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Top of the Class: Inside Parsons’ PH² Exhibition

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If you’ve been following our coverage of the Parsons/Kering competition, you’re well aware that college graduation is nigh. But it’s not just Parsons’ BFA students who are presenting their final collections. Tomorrow, the second graduating class from the school’s MFA Fashion Design and Society program will unveil their wares at PH², an exhibition whose opening will be cohosted by Diane von Furstenberg. Yesterday, professor Shelley Fox and the best of the eighteen graduates gave Style.com a first look at their progressive work. “What impressed me was their persistence not to give up, to experiment, and to push themselves in a way they didn’t know they were capable of,” said Fox of the graduates, who will reveal their complete lineups during a show at New York fashion week in September. This year, Fox put a particular emphasis on pushing the students to create their own fabrics. “That’s one way you can really define yourself and set yourself apart from other designers,” she said.

Several of the grads took this to the extreme, like knitwear designer Hannah Jenkinson (above, left). Hailing from the UK, the 29-year-old pulled inspiration from the minimal clothes of the Amish, Mennonites, and nuns, as well as athletic wear. “But really,” she notes, “the collection was driven by technique and process; by [exploring] the boundaries of what makes something knitwear.” Take, for instance, her transparent jumper, in which she trapped strands of white yarn between two layers of fusing material. Other looks were crafted from rubber or repurposed vintage pieces. Chunky laces—like the ones seen on her sheer track pants or feminine skirts, were painstakingly hand-embroidered. “Some of [the pieces] took eight days.”

Melitta Baumeister, a 27-year-old German designer, took a new-wave approach to fabrication (above, right). She would finish a fabric garment, make a mold, and then recast it in silicone or foam. The result was classic clothing—like a white oxford shirt, a bomber, or a lace dress—reinvented in what felt like rubber. The collection, she explained, has to do with “controlling the uncontrollable, materializing liquid, and preserving a moment of movement in the garment.” The digital age affected her designs as well. “Now, with things like Instagram, capturing an image of a moment or a memory is almost more important than the memory itself.”

Reality—a concept oft overlooked by graduate students—was a focus for a number of this year’s designers, such as Jia Hua (above, left). “For me, the most important thing is for [clothes] to be easy and wearable,” said the 25-year-old Beijing native. “If it can only be hung in a museum, I think that’s a little sad.” She approached real-world clothes with a light hand, though. Her electric, glitter-dusted looks, which pulled influences from athletic garments and artists Mickalene Thomas, Caroline Larsen, and Dan Flavin, mixed couture details with a streetwear spirit. “I used the cheapest mesh I could find,” she laughed. Boasting hand-stitching, -weaving, and -cording, her garments, some of which had what looked like fine black chiffon stretched over some of their neon layers, were anything but.

Twenty-four-year-old Long Beach, California native Amelia Lindquist (below) wove childhood memories into her denim collection, which featured jackets, tops, and pants with literal tan lines. The emotional connection she has to her father’s faded jeans—and, of course, sunny California days—was a starting point. The wares, however, felt less nostalgic, and more forward-thinking and fun. An oversize bonded-denim coat and a denim tee with bleached breasts, which she said was her version of a “bikini shirt,” were particularly clever.

Polish-born Piotrek Panszczyk (above, right), who worked with Hannah MacGibbon at Chloé before joining the course, explored the meaning of luxury in his final collection. His racks consisted of meticulously draped, bonded jersey T-shirts, structured alpaca and velvet sweatpants that had been shaved down and spray-painted to create a snakeskin pattern, and a jersey shawl printed with photocopies of a fur coat he had been wearing all winter. Postgraduation, the designer hopes to—eventually—break out on his own in New York. “There’s a lot happening here. The creativity is amazing, but in the end, it’s all about the benjamins. I think we can push [the creativity] a little bit further,” he said.

It would seem that big industry players are taking note of the designers’ gusto. Fox reports that François-Henri Pinault paid a visit to the studio and was particularly impressed by the students’ fabric innovation (teacher knows best!). What’s more is that Uniqlo and Swarovski have each given scholarships to help future students (the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation has also lent its financial support). But, Fox explains, it’s ultimately the students who help themselves. “They really challenge themselves, and they challenge each other. They engage with one another, they push each other further, and I think they encourage each other, too.”

Photos: Stas May (Hannah Jenkinson); Courtesy of Melitta Baumeister; Paul Jung (Jia Hua); Courtesy of Piotrek Panszczyk; Courtesy of Amelia Lindquist 

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