DESIGNOW shines the spotlight on the THE COLLECTIVE 2018 winner: Fashion Institute of Technology student Tirzah Rasys.
DESIGNOW: Tirzah, congratulations on your win. The judges loved your work. How does it feel to be recognized for your talent and vision?
The Collective 2018 Judges’ Winner Tirzah Rasys: To be honest, it still feels so unreal — I’m pinching myself sometimes. I mean when you work so hard for something, and you hit the inevitable disappointments along the way, when it finally happens it’s just such a surprise. I guess that’s essentially life: it throws a lot of hurdles. But it makes the win even sweeter. It’s a good life andcareer lesson.
DN: The judges loved many things about your collection including your thoughtful use of color. Why was color so important to you in designing for The Collective?
TR: I did a lot of research for this collection, and when I chose to focus on Mount Everest for my designs, color was a bold contrast that kinda stuck out to me. There’s outerwear, in which you think of the practicality of where you’re going to wear these garments. The bright colors serve a purpose of being crisp, reflective and easy to spot if you were a lost mountain climber who needed rescuing, but they also reminded me of the start of a new day, hope, a new opportunity. I wanted to bring in these vivid colors in contrast to the harsh wintry environment and bring an unexpected warmth to my collection.
DN: And how was it showing with your peers — from each of the big names in fashion education, FIT, Parsons and Pratt?
TR: Intimidating. Until I started to talk to them, get to know them and then realized they were on the exact same page. And as you look at their designs, you can see who they truly are. As artists, we tend to leave a little of ourselves in our work and so it was fun to look at the pieces and then when talking to each designer, see how their personalities showed in their clothes. Each really matched up well with their creations. That was the most enjoyable discovery.
DN: Your collection is called Everest After. What inspired your designs for The Collective?
TR: Honestly it began with breaking the rules. As a knitwear designer, I can feel boxed in sometimes on what people expect of me and my designs. I think fashion design is meant to be as creative as possible, but so many people tell me, “no, you must make sweaters and cardigans and what knitwear is supposed to be.” I caught myself fighting against that much like climbers challenge themselves despite the naysayers going, “you can’t do that. It’s too dangerous. It’ll never work. Give up!” So from that I decided to make knitwear that would challenge myself, but also the industry to see knitwear in a completely different light. I want to take knits to new heights and excel above that challenge. Plus, full disclosure: I started my education to become a doctor. But then I knew that was a “safe path” and not my true passion. I grew up in a large family and my father always told me to pick a stable career. But the whole time I was pursuing that path, I felt my creativity being stifled. It just hit me one day: “I’ve already given up on my dream” and now, thanks to having been on that path before, I know this is my true passion.
DN: You seem to play with perception, saying, “The view of the mountain at the base is far different from the one seen at the peak” — how has perception impacted your art?
TR: In life all of us can relate to trials as well as joy, but sometimes in the moment you can feel overwhelmed because you can’t see beyond the experience to what lies ahead. It’s quite often only after you get through that hardship and the summit of that peak that you realize, “Oh, that’s why I had to go through this, that’s the lesson I needed to learn.” It helps you become the person you’re meant to be. So in that vein, all of my designs ended up being emotional for me, thinking about the person who might be wearing my pieces expressing emotions that maybe they can’t express verbally, but through dress. Quite often how we dress reflects our mood or even can impact our mood, depending if we feel schlumpy or very polished. Fashion is so integral to our emotions, what we want to project and what we can’t project and need assistance to convey. So everything I design is with that concept in mind. Keeping Everest and these emotions in mind, my designs can be a protective layer in every sense.
DN: Tell us about some of the textiles you used in this collection. The mix of delicate layers with protective ones and the play on proportions were all really interesting and fresh.
TR: I wanted to choose knits to play off their stretchy, breathable attributes while injecting strength and durability. Vinyl just popped as a natural companion. Not only does it make it more weather-resistant but adds an embellished, reflective quality. Knits can absorb light normally, whereas having the vinyl overlay grabs it and makes the piece shine, spotlighting all the knit details. The larger scale was inspired by the mountain peaks which are enormous, but also serve to keep your warm and protected, enveloping around you like a blanket keeping you safe.
DN: Yeah, there was a really nice fashion and function balance in your collection — reflective fabrics, breathable layers, etc. Why is this so important to you?
TR: Well, it has to be wearable! That’s a pet peeve of mine. There has to be a functionality to everything. That’s one of the things I embed in every piece: versatility. My long yellow jacket, for instance, you can wear the long coat, which is awesome, but then you can change it by unzipping the bottom part and going with a shorter jacket. Every style has pockets, and hoods, fur, and everything is detachable so you can change up the appearance of the design to best suit your personality for the day. Again, perception and representation is essential, especially with outerwear.
DN: So, what’s next for you and your design career?
TR: Job hunting. I’m focusing on interviews and networking in New York. This is where I see myself in the next couple of years. I know there are a lot of outerwear opportunities outside of New York City, but this is home for me and I’d like to pursue my career here for a little while. I’d like to spend about 5 or so years under an established design company, learning as I go before I branch out on my own. I’m still trying to develop where I wanna be, outerwear is my focus now, but you never know what passion I may discover. There are a few upcoming, smaller companies in New York I’d love to work with since they’re so grassroots and passionate. But a dream company I’d ultimately love to work for is Preen out of London. They have so much fun with their designs, they’re innovative and really know who they are as a brand. Plus, I love how adventurous and rebellious the London-based designers are. I haven’t been there yet, but feel drawn to the energy of the city and artists.
DN: Who do you design for / who do you imagine the Tirzah Rasys customer to be?
TR: It’s a little bit hard for me to define that right now because I don’t want to inhibit any opportunities or inspiration or willingness to change how I’m designing, since I’m still evolving as a designer. But if I had to describe who I have in mind when I work, they’re bold, strong in intention and character, or someone who wants to exhibit that, using my garments to express that persona. I design with the mindset of how do I give my customers confidence through what they’re wearing or help them promote what they want to say without using words.
DN: You said something we loved, and we’re paraphrasing: “Fashion can make all the difference in a man or woman’s self-esteem. I believe that real change is in the details.” — Could you elaborate on that and how fashion can affect real change?
TR: Fashion is an expression of who we are and if a person is struggling with self-worth, as a doctor you were examine the symptoms and how to treat them. Fashion works the same way changing the mindset and instilling confidence. Successful people dress confidently, which in turn makes them feel more confident, take more risks and be more successful. Confident people affect change whether at schools, government, the environment — if I can help anyone feel better about themselves as they go into their day, how much more positivity can they pass on? When you feel good about yourself, you really can do anything, overcome any challenge, climb any summit.