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Interview with Jesse Soriano
After many inspiring conversations via Instagram, fashion designer and former Midland student Jesse Soriano was able to visit us in person during his drive back to his San Francisco home from LA Fashion Week. Jesse attended Midland in the early ’90s. He is currently the creative mind behind Aquatico Clothing Company.
Jesse it’s so wonderful to have you on campus! First of all, give us a brief introduction. How did you end up at Midland School, and where did you go from there?
My parents felt that a school that was going to help me learn to be disciplined was in order, so they were looking for a small school that would focus on discipline and responsibility. They wanted me to thrive creatively, and I’ve always been interested in fashion and art. There were times when I was at Midland that I wanted to become a teacher or preacher, but I kind of left that idea in college. I kept going back to the creative side.
When you left Midland, what steps did you take to get into the fashion industry?
I took some time off after I left Midland and the end of my junior year. I graduated from my local high school after one semester. I really got into art there. Most of the classes I was able to take were gifted or advanced classes.
From there I went to San Francisco State. I was working full-time and paying for school. Even back then, it was not cheap. A couple of my professors said, “Don’t worry, I’ll buy you the books for class.” They saw the passion behind me. I connected to the classes; I was in class, even after hours. I knew there was something better at the end of the road if I just kept focused on my creative abilities.
It was all about work too. I was working toward my own ideas, developing a business plan. In the fashion industry, you can’t be somebody unless you start something on your own. Most of those big designers have already worked for someone else. I took studio art at San Francisco State. This involved commuting 170 miles a day, when I was 21 years old along with my younger sister.
Wow, from there you have been able to get to LA Fashion Week and share your work with the world in so many ways. What are some of the milestones on this journey?
Before the pandemic, I had tested a runway when a friend sponsored a show of mine. We kept the runway going by putting on small shows here and there in the city. The pandemic kind of caused a reflection point. I hadn’t really tapped into Instagram or social media yet. I wanted to get a feel for it. How do you use this mechanism as a reference for information? Once I started posting, a couple photographers approached me about what I was creating. Then two weeks later Runway 7 from New York also invited me. Having a social media presence has allowed these connections to form and grow.
This year we are looking at some runways in Paris on the Champs-Elysées. Part of fashion is so personal. It’s a personal process, a mental breakdown of who you are as an artist. Every time you have to come up with a collection that is worthy of the runway. It’s like writing an essay, do you have to take an hour rest and then stay up and write that essay to get that A. I took all of that discipline and learning and put it to use to create.
You cannot learn fashion without a business approach behind it. The Western thought of creating academia without the application, it doesn’t work. Down to ceramics and engineering and architecture, it involves so many genres. Fashion really needs to be interdisciplinary. There were a lot of mishaps. Money wasn’t always funneled in the most effective way. Now we have a sponsorship. It was in 2020 that I first went to LA Fashion Week. I was at a photoshoot with a photographer, and they recommended that I obtain a retail license and make a website. I was then accepted to the Fashion Week Magazine group via Facebook, again showing that importance today of utilizing social media for networking and building your brand.
I notice a lot of diversity and multicultural influence in your designs. Tell me about your influences and goals with your work.
I see fashion as a narrative of the world. I always wanted to show diversity: different shapes, different backgrounds. It’s essential to highlight the differences.
You have to accept diversity on all levels in fashion. For example, fashion photographers work differently based on their backgrounds. Working with photographers from New York to South Korea to California, I can see how their approaches and professional perspectives speak to where they come from. That inclusivity is part of the beauty and the difference that becomes part of the picture.
Fashion needs to have inclusivity in size and proportions. My inspiration comes from everywhere. I try not to read fashion magazines or look too much at other people’s work, but rather to draw my inspiration from the world.
Having conversations with other designers, I realize we share so much in common. Just because she’s Vera Wang and she’s iconic doesn’t mean she doesn’t tap into the messages of culture. We’re all able to do that. I came from somewhere, the LA and NY Fashion Weeks, and I’m informed by the people who went before me.
How did your experiences at Midland prepare you for this creative career?
It taught me to be disciplined and to be on time. Knowing how to write an essay and how to read widely were important skills. Teamwork was definitely a key; let me drive that home! The only way to control a big ego is in a team setting. You realize everyone is equal and needs to work together.
This goes back to conversations I had with José Juan Ibarra, the current Dean of Students, who was actually my student prefect when I was in 9th grade. He always stressed that it was about the team’s needs and the school’s needs. He’d say, “It’s still not done Jesse!” I learned to take advantage of tutorial hours and how to take constructive criticism. In creative professions, you’ve got to be able to be criticized. It’s worse later on, and it’s way more public.
Do you have any tips for Midland students on how to set or achieve their goals? Any lessons learned along your journey?
Believe in yourself. If you make it through, there is nothing in the world that you cannot do. If you allow yourself to walk on the land, be with the land, be with the people, and be with the school, the unity just comes naturally. You’ll remember that moment you were at Midland and you figured things out.
Midland prepares you for the real world. There is a lot of learning that happens besides academics. Organic simplicity becomes serendipity for anyone who attends here.
We might miss that so much these days because the world is in an uproar. As a student, look for hope. You don’t think you can walk up that mountain, until one day you do. Learn acceptance; learn to accept yourself. The Midland lifestyle teaches kindness; it takes a special place to teach that.
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