This story is featured in CityBeat's May 17 print edition.
It’s about a week after the University of Cincinnati Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) seniors graduated and the hallways are empty. The sixth floor of the DAAP building is quiet, and the classrooms and studios where fashion design students work and learn are mostly empty apart from one, where recent graduate Grayson Thornberry brought pieces from his capstone collection to share with CityBeat.
Like the majority of fashion design students at DAAP, Thornberry spent two-and-a-half years developing his capstone project. Between February and April of this year, it was time to create the garments that countless hours of research, design, sketching, material collection and technique practice would foster. Thornberry recalls sleeping in his car close to campus on numerous occasions during those three months, as to not waste precious time commuting.
Refined, smart, elegant, expressive: a few adjectives Thornberry chose to describe his menswear collection, which also happens to suit his appearance and character.
He titled his capstone project Thornbrier. When Thornberry presented final pieces from the collection on social media, he wrote, “A collection of menswear inspired by traditional values passed down by generations before, analogous to the values inherited by those we love.”
Like most collections, Thornbrier tells a story. For his collection, Thornberry is telling a story inspired by family, love, loss and values inherited by generations passed. As Thornberry lays the garments out, he carefully smoothes material and thumbs delicate seams. He points out details of hand-picked stitching, hand-painted features with embroidered elements, herringbone cuffs and welt pockets with flaps.
Then he takes out the showstopper. It’s a formal jacket made out of over 100 ties deconstructed and sewn together, evenly and perfectly patterned in a conglomerate of complementary, warm colors and an elegant touch of purple velvet piping.
“This was an idea I had had for a very long time,” he says. “And it was a tremendous amount of work, and I think if there was one garment that speaks to my style and design language as it is right this second, I think this would be it. It’s definitely a labor of love. I think it took about 300 hours.”
During the annual DAAP Fashion Show on April 28, Thornbrier hit the runway in front of a sold-out crowd and alongside 47 other collections created by Thornberry's classmates. Thornberry was granted the Directors’ Choice award following this year’s 70th annual fashion show and graduation.
“It was a moment to see all of our hard work,” he said. “Not just mine, but all of the incredible designers of my class.”
The Director's Choice highlights one senior in each area of study at DAAP. Students are awarded based on capstone projects that “demonstrate exceptional knowledge, creativity, and skill that has been applied to a focused idea and then most effectively communicated by visual means,” according to DAAP’s website.
Laurie Wilson, associate director of student affairs at DAAP, noted Thornberry as a standout student in the class of 2023.
“[Thornberry] has this personal Ralph Lauren aesthetic, like the young American classic man,” Wilson said. “And he always looks like he just stepped out of a photo shoot. He’s been so true to his design aesthetic throughout his entire process.”
Wilson says that Thornberry got a head start in his fashion studies at DAAPcamps when he was in high school. DAAPcamps are a series of classes related to all disciplines for middle school and high school students. Courses range from fashion business and design to drawing, filmmaking and a sampler course.
When Thornberry first developed an interest in fashion, he was influenced by soccer culture and his teammates and friends at Sycamore High School, he says. In DAAPcamps, which he attended twice, he was interested in streetwear and footwear design.
“With a sport like soccer, I think style and impression in appearance is something that's really prevalent, especially for teenage boys,” Thornberry said. “We always had to have our hair cut a certain way. There were all these stylistic points, like to wear your socks over your knees, or having your shin guard straps a certain way. So I think, just in that, I think style was always something that I was worried about. And something that was really prevalent to me whether it was on the field or off the field.”
In high school, Thornberry designed his own line of streetwear called Above All Others. He said it was an outlet for self-expression and a good way to learn how to build a work ethic around a self-guided project.
“I don't think that work was overly expressive in terms of like building something that was unique,” he says of Above All Others. “I think more so it was about creating a community based around this brand where I could give clothes to my friends and sell clothes to people I care about.”
At first, Thornberry was really invested in sneaker culture, he said. But as he found himself in a new environment at DAAP, a more genuine identity blossomed and he felt that a more mature wardrobe was true to his style. He traded his sneakers for loafers, which not only represented his personal identity but also his work and design.
“I always felt my best when I was wearing a jacket with a lapel or shoes with a wooden sole,” he said. “Funny enough. I met a few friends at DAAP that dressed a little more on the sartorial side. And that sort of was a moment where I was like, it's okay to dress older than my age. So pretty quickly – I think it was my second year – I bought my first pair of loafers and I stopped wearing sneakers. I just always felt my best dressing like that. So I think it was pretty seamless in terms of the transition.”
During his five-year program at DAAP, Thornberry did co-ops with Vera Wang and Todd Snyder and studied abroad at the London College of Fashion. He also worked for Romualdo Sartoria, a 55-year-old tailoring company in Madeira.
Now, at another point of transition following graduation, Thornberry said he is feeling excited and a bit scared but fortunate. He is going on to work as an assistant designer of accessories for Todd Snyder, a well-established menswear brand out of New York.
“I'm very fortunate to go back to a place that I've co-oped with twice,” Thornberry said. “I'm going to work at Todd Snyder in New York, with a team that I love and a brand that I love. So I'm very lucky in that aspect.”
Thornberry is dedicated to the Todd Snyder brand, as he embodies its refined, classy style and says that even five years from now he sees himself sticking with the company. Not unlike most fashion designers, with more experience he hopes to develop a successful brand of his own someday.
“Taste trumps knowledge,” he says. So far, he’s got the taste part down. And considering the accomplishments he’s achieved to date, it’s likely we’ll be seeing the name Grayson Thornberry as a future tastemaker in the world of fashion.
For more information about Grayson Thornberry, visit @graysonthornberry on Instagram.
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