Fashion school students all over the world are preparing to enter an industry that is rapidly changing. There are courses to pass, design prompts to ace, runway shows to prepare for, and professional connections to make. In our series, “Fashion school diaries“, the students give us one first-hand insight into their daily lives. Here we meet Francesca Bornancini, a 2022 Fashion Institute of Technology graduate.
Ask most fashion students and they’ll tell you their biggest dream is to see others wear their work. Usually it will take a while for that to happen – but this dream came true recently Fashion Institute of Technology Francesca Bornancini graduated much sooner than expected.
Her senior spring semester, Bornancini submitted her designs to a contest at FIT sponsored by Macy’s‘s, which would give one winner the chance to collaborate with the retailer on a capsule collection to be sold in stores. She first advanced to the top 15, then the top five, and was finally named the winner at FIT’s 2022 Future of Fashion runway show last May.
Fast forward to October, and Bornancini was able to see his vision on the rack at Macy’s large flagship in New York’s Herald Square, as well as at the Aventura mall outside Miami, her hometown, with custom FIT x Macy’s tag. Oh, and she secured a full-time job at the dealership.
Bornancini, whose family is from Argentina, always dreamed of becoming a designer—so when it came time to apply to college, she knew FIT would be a good fit.
“It has a good reputation for fashion,” she says. “It also offered a rigorous curriculum that would push me to find my own design aesthetic.”
Despite the distance from Miami, Bornancini leaned into a Florida-inspired visual language—which she describes as “commercial,” “Miami-style” and “resort”—while in school. She always wanted to create “something seasonless that you could interchange with other pieces in your wardrobe, and also had commercial appeal,” she says, which translated into lightweight fabrics like linen and cotton, as well as more minimal silhouettes.
According to Bornancini, one of the most valuable aspects of her time at FIT was the encouragement to get involved in the industry. “They offer the opportunity to volunteer at New York Fashion Weekso I did a couple of those,” she says. “Senior year, they make you do an internship, so I interned at LoveShackFancy.”
She also cites her thesis professor, Nicole Benefield, as a major source of inspiration: “She has her own brand and knows exactly how the fashion industry is always evolving… She also helped me find my design aesthetic more succinctly.” In fact, it was Benefield himself who encouraged his graduate students to enter the Macy’s competition.
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Preparing for the competition that landed her on the retail floor fresh out of college, Bornancini knew the pieces needed to be appropriate for everyday wear.
“I created timeless pieces that you can switch between. I also chose a very neutral color palette, which allows you to mix and match pieces in your wardrobe.” This is consistent with Bornancini’s previous works, which emphasized durability and sustainability.
The collaboration with Macy’s started with a runway presentation of Bornancini’s collection at the Future of Fashion show in 2022, where I got to walk the runway with her model and her book. Next, she began working with Macy’s to prepare her collection for production.
“That’s when I started talking to the Macy’s production and technology team. I showed them an engineering package with the measurements and specifications. Then there were test fittings where I went into the office and saw the first prototype,” recalls Bornacini.
What was unique about the process was how much creative freedom Macy’s gave Bornancini and how the company treated her the same way an experienced designer would. “Macy’s gave us a variety of nice fabrics to choose from. We were invited to visit local suppliers in Long Island City… It was just crazy to see how quickly everyone worked,” she says. “I was also able to go into design offices, meet the design team and see the process.” But putting together the final look wasn’t easy, especially for a student who had never created looks on a mass production scale.
“One of the fabrics I chose was too expensive to put into production,” she explains. “This was different than in the classroom: in school you pick the fabric you want and make what you want – you create one look – but it was challenging to figure out the fabric costs.” But thanks to Bornacini’s solid design foundation, she was able to quickly find a solution. “We had to change the fabric for the top and came up with a cheaper solution that still suited my mood.”
After the collaboration, the young graduate’s next big goal was to make a lasting impact at Macy’s. “After winning, I stayed in touch with my Macy’s mentor, Talia Blyer. She was like, ‘Do you want to work for Macy’s?’ And I thought, ‘Yes, I would love that!’ I’m really excited to have got the job.” Bornancini currently holds the position of assistant designer for Macy’s private collection, Bar III. The new job is a full-circle moment for Bornancini, who said it was “an easy transition; knowing people on the team makes you feel so welcome.”
See looks from Francesca Bornancini capsule collection for Macy’s in the gallery below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.