Fordham Alumnus Launches Debut Collection

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Nicoleta Papavasilakis, Contributing Writer

On the day of his fashion label’s debut, Nicholas Raefski, FCRH ’21, felt extremely ill. His friends told him that it was probably just nerves leading up to the big event and the feeling  would eventually disappear. Agreeing with this hypothesis, Raefski went to his celebratory dinner that night. But after two bites of food, he  began to vomit. He later found out that he had a kidney infection. The cause: months upon months of pent-up stress. Looking back on this seemingly gruesome experience, Raefski joked, “It’s all in the name of fun.”

On Sept. 29, 2021, the Fordham University alumnus launched his debut collection “Go Out West Young Boy and Become a Man” under his self-named and produced fashion label. The new clothing line marks a coming of age for the emerging fashion designer.

Having graduated from Fordham University last semester in Spring 2021, Raefski finds himself in a state of limbo. “I’m in this realm where I am no longer a kid, but I’m not quite an adult yet either, so I’m making that transition,” said Raefski.

Raefski says that the fashion world is not as glamorous as people make it out to be. “There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people do not see,” he said. As an ambitious 24-year-old fashion designer, Raefski dedicates every part of himself to developing his label, even at the cost of his well-being. He lives a life of two extremes: either locking himself in his room for 10 days straight, religiously drafting new designs, or lugging a suitcase packed with his clothing samples around New York City. The work is endless, but Raefski has learned to appreciate each step of the process.

Storytelling was integral in the creation of “Go Out West Young Boy and Become a Man.” While developing the collection’s theme, Raefski drew inspiration from his childhood playing cowboys and dressing up like Toy Story’s Woody. According to Raefski, the contemporary figure of the cowboy represents “finding out who you are and who you want to become.” The notions of new frontiers and the desire to discover perfectly reflect the metamorphosis to maturity. The West, in Raefski’s interpretation, is not a physical destination. Instead, it is a metaphor for what already exists within. 

Throughout the collection, Raefski has woven in symbols connecting the contemporary with the cowboy. A t-shirt depicts the iconic image of Clint Eastwood from the spaghetti western film, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” Additionally, he adapts traditional designs, such as the double-work pants, with a modernized twist.

Despite the nonstop nature of the fashion world, Raefski has adopted the mantra of living in the moment. He wants to savor this exhilarating time in his life to cultivate his craft. So far, this mindset has not failed him, and he has already made tremendous strides in the industry. Notable shoe retailer Clarks supported his new clothing line by providing footwear for his photoshoots. Additionally, the Nicholas Raefski Label has been recognized by CFDA Runway 360, a digital platform that endorses the exceptional work of emerging fashion designers.

Raefski also intends to utilize his label to advocate for mental health. As an undergraduate student, he  struggled with mental health complications. After recovering, Raefski wanted to use his fashion platform to bring awareness to the overlooked issue of mental health in youth.

As a young artist, Raefski is excited to animate his visions and tell meaningful stories through fashion. He recognizes that every painstaking detail, from finance to creative, contributes to making his masterpiece. With a new collection focused on the theme of being and becoming, Raefski honors this journey.

Raefski never received a formal education in fashion and design but co-founded the streetwear brand Strictly Original before creating his namesake label. Strictly Original helped Raefski plunge into the fashion industry while he was still a student at Fordham University.  Creating Strictly Original, he experimented with textiles and taught himself the fundamentals of clothing production. Raefski was creative director and head designer of the streetwear brand for three years until he transitioned to his contemporary clothing label.