One benefit of being located in Richmond, Virginia is the proximity to the #1 ranked public arts school in the country and the pool of talent that emerges from one of its many-lauded programs. Virginia Commonwealth University (or VCU) is ranked top in the country for its sculpture, fiber arts, and 2nd overall in (public) arts program. Their fashion department is growing in stature and has even recently rolled out a Jeanology program offering students the opportunity to dive deep into the intricacies of designing and manufacturing denim in the market place. The program is led by VCU Fashion alum and PRPS denim founder Donwan Harrell. In partnership with VCU, the Fashion department invited our founder and CEO, Paul Trible, and Head of Design Lindsey Hunt, as judges for their annual student fashion show. They awarded the Critic’s Choice Award for Menswear to student Ben Park and his unique take on a classic button-up. His impeccable sewing and workmanship, attention to detail, and overall execution caught set him apart from the competition. We sat with Ben recently to discuss his piece and dreams for the future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I’m from a suburban neighborhood in Centreville, VA. I’m 21 and a pretty average citizen who likes pop music and nonsense TV shows. I’ve always been into art, ever since I was a preschooler, but I’m sure everyone says that. I really enjoy food.
Why did you decide to pursue fashion at VCU?
I actually found my interest in fashion a bit late. It was after 2012 summer visual art governor’s school, someone has mentioned that I should pursue fashion design. So after that I started to sketch croquis (a quick sketch of a live model) and design clothes in my sketchbook, I surprisingly filled four sketchbooks in two years. I just loved drawing fashion and playing with shapes, because when I draw I feel limitless. And so I applied to the Arts program and chose fashion design.
Why menswear? What’s your earliest memory of clothes?
To be honest I have only recently started being interested in menswear because I usually can’t find anything for me when I shop, or I guess I’m not looking hard enough, or I just didn’t care? But now I feel that menswear has so much potential to be more compelling. Men are more open nowadays to new shapes and patterns, and it feels like there are less restrictions. Fashion-forward men, and fashion people in general, no longer worry about what is feminine and masculine, so that makes designing menswear more charming. My earliest memories of clothes are when I was very young and my mom would take me to Kohl’s and I got to pick some of my own clothes. I would treasure my clothes very much and try to avoid getting them dirty. Whenever my mom would throw away my old clothes I would be very sad and angry because every single garment had a memory attached to it and it felt that I was losing a memory. My clothes are like a picture in an album, it is a representation of my past.
How has VCU Fashion prepared you for a career in menswear?
Henry Swartz (VCU menswear professor) has done an excellent job at teaching us the fundamentals of menswear. Starting with drafting and sewing a basic men’s dress shirt, to helping each of us individually with our own projects.
What are your goals after graduation? Are there any dream brands you would love to work for?
After graduation, hopefully, I will have a job somewhere. I actually would really like to work in some kind of sample-making factory; I really enjoy the process of sewing clothes and I feel very accomplished when I finish a garment. If I were to dream big, I would really love to work for Givenchy, Christian Dior, or Celiné. It doesn’t really matter as long as I believe in the brand and get to design or sew.
Tell us the inspiration for your award-winning piece?
The inspiration for the men’s button up was a twist on a classic linen button up. I wanted to do something that felt easy and clean, and still have a beachy feeling. The neckline was the key point of this garment so I wanted something different was also sort of inspired by a baseball uniform neckline. I tried to make it more gender neutral, so both men and women can feel comfortable wearing it.
Where do you hope to see menswear going in the future?
I would love to see straight men wearing chiffon dresses, straight men wearing pink, and straight men wearing heels with pride.