(All photos: Jonas Gustavsson)
On Wednesday, I attended Parsons, The New School of Design’s annual runway show which highlights the top collections by the graduating BFA Fashion Design class and was held for the first time at their new state of the art University campus on lower 5th Avenue. The CFDA Awards will be held just a few weeks later, on Monday, June 2, and the significance of its close timing is not lost on me. If you sat through the show, you could predict with certainty, that many of the talented and creative graduating seniors, whose work was on display, will no doubt, follow in the footsteps of prominent alumni and design luminaries such as Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Narciso Rodriguez, Isaac Mizrahi, Alexander Wang, Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, and Jason Wu, the latter of whom was honored at Wednesday night’s annual Fashion Benefit, along with the global fashion house Hugo Boss.
Now in its 66th year, the benefit raised $1.2 million for scholarships at Parsons (Hugo Boss also gave a $250,000 gift to be used for scholarships). In addition to the runway show, which was repeated from the afternoon, Designers of the Year were announced. This year’s recipients were Womenswear Designer of the Year Victoria Hayes; Menswear Designer of the Year Simon Li; and Childrenswear Designer of the Year Ashley Yoon Chang. Past recipients of this prestigious award include Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, I guess you can say with authority the event is a pretty good barometer of whose careers will go off into stratospheric orbit.
Getting back to the graduate’s afternoon runway show, I guess you could call a dress rehearsal for the event later in the evening. Divided into three segments, it was interspersed with speeches and ended with a video. In addition to the aforementioned three award winners, highlights and names to watch: Mijia Zhang’s graphic collaged fur outerwear; Elsa Ling’s optic herringbones; Wenqui Wu’s oversized winter white felted coats; Daron Buckley’s pure vision in white; Young Ji Cho’s gender bending ticking striped puffer coat; Jennifer Cho’s minimal separates in black and white; Hye Won elegant tie dyes; Greta Valigi’s global world traveler; Hye Gin Hamm’s blue denim menswear; Grace Kang and Erica Kim’s childrenswear.
The only misstep (literally), was during the Justin Chu segment when a few models wearing his experimental, voluminous designs, took nasty tumbles on stage thanks to the vertiginous platform shoes they were given to wear (which reminded me of Daphne Guinness’s signature footwear). Thankfully, nobody was hurt. (FYI, I don’t happen to think that being unable to walk, or wearing dangerous shoes is modern, cool, or hip any more. Nothing is worth breaking a leg).
Simon Collins, Dean of Fashion, Parsons, the New School of Design was first to come up to the podium. He jokingly asked, “Which of these students came to Parsons because of the fabulous midtown building (at 560 7th Avenue)?” Naturally, everyone laughed because the answer, is “nobody”. This was the point, since they have moved and are now ensconced in their fabulous new space. He took great pride in noting that the school’s students (whom he referred to as “the next generation of creators”), are so talented, they were even up to the task of showing during New York Fashion Week (which they did this past February, and images were posted on Style.com). “This city is the greatest mentor you can have. Always continue to support our amazing school. You may graduate Parsons, but you will never leave.”
Among Mazdek Rassi’s tips for the grads (he is the mastermind behind Milk Studios, where the students held their show during MBFW): “Always define yourself before others define you”, and “the best inspiration you can get is from New York”. Graduate Alexis Arnold, was asked to speak about what life is like at Parsons. She is obviously a brilliant student who attended Stanford where she studied psychology and Italian. But her creative ‘itch’ and desire to pursue a career in fashion design brought her to Parsons. “Stanford was a decent warm-up to Parsons”, she opined. “It has given me a profound freedom of mind and spirit. It has enabled me to see beauty and originality of design both in and out of the classroom”. “New York is the crossroads of the world”.
Parsons Executive Dean, Joel Towers, noted, “The students are the life and energy of the college. It’s amazing to be a dean here. And an honor”. He gave a shout out to Kay Unger, Chair of the Board of Governors and then announced a major partnership between Parsons and the Ford Motor Company, the Ford + Parsons Design Lab. This will enable 5 fellows, selected in the near future, to show their work during the upcoming Fashion Week in September.
Last was fashion designer Chris Benz who gained early recognition as a recipient of a CFDA scholarship while attending Parsons, and is celebrating his 10th year anniversary graduating from Parsons. Born and raised in an island off Seattle, he talked about how wanted to be a fashion designer at a very early age. He had a chance to meet Parsons grad Donna Karan in the late 90s, when she came to Seattle to stage a fashion show. He made a point of meeting her and asked her if she had any suggestions of where to study. She said, “Well, there’s only ONE fashion design school and it’s Parsons, of course”.