From the time he was four years old, Kadeem Fyffe, ’13, can’t think of a single day when he didn't want to be a fashion designer.

However, when it came time to choose a college, Fyffe found himself considering the liberal arts education offered by the University of Richmond over more traditional fashion schools. “Even though fashion school is a very direct route into fashion, if you pick women’s wear when you’re a freshman, you’re doing that for four years,” he says. “I did not want to leave college and not have a background in English and math.”

Fyffe was still able to replicate the design and garment creation instruction of fashion school by combining a studio art major with courses in theater and costume design, but it was a summer research grant from the School of Arts and Sciences that added a deeper layer to his résumé. He spent 10 weeks during the summer between sophomore and junior year visiting fashion-related exhibits across the country — historical garments at Richmond’s Valentine Museum; the Smithsonian’s collection of first lady gowns in Washington, D.C.; the Little Black Dress exhibit in Los Angeles; and an Alexander McQueen exhibit in New York City. Throughout the process, Fyffe documented his emotions and reactions, and used key words as themes to design his own collection.

“Designers don’t just sit down and say, ‘blue and gold are in this season,’” he says. “They say, ‘when I was in Thailand, I saw a women wearing this, and it inspired me. I want a woman to put on something I’ve designed and feel that way.’ My research was the first step in analyzing what’s out there, what people like, what they respond to, and then putting it on paper and into fabric.”

Spending the summer traveling the country and exploring new cities also prepared Fyffe for his next out-of-classroom experience — studying abroad in Milan, Italy, the fashion capital of the world, through the IES program. He spent the fall semester improving his Italian language skills, studying business at Milan’s Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, and taking a fashion course at Istituto di Moda Burgo.

Three weeks after arriving in Milan, an internship coordinator approached Fyffe with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity working the opening show for Milan Fashion Week. The show, Milano Unica, showcases 10 up-and-coming designers. “[It’s their] chance to be in front of the same audiences, just in a show that’s not their own,” he says.

During his four-day trial by fire, Fyffe dressed and photographed models for designer approval, assisted the director during the show, and talked with the emerging designers participating in Milano Unica.

While working Milan Fashion Week was unquestionably a highlight, his entire semester abroad gave Fyffe a new perspective on his burgeoning fashion career. His business class opened his eyes to the prospect of brand management for fashion lines and luxury goods, and the pure, artistic nature of Italy will last well into his final year as he constructs a full collection for his senior thesis project — a full-scale fashion show.

“One of my professors said the reason Italy has produced so many great artists is because of what’s around them,” Fyffe says. “On my way to class I’d pass these magnificent structures and [I thought,] ‘if I saw that every day, of course I’d be inspired to produce beautiful things.’”