‘Chic and fun’: University student designs West Coast fashion line

The University student is inspired by unisex clothing, which he says removes societal constraints from the design process.

Accomplished fashion designer and University of Minnesota student Ivan Gil showcases one of the unisex outfits that he designed in McNeal Hall on Friday, Sept. 29th.

Ananya Mishra

Accomplished fashion designer and University of Minnesota student Ivan Gil showcases one of the unisex outfits that he designed in McNeal Hall on Friday, Sept. 29th.

by Christopher Lemke

University of Minnesota student Ivan Gil received a relatively simple assignment in the summer: Make an outfit based on the classic T-shirt and have it ready by this fall.

The assignment was simple, but led him to contribute to one of Minnesota’s biggest annual fashion events.

Gil, a College of Design junior studying apparel design, prepared the outfit for Fashionopolis, a September fashion show showcasing Minnesota designers. Gil was one of 11 designers and the only University student selected to participate.

After the show, a Los Angeles manufacturer and wholesale company contacted Gil and asked him to design a six-piece collection. Gil, a 27-year-old Latino man who identifies as queer, hopes his success and personal pride will inspire others. 

“I never had a gay, successful Latino [role model] that represented pride of being brown, or being queer, or being strong,” he said. “That was my motivation to really push myself.”

A passion for fashion

Gil traces his love for fashion back to his youth in Mexico, where his family owned a fashion store. 

When he was 15, Gil moved to Minnesota. Gil didn’t have many friends in high school, said Gustavo Lara, his high school art teacher, because he was so focused on his future in fashion. Lara was sure Gil would be successful, he said.

“It was reflected in his work, his dedication and everyday product,” Lara said.

After graduating from high school in Minneapolis, Gil got an associate’s degree from a California fashion school and worked as a freelancer.

Still, he didn’t have the skills to construct garments. Gil came to the University to build on his fashion knowledge as well as get involved in the Twin Cities community.

In his sophomore year, Gil joined the University College of Design’s student and alumni board as the apparel design representative, the second Latino to be on the student board. He now serves as the student board’s first Latino president, he said.

‘An eye for drama’

This fall, Gil will be busy designing the six-piece collection for WonderLustLA. He’s looking to produce it in the winter and launch it this spring. 

“It’s a little more on the mature side. It’s sophisticated, chic and fun. Not to mention sexy,” Gil said of his collection, which is geared to women over 25. “Still classy — very classy — but sexy.”

Gil’s strengths as a designer lie in his creative process and incorporation of multiple viewpoints into his works, said Lindsey Strange, a University apparel design teaching specialist. 

For example, in a project about sustainability, Gil designed a backpack made from recycled tarps that can transition into a sleeping bag, Strange said, adding that his social justice approach was unique. 

With “an eye for drama,” Strange said, Gil uses designs that “make a statement.”

Gil describes his work as “youthful.” Unisex clothing, as well as fashions from the 1950s and 1960s inspire him, he said.

By not being tied to a specific gender, Gil said, unisex clothing gives more freedom by removing societal restrictions.

In the future, Gil would like the fashion industry to open up to a more diverse community. He hopes to see more gender nonconforming and racially diverse models, as well as more options for people who are petite or plus-size.

One day, Gil wants to move back to Los Angeles or New York City, where he was born, to design his own clothing line. Eventually he aims to work in Paris, “where fashion starts,” he said.

For now, he said his experiences should encourage other members of marginalized communities hoping to make it in the fashion industry.

“It’s a message, saying that future generations will also have these opportunities,” he said.