felt fresh. (I’d like one for my upcoming trip to Mexico, please.)

Elizabeth Bischoff

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a big fan of traditional gowns. But red carpet dressing is an increasingly huge part of the fashion industry, so you can’t fault young designers such as Elizabeth Bischoff for setting their sights designing for that market. And creating a gown is no easy feat—they’re incredibly time-consuming to create, involving tons of fabric and detail work. In that end, Bischoff’s fairytale-inspired collection was well-done, and her red gown was a showstopper, flawlessly incorporating a mix of textures and precise tailoring.

Sheng Jie Li

China-born designer Shengjie Li blended her Chinese heritage with Western wedding trends for her bridal fusion line. Her Chinese heritage was represented by the collection’s ornate embroidery and the traditional Chinese wedding colors of red and gold, while incorporating the romantic silhouette of Western bridal gowns, as well as one of this spring’s hottest trends, fringe—exemplified in a gold brocade dress accented with electric-blue fringe. It was beautiful, unusual, well-made, and truly innovative.

Lee Tran

According to his artist bio, Lee Tran has “never been one to blend in with the crowd,” and that much was apparent in his collection. There seemed to be two separate collections: a gothic minimalist edgy line, and a romantic, painterly one. His string-collared dress was a cool idea in concept, but sloppy in execution, and a caped ivory top was just plain odd. But what intrigued me about Tran’s collection was his techniques with the fabrics themselves—and the unusual beauty of his last two organza gowns. They were inspired by the gradation of colors from watercolor and brushstrokes, and incorporated hand pleating, free-hand embroidery, hand-dyed fabrics, and hand-created burnout silk. Tran is clearly a talented and ambitious designer, and with some editing, he could really go places.

To learn more about the University of Minnesota’s 48th Annual Apparel Design Fashion Show, visit