Many applied, three were chosen, but there could only be one winner. On March 30, at a special gala party in Los Angeles, DaShaun Hightower was presented with the annual Out Fashion Vanguard Award. While the other finalists, Nicolas Bilodeau and Marquise Foster, delivered some impressive looks, Hightower's finely cut trouser and excellent fitted white jacket blew the judges away.
Related | Gallery: Rebel Designer DaShaun Hightower
"I was honestly shocked," says Hightower. "There was so much talent on that stage, anyone could have taken the award." His surprise was accentuated by the fact that he won a menswear competition, despite being primarily a womenswear designer. "When I looked at images from last year's contest, and I saw a dress, I was like, Oh, that's fly, I can do that," he recalls.
The 24-year-old New Britain, Conn., native studied fashion at Lasell College, where he was taught everything from leather accessories to hats and children's wear. Through the multidisciplinary program, and by making clothes for himself, he picked up the requisite skills for menswear. Hightower had known he wanted to be in fashion since he was a senior in high school, but it was a stint studying in London that helped solidify his aesthetic, and in turn won over our panel of judges.
"Before then I had never been outside the U.S.," he says. Although there were a few "crazy nights," the majority of his time was spent in London College of Fashion's extensive library, where Hightower pored over archives. "I was just sitting in there every day, learning as much as I could -- you would be crazy not to." A born rebel, he quickly found inspiration in the city's punk roots, which continues to inform his designs to this day. "I feel like that's a natural instinct for any creative--when they say, 'Sit up,' I immediately sit down," Hightower says. Though his work is steeped in countercultural references--he's an ardent Vivienne Westwood fan--he also has a fascination with couture, citing Viktor & Rolf as a primary influence. This mix of high fashion imbued with street influence--he refers to it as "streetwear remastered"--is his defining characteristic.
After school, Hightower chose to move to Chicago instead of heading to New York, another act of defiance. "The opportunity was there--my mom even pushed me!" he says. But rather than enter an oversaturated market, he wanted to stand out in a city not known for fashion. "Chicago will teach you how to hustle--you work or you starve," he says. His work paid off: Hightower soon earned a number of awards and secured magazine features in i-D and Vogue Italia.
Following a pop-up art installation in June, Hightower plans to present his second full-fledged collection under the Hightower label, which he will sell directly to consumers. With his dedication and vision, his career can only take off from there.
Photography: Kohl Murdock
Model: Abigail Lipp
Makeup: Ismael Cabrera
All Clothing: Dashaun Hightower
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