On Feb. 18, a special panel on fashion was held with Arjun Kilaru ‘19, Jill Milan founder Jill Fraser, and upper school English teachers Nicholas Manjoine and Pauline Paskali. Each shared what initially intrigued them about fashion and, in the cases of Kilaru and Fraser, how they got involved in the industry.
Kilaru, who currently studies at the University of Chicago, where he curated a collection of his own designs, called his foray into fashion a “really big leap. It was challenging but I always felt like I had enough resources,” he said, recognizing the support and feedback he received from people back home. “I made a lot of mistakes and I will never stop advocating for trial and error.”
He said fashion offered him an avenue for self-expression. “I make new statements with how I look and what I hear,” he said, adding that in college, “you’re always in an environment where you can share ideas with your peers.”
Kilaru also started a podcast, affiliated with the university’s fashion magazine, which explores various fashion topics. “This quarter we’ve been really active with posting an episode every Friday,” he said.
Fraser, who is vegan, was working at a startup in 2009 when she decided that the fashion industry needed more ethical brands. Jill Milan was founded in 2011 with the mission of creating an animal-friendly fashion brand. “I hired a very good young designer and we began working in Italy. Mostly it was sort of making a lot of friends.” The designs were well-liked and have been worn at red carpet events by high-profile celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria.
Her advice to people hoping to break into the industry was to treat people respectfully. “Be very nice,” she said. “There’s always someone around you who could hurt you or help you a lot.” She also recommended seeking opportunities with Fashion Incubator San Francisco, a firm that offers mentorship to designers new to the industry.
Manjoine said he was initially hesitant to make clothes for himself, even though “for most of human history, people have made their own clothes. This is sort of a special moment in history where we rely on other people,” he said, recalling the time he spent in 4H learning how to knit and sew. He also showed off one of the sweaters he made for himself.
For people who find enjoying fashion difficult, Paskali said, “I think it’s really important to wear both what you think is really fun and what feels good on you, what makes you feel strong, cheerful, playful. Clothes should make you happy too.”
“The social convention is that we all wear clothes, so you might as well have fun with it,” Manjoine said. “We might as well make [fashion choices] that present our best selves. Don’t be afraid to mix colors or put on shapes that make you feel like you.”