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10 Collections that Stunned at Bay Area Student Fashion Shows

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Wearable sails, breathtaking knitwear and oversized butterfly sleeves took to the runways during the Bay Area’s unofficial fashion week this month. Undergraduate and graduate students at California College of the Arts, San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art debuted their thesis collections to massive applause and, in the case of one particular collection, gasps. 

Here are 10 collections from emerging and talented designers that had my jaw on the freakin’ floor — and renewed my excitement for the Bay’s unique fashion scene.

A model wears a mini dress by student Paulina Aguilar-Rosil during the Pulse Runway Show at SF State on May 13, 2024. The fashion exhibition showcased work by apparel design and merchandising majors. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Paulina Aguilar-Rosil’s plaid skirt at the SF State runway. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Paulina Aguilar-Rosil’s plaid skirt and her mini dress with an exaggerated bow elicited an audible response from the runway crowd — and for good reason. The SF State student’s bold Pobrecita collection brought Chicana aesthetics into conversation with Catholic school uniforms. The outcome was a collection that told a captivating story about Aguilar-Rosil’s Los Angeles upbringing, using specific references that made her designs stand out from other, more familiar takes on It Girl styles.

Hand-crocheted looks by Pamela Alcala at the California College of the Arts show on May 10, 2024. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

At the CCA show, Pamela Alcala’s hand-crocheted collection didn’t just reimagine knitwear — it built an entire world out of brushed wool. Alcala told KQED her looks were a “menswear take on [her] grandmother,” who lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico, taught Alcala how to sew and is obsessed with cats. Her designs were deliciously colorful and fresh, juxtaposing rich oranges and graying purples on playful silhouettes. Among them: nearly floor-length sleeves and cat-eared balaclavas.

model in bright pink dress with giant sleeves and gold detailing
Dress by Jagmehak Mandhan during the Academy of Art Fashion Show on May 16, 2024. This year’s theme was ‘Uncharted Territories.’ (Gina Castro/KQED)

When Jagmehak Mandhan’s pink look rounded the corner at the Academy of Art runway, attendees along the aisle actually gasped. Using fabrics she hand-selected from across North India and pieces of her mother’s 1989 wedding dress, Mandhan breathed exuberant life into traditional embroidery and regal silhouettes.

Woman in fuzzy pink dress surrounded by crowd
A model walks down the runway wearing Winny Qingzihua Guan’s knitwear during the CCA student fashion show. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

Back at CCA, Winny Qingzihua Guan’s knit dress, made from deconstructed N95 masks spun into yarn, was a favorite stand-alone garment. Guan’s textural details turned the dress into an ecosystem that rewarded close looking: here and there, horizontal strips of elastic from repurposed masks fluttered as the model strutted.

Three models in crop tops
Looks inspired by Bratz from SF State student designer Arnel Noquez. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Arnel Noquez’s collection brought every Zillenial Bratz fantasy to life at the SF State show. But beyond that iconic reference, each look was grounded in sleek craftsmanship, especially this crop top and miniskirt set with charming fur details.

Model in draped head covering, layered skirts and boots
A design by Yiwei Wang at the CCA student fashion show. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

The gooey center of CCA designer Yiwei Wang’s collection was a series of incredible trousers and one skirt that put texture, pattern and layering in refreshing concert with one another. Each look was completely unlike the other but united in a shared reimagining of bottoms.

Four models in wraps, beaded clothing and natural tones
Keana Pukahi De Bruce’s looks from her ‘Vanua’ collection at SF State. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Keana Pukahi De Bruce debuted a gorgeous collection at the SF State show titled Vanua, meaning “home” or “land,” that celebrated the designer’s Fijian roots and brought traditional materials into ready-to-wear. Careful shell beading, coconut fibers and a patterned fabric made from mulberry bark called masi — usually used in ceremonies — were highlights of the collection. 

Black man in vest and black pants with chains and rivets walks in front of seated crowd
A model wearing designs by Academy of Art student Haydée Quesedo. (Gina Castro/KQED)

Haydée Quesedo was another stunner at the Academy of Art show, melding punk rock with flamenco silhouettes. Quesedo’s designs delivered chains, full denim skirts and embroidered patches galore.

A tulle look by Johnny UN on model Jianyan Liu at the Academy of Art fashion show. (Gina Castro/KQED)

Johnny UN was a standout at the Academy of Art show with a striking and moody collection that surreptitiously commented on warfare, the designer told KQED. Graphic cut outs, ripped sleeves and oodles of billowing tulle dissolved into one another across UN’s looks, bringing forth feelings of disaster and detonation. The effect was foreboding and spectacular.

From left, models Bob Copani, Saira Kaur and Averie Johnson pose with designer Joey Ledoux, center right, at the Academy of Art fashion show. (Gina Castro/KQED)

Amid many experiments in structure across the Academy of Art runway, Joey Ledoux’s were the most physically multi-dimensional. Inspired by time spent sailing with his grandfather as a kid, Ledoux transformed recreational outdoor materials — including collapsible tent poles and sails — into airy, wearable sculptures.


After watching dozens of collections come down the runway, it’s clear that knitwear was the crown jewel this year. It materialized as fuzzy floor-length dresses and draping sleeves, and I was completely here for it. While many collections adhered to a more expected range of princess-y dresses and Sandy Liang-esque bows and ruching, the looks that had me gawking were the most specific: those that referenced a designer’s culture, childhood nostalgia or a grandmother who loves her granddaughter — and cats.

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