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Move over, Marc Jacobs. There’s a new fashion visionary taking New York by storm. And like any great artist, her work draws inspiration from a deeply personal journey.

Pratt Institute senior Julia Wollner made a big impression at the school’s recent fashion show, which featured collections by 21 of its graduating students presented in front of fashion greats like Stephen Burrows and Catherine Malandrino. Wollner’s collection earned her the annual Liz Claiborne Award – Concept to Product. And she won more than just bragging rights – the award comes with $25,000 courtesy of the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.

Designer Julia Wollner

What’s really cool is that Wollner’s collection was inspired by her experience with Bell’s palsy, which she’s struggled with for the past two years. Bell’s palsy is a disorder that occurs in the facial nerves. According to the National Institutes of Health, “When Bell’s palsy occurs, the function of the facial nerve is disrupted, causing an interruption in the messages the brain sends to the facial muscles.” This interruption leads to temporary facial weakness and paralysis. Wollner was diagnosed after suddenly becoming unable to move half of her face.

Sketches from Julia's collection

Sketches from Julia’s collection

This inspiration is evident throughout Wollner’s collection. Some pieces, notably a baggy white mini-dress, are printed with faces. This print was inspired by facial exercises Wollner’s physical therapist gave her. She told Fashionista, “The exercises had all these faces on them like, smile or raise your eyebrows five times a day, so I turned them into prints.”

The collection’s dramatic shapes and quirky textiles (Wollner printed on organza and then laminated it) were inspired by the emotions she felt while wrestling with the disorder. The back of one coat featured the word “RELAX” printed on the back. Bell’s palsy sufferers are often taught relaxation techniques to ease spasms and twitches.

And there’s good news for those of us craving more of Wollner’s offbeat designs: The budding fashion star plans to put the money she was awarded toward her next collection.

[Source: Fashionista]

Jillian Bell is a Toronto-based freelance writer.