we know Vincent van Gogh as the illustrious painter of golden sunflowers and starry nights, but lurking just beyond the canvas was a darkness—mania, mental illness, and, ultimately, tragedy, as the artist's death was ruled a suicide. Despite his place in the canon of greats, he had remarkably sold just one painting at the time of his death. 

This story, the life of Vincent van Gogh, served as inspiration for 100 students and alumni of the fashion program at Houston Community College who created original looks for Fashion Fusion, a runway competition inspired by this year’s blockbuster exhibition at the MFAH, Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art.

MFAH and HCC whittled the entries down to 24 designs from 22 designers to fit within four categories that coincide with van Gogh’s life and career: inception, awakening, euphoria, and melancholy.

Inspired by the more morose and nostalgic aspects of van Gogh’s life, student Regina Vigil used navy blue taffeta as the bones of her dress and strategically embellished it with hand-cut sequins made from the artist's postcards and family photos, a creation that earned her the coveted title of Audience Choice Winner. Vigil and eight others were recognized last Thursday evening for their designs, which all left quite an impression on audience members, who, by the end of the show, all stood to applaud the talent on display.

First-place student awards also went to Tu Trong for a black feathered cocktail dress, Shanda Phillips for a stunning noir caped number, Nghi Nguyen for a Beauty and the Beast-worthy ball gown, and Jade Gillen for a beautifully structured gray gown and matching shawl. First-place alumni winners included David Valdez for his flower-embroidered pantsuit, Maria Hammond for an earth-tone gown and floral-embroidered cardigan, Mishelle Chayeb for an intricate pink-and-blue flower-clad dress, and Inge Duran for her rendition of Starry Night on a black gown.

If you missed the show, you can see all student and alumni designs through May 12 at the MFAH before they go on tour throughout Houston and Harris County. The eight winning designs will be on display only at the Jesse H. Jones Central Library; you can see the rest at the 16 other Houston Public Library locations as well as Harris County Public Libraries, DAO by Chloe Dao, Miles David, MODChic Couture, Sameera Faridi Design Studio, and Tootsies, which sponsored Thursday evening’s event and whose own Fady Armanious got his industry start in HCC's fashion design program.

Now in its fifth year, Fashion Fusion is about more than just runway looks: It represents a deep and ever-growing collaboration between the museum and the college, says creator Caroline Goeser, who's also chair of the W.T. and Louise J. Moran Department of Learning and Interpretation at MFAH.

“Fashion Fusion is now a tradition, and we’re excited to find new areas within the museum’s permanent collections of art that can inspire the students going forward,” she says.

Goeser says Fashion Fusion has grown each year since its inception in 2015. So, too, has the relationship between the MFAH and HCC—hours before the show, the two entities signed and released a Memorandum of Understanding to formerly cement their partnership.

So, what exactly does that mean? Nothing concrete—yet—but Goeser says to watch out for more events like Fashion Fusion that will shine a light on local talent.

“In making new disciplinary connections, we are excited to work with Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi, president of HCC Central College, and his faculty to identify new areas of collaboration with applied artistic disciplines, like interior design and the culinary arts, as well as humanities and science disciplines," she says. "We want our galleries of art objects to be laboratories for learning, offering HCC students dynamic opportunities outside the classroom to creatively engage their knowledge and critical inquiry skills.”

And while we can't yet say for sure what these “new areas of collaboration” will entail, what is certain is MFAH and HCC's commitment to cultivating the untapped talent bursting in our city—and that’s something we can get behind.

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