Fashion school students around the world are preparing to enter an industry that’s rapidly changing. There are courses to pass, design prompts to ace, runway shows to prep for and professional connections to make. In our series, “Fashion School Diaries,” those students give us a firsthand look into their day-to-day 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 wearing their work. Usually, it’ll take a while for that to happen — but this dream came true for recent Fashion Institute of Technology graduate Francesca Bornancini a lot faster than anticipated.
Her senior spring semester, Bornancini submitted her designs to a contest at FIT sponsored by Macy‘s, which would award one winner the chance to collaborate with the retailer on a capsule collection to be sold in stores. She advanced first to the top 15, then top five and eventually was declared the winner at FIT’s 2022 Future of Fashion runway show last May.
Fast-forward to October, and Bornancini was able to see her vision on the rack at Macy’s storied flagship in New York’s Herald Square, as well as at the Aventura mall outside Miami, her hometown, featuring custom FIT x Macy’s tag. Oh, and she secured a full-time job with the retailer.
Bornancini, who’s 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 at school. She always wanted to create “something seasonless, that you can interchange with other pieces in your wardrobe, and also had commercial appeal,” she says, which has translated into lightweight fabrics like linens and cottons, 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 opportunities to volunteer at New York Fashion Week, so I did a couple of those,” she says. “Senior year, they make you take an internship, so I interned at LoveShackFancy.”
She also cites her thesis professor, Nicole Benefield, as a big 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 concisely.” In fact, it was Benefield herself who urged her thesis students to enter the Macy’s competition.
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In preparing for the competition that got her on the retail floor fresh out of college, Bornancini knew the pieces would have to be appropriate for everyday-wear.
“I made timeless pieces that you can interchange. I also chose a very neutral color palette, which allows you to mix pieces in your wardrobe”. This is consistent to Bornancini’s previous works, which emphasized wearability and sustainability.
The collaboration process with Macy’s started with a runway presentation of Bornancini’s collection at the 2022 Future of Fashion show, where 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 tech teams. I showed them a tech pack of the measurements and spec sheets. After that were the sample fittings, where I went into the office and saw the first prototype,” Bornacini recalls.
What was unique about the process was how much creative freedom Macy’s gave Bornancini, and how the company treated her the same way they would a seasoned designer. “Macy’s gave us a variety of neat fabrics to choose from. We were invited to visit local vendors in Long Island City… It was just crazy to see how fast everyone worked,” she says. “I was also able to go into design offices, meet the design team and see the process.” But putting the final looks together 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 the classroom: In school, you pick whatever fabric you want and make what you want — you’re creating one look — but it was challenging to figure out fabric costs.” However, 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 less expensive option that still matched my mood.”
Following the collaboration, the young graduate’s next big goal was to make a long-lasting impact at Macy’s. “After winning, I stayed in contact with my Macy’s mentor, Talia Blyer. She was like, ‘Would you wanna work for Macy’s?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I would love to!’ I’m really excited to have gotten 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 welcomed.”
See looks from Francesca Bornancini’s capsule collection for Macy’s in the gallery below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.