Yoshi Ito sometimes felt at a bit of a disadvantage as a foreign student among mostly American classmates. But when the "under the big top" theme was announced for his senior design collection, he found himself on the same playing field as his classmates - most everyone had little exposure to the circus.

Yoshi Ito sometimes felt at a bit of a disadvantage as a foreign student among mostly American classmates. But when the "under the big top" theme was announced for his senior design collection, he found himself on the same playing field as his classmates - most everyone had little exposure to the circus.

"I've been to the circus once, when I was a really little kid," he said, laughing. "Like, really small."

So the Japanese designer took the creative-interpretation route, researching and drawing inspiration for the arched shoulders of his jackets from the shape of tents, and his brown, green and blue color palette from modern military uniforms.

"I saw the soldiers as clowns, but they fight, and they bring fears," Ito said.

He'll be wearing the outfit he's pictured with at next weekend's show, where his models won't be wearing crazy hairpieces or bold jewelry. He decided not to include accessories. "I wanted to focus on the garment," Ito said.

Ito doesn't have a sewing machine, so he spent almost every night of the school year working on his pieces in Studio Hall until 2 a.m., when the building closed.

After studying music in Japan and then studying psychology at three different American universities, Ito took an art class that inspired him to pursue a fashion-design degree.

"Finally, I'm graduating," said Ito, who grew up in Okinawa. "I'm so done."

When he flies back to his home country at the end of May, he hopes to find work doing ready-to-wear or, preferably, couture design in Tokyo.

How would you describe your collection? Requiem circus

What designers do you admire most? John Galliano and Alexander McQueen

What's your favorite part of the design process? I find sewing relaxing

What was the hardest part of putting together this collection? Coming up with ideas for garments that look different and are still cohesive

What's your favorite part of a circus? The efforts of the performers