Brooks Trotmore poses for a photo wearing the lichen-covered hat and moss pants designed by his brother Gavin, who won a national award for his fashion designs. Credit: Theo Fleig

Berkeley High senior Gavin Trotmore was selected as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts for his nature-inspired fashion designs.

Trotmore was one of 20 students to earn the nationwide arts award and one of 161 to earn the Presidential Scholar Award, given annually to outstanding high school seniors.

A mixed-race teenage boy looks at the camera wearing an inckporated t-shirt and moss covered pants that he designed
Gavin Trotmore. Courtesy: Erika Trotmore

For the portfolio he submitted for the award, Trotmore designed several garments inspired by nature: a two-piece set made from recycled denim, dyed in the style of an iridescent frog with mounded flare bottoms; pants embroidered with thick, hand-woven yarn made to look like moss and a lichen-covered trucker hat.

“My presented pieces reintroduce us to garments we have seen before, but with unorthodox twangs of growth, life, and texture,” he wrote in an artist statement about his designs.

Trotmore’s AP Studio Art teacher, Miriam Stahl, was also honored as Trotmore’s most influential teacher. She will receive a personal letter from the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardon.

By designing garments that look and feel alive, Trotmore, 17, prompts questions about the relationship between the environment and fashion and urges viewers to get comfortable with things that defy conventional categories.

Trotmore, who is mixed-race and grew up with two moms, has spent his life not fitting into the boxes people tried to put him in. 

“I think the world would be a better place if people could see something and not immediately have to categorize it,” he said. “I really like making things that are inspired by nature, but I feel like it’s more about making things that people don’t necessarily understand initially from a first glance.”

Trotmore uses recycled materials in his work, in part as an effort to reduce his own impact on the environment. “It’s just necessary, at this point, if you’re interested in something like fashion to think about the imprint you’re leaving on the earth,” he said.

In addition to being a YoungArts Fellow and Presidential Scholar, Trotmore has interned at SFMOMA, made drawings from artifacts in UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and designed shoes made from lemon peels for the Berkeley High Fashion Show.

He has been obsessed with art and music since he was a child, first falling in love with symphonies and then finding a passion in visual arts. 

He commissioned his first pieces as a sixth grader, earning $100 by offering to draw anything for his classmates for $4 each. (He considered it a good sign that he could one day earn a living as an artist.) 

An image of an iridescent frog that inspired the denim garments. Sketches of denim garments.
Photos show the process of designing the denim garments, from inspiration to finish. Courtesy: Gavin Trotmore
A young man (white) stands in the dark lit by a bright light in the denim garment. There is a shadow and trees behind him.
A model wears the final garment designed by Trotmore. Credit: Theo Fleig

His passion for art flourished at Berkeley High, where he got to flex his creative muscles in the Arts and Humanities Academy. Co-founded by BHS teacher Miriam Stahl in 2006 to bridge the arts and academics, the small school requires students to complete interdisciplinary projects in lieu of exams and incorporates internships into the school day. The immersive experiences gave Trotmore room to explore and pursue his natural curiosity.

“He’s just got his eyes wide open to the world around him and is fully engaged in everything that is in front of him,” said Stahl, who taught Trotmore for two years, including in AP Studio Art. “I think that makes him a very unique person — his openness and his love for everything creative.”

The Presidential Scholar Award was created in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and expanded to include the arts in 1974. In 2015, it grew to include accomplished students in career and technical education fields. To apply for the national arts award, high school students first apply to YoungArts. The award winners are chosen from a smaller pool of YoungArts finalists, who participate in a week of workshops and classes with internationally renowned artists.

The Presidential Scholars will be honored at a virtual ceremony in June.

Next year, Trotmore will pursue an art degree at UC Santa Cruz. In the future, he hopes to become an artist and get to make art every day.

Gavin Trotmore and his teacher, Miriam Stahl, pose in front of photographs of Trotmore’s designs on display at an exhibition of art by students from Arts and Humanities Academy at KALA Art Institute. Courtesy: Miriam Stahl
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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...