How Designer Nicholle Jones Created Her MFA Collection Online

by Aria Darcella

Budding designer Nicholle Jones received her MFA online from the Academy of Art University in May. Now, she’s representing the school at NYFW. Time flies when you’re conquering fashion!

How have you been prepping for your NYFW debut?
A lot of it is last-minute details, looking over the garments saying, “Hey, let’s tweak this, let’s adjust that.” I just want everything to be perfect. They’ll send me little messages from San Francisco [where Academy of Art University is based], “Hey, don’t forget this, don’t forget that!” Just trying to figure out the logistics of everything is a bit challenging, too.

You have a background in millinery — did that factor into your collection?
When I did millinery full-time, it was at the height of hats, royals, stuff of that nature. Fascinators were coming back into style. I never really felt fulfilled when I was doing that. I always felt like I wanted to stretch it, so when it was time to put this collection together, I just started drawing from the head, and seeing how I could manipulate the hat to incorporate something a little bit larger.

How are you feeling about the big show?
I’m really excited. I love New York. I did my internship there with Donna Karan years ago. I love the energy of the city, and during Fashion Week, it’s always exciting. Being around like-minded people is always refreshing.

You live in Columbus, Ohio. Would you ever move to New York to start your own business?
It’s actually a conversation that my husband and I have had here recently. He’s in the military. He retires next year. Columbus has a lot of large retail companies, but obviously there’s nothing like New York. We have a young daughter, and it just seems like the exposure is a big deal to us. As far as career-wise, yes. It’s a little intimidating, but, yeah, it’s something that we have discussed.

Academy of Art University

(Nicholle Jones)

Why did you want to return to school?
I was working for a major retail company here in Columbus. I just had one of those days where I said to myself, “I think I’m made for something bigger than this.” There’s nothing wrong with the company I was working for, I think I had a bit more creativity to offer the industry. [I remembered] when I was at Donna Karan, all the designers there had to have their MFAs. My understanding was that you always had to have that piece of paper to design on the next level.

How did you find — and decide to apply to — the Academy of Art?
A long time ago, MTV did a reality series on the first time the Academy of Art did a Fashion Week show, and they profiled one of the students going through the process. It had always stuck in my mind. I’m really big on education, so when I considered going to the next level in my career, I started researching and checking credentials out. The fact that Simon [Ungless, executive director, School of Fashion] was there was a plus as well. Wherever you go, you don’t just want great teachers, you want to work with people who really understand the industry.

What was it like working on your degree remotely?
When I was working for a retail company, I was the tech designer, and one of the day-to-day activities was dealing with manufacturers overseas. I was doing video conferences, dealing with different time zones, taking photos, and having detailed communications through e-mail. It did have its challenges. Working on my MFA remotely required me to be more disciplined, and have more boundaries, but it was doable. It’s about whatever you’re going to bring to it, regardless of whether it’s online or in person.

How has the program pushed you creatively?
When you’re first starting off, they’re making sure what your skill level is, and fine-tuning any areas where there might be issues when it comes to sewing, sketching, illustration, and really grasping your design aesthetic. They didn’t force you into “This is what a designer is, and this is how you should be.” They were really respectful. At first, it was kind of restricting as far as what they want you to accomplish. But as the program went on, it was more open for you to be able to develop the collection you truly desired. By the time you actually get into your thesis, you’re kind of riding solo, and they’re just helping you push it as much as possible.

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