Damien Tobi. (Photo by Taylor Gamble for the CCAD Student Agency); Photos of Damien Tobi’s work are by by CCAD alum Marcus Morris.

Columbus student designer Damien Tobi explores the constraints of gender and busts them wide open.


By Staley Munroe

Damien Tobi aspires to be a fashion extremist.

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The 21-year-old Columbus College of Art & Design student sees a huge downside to fast fashion, which moves clothing from sketchbook to factory to runway to retail rack at a pace designed to allow the industry to respond to the latest trends.

It has gentrified design, he says, and brought about sterile, homogenized looks.

“I’d love to see more stepping stones toward a complete and total radical, full, 180 switch to freedom—chaos even—where we set our own rules in what we wear, and culturally that it would be acceptable and OK to do so,” says Tobi, one of 15 student designers who will send his work down the runway on Friday, May 11 for the 2018 CCAD Fashion Show.

Tobi’s collection was inspired, in part, by Elizabethan costumes. He explores their conceptual and visual impact, their nuance and their extremes: big sleeves, small waists and other elements that illustrate the societal restraints on women that still exist. His pieces also include modern fetish influences and a commentary on “toxic masculinity” that limits men’s freedom to express themselves.

It’s close to his own style, Tobi says.

“I view the gender expression of men as extremely limited, and even the supposedly more feminine looks are grey, boxy and still lean masculine. Why not let guys experiment? It’s been too limited for too long.”

The young, gay designer who grew up in Tuckerton, N.J., wants to be the next Alexander McQueen (“I’m weirdly sorting out how to do it”) and plans to head to New York after graduation.

“I want newness, and it is starting to happen,” he says. “Fashion as commentary and art. I feel like within the commentary there’s controversy, going against the grain and norm, and that’s what I want to see more of, and where I will be.”

Staley Munroe is the creative director of Prizm. She’s a photographer and fashion industry veteran who worked in New York and Los Angeles before returning to her hometown of Columbus. You can contact her at staleymunroe@prizmnews.com.

Bob Vitale
A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, Bob has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.