VCU fashion design senior Michael Robinson, wears the “Nazar dress” that he walked in during the Fine Arts and Flowers show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 23. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor

Michael Robinson always knew he wanted to pursue a career in fashion design. Ever since he was young, fashion has always been a form of expression and empowerment.

“To be able to build off my own experiences to help others, but also to bridge communities and build that intersectionality between different cultures is an exciting thing about fashion that I really enjoy,” Robinson said. 

Now, he’s able to wear his own designs and showcase his talent.

Robinson, a VCU fashion design senior who uses both he/they pronouns, showcased his work in the Fine Arts and Flowers show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 23, where he walked in the show wearing his own design in front of judges. 

Nineteen other VCU fashion design students showcased their designs during the show; out of all the VCU fashion students who showcased their work, Robinson was one of only two who won a scholarship for the best designs at the show. He was awarded the scholarship along with junior fashion design student Zoe Pettit, as decided by the judges.

“Being that it was my first scholarship achievement in the department, being recognized for something that I hand painted and worked so hard on just really felt good to experience,” Robinson said.

The specific piece Robinson wore during the fashion show was what he calls his “Nazar dress,” a hand-draped tent dress with a hand-painted evil eye pattern, which he worked on during the pandemic. 

Robinson stated in an additional email interview that the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to further discover his passion as a designer, as he’s now grown and able to expand his creativity as a designer. Recently, he’s been utilizing eye motifs, as they translate to protection from evil energies.

“To incorporate this motif to symbolically protect the wearer in this dress is a concept I’ve been fascinated in developing into my senior thesis of transforming and creating shapes from within shapes,” Robinson stated.

Robinson said designing has also been a form of self-expression for him, and walking in the show was “empowering.”

“To be appreciated and celebrated for the first time in the fashion dept. for something I created from start to finish was very gratifying,” Robinson stated. “Not to mention the fact I was wearing and represented my piece for all that it is and more.”

In the future, Robinson wants to design for people who come from similar backgrounds. He said he wants people who feel like outsiders, especially “young Black queer boys,” to find comfort and representation from his designs.

“Being in this position and just knowing the endless possibilities of where I could go with my career is just so exciting,” Robinson said. “There’s always something new I can implement in my own design and aesthetic.”

Kimberly Guthrie, associate chair of the fashion design and merchandising department, stated in an email that Robinson is a “unique” student and designer. His work at the fashion show was based on Robinson’s innovative and inclusive approach to fashion.

“He/they love color and is not afraid to be bold with their color choices and combinations and artistic details,” Guthrie stated. 

Guthrie stated that Robinson is also able to implement his own experiences into his work while celebrating individuality. 

Guthrie stated that she’s proud that Robinson was one of two students who won a scholarship at the event, as she’s seen how hard they’ve worked this past year. She stated that Robinson will add a new perspective to the fashion industry. 

“My hope is that Michael [Robinson] will bring a newness and freshness to the industry, not just as a designer but as a citizen,” Guthrie stated. “They/he will certainly be an inspiration to the students in the department.”

Hawa Stwodah, a VCU assistant professor of fashion design, has had Robinson as a student for the past two years and describes them as a very thoughtful and innovative designer. 

“At a personal level, I like a lot of the things he’s exploring, he likes to explore identities and he likes to expand a little into the metaphysical,” Stwodah said. “He enjoys pushing traditional ideas.”

She said Robinson is very connected to his work and the designs he creates, making his pieces much more meaningful. She said he has a unique eye for shapes and colors when putting together pieces that make his design skills unique.

Stwodah said she appreciates how Robinson’s designs are mostly inspired by experience.

“Again, it has to do with that authenticity,” Stwodah said. “I appreciate how he’s designing with a human in mind and he’s using his own kind of vessel, his own body, to be the one who’s showing you, ‘This is what it looks like.’”

She said she thinks his involvement wearing his own fashion pieces at the VMFA’s Fine Arts and Flowers show is just the first step in his fashion design career.

“There’s nothing really holding him back, I think he’s going to be jumping full force into it,” Stwodah said.

VCU fashion design student breaks barriers, wins design scholarship