August 21 2014

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7 posts tagged "Parsons the New School for Design"

Parsons’ MFA Designers Have a Lot to Offer



“I am what I am.” This is the phrase scrawled across the cuffed hem of design student Jiapei Li’s white pants (above), which are currently on view at Parsons The New School For Design’s MFA Fashion Design and Society exhibition in the Gucci building on Fifth Avenue. In fact, the existential sentence is the title of her sculpted graduate collection, set to march down the runway at the Parsons MFA show during New York fashion week in September. Li, a 23-year-old talent hailing from China, impressed with her oversize neoprene and mesh wares, each of which fused impeccable construction with forward-thinking, flirty flare and sporty wearability. “I started by making things that I don’t like,” she told us at the exhibit’s opening last week, gesturing to a gridded pastel purple pencil skirt. “And I turned them into things I like. It was all about finding myself and my own design identity.”

This hunt for one’s identity is a unifying thread that runs throughout the twelve graduating students’ collections. And judging by the innovative work in the showcase, most members of the incredibly diverse class of 2014 have found theirs. Twenty-seven-year-old Pauline Choi (below), in particular, stood out as having a firm grasp of her vision. One of only three menswear designers on the course (all of whom, interestingly, are women), the Korean born-student turned out garments that were at once masculine and ethereal. Thanks to a sponsorship from French couture lace house Sophie Hallette, Choi was able to work filigree into her designs, employing it on the torso and sleeves of a diaphanous white embroidered tulle button-down; on the top of a wool pinstriped basketball short-dress-trouser hybrid; and in the center of a dégradé overcoat that seamlessly transitions from wool cashmere to canary floral lace to chunky knit. The latter technique is something the Japanese-trained designer used throughout—yarn faded into sheer tulle on sweaters, and one black tulle T-shirt embroidered with crimson thread boasted a knit gray ribbed collar that took three days to hand-sew onto the neck. “It was interesting to see the blend between the delicate, soft, almost invisible material going into masculine menswear shapes,” said Choi, noting that she was inspired by men who head to the basketball court after work. As far as her postgraduation plans, Choi offered, “I’d like to go into some fashion competitions and start my own line. But in reality, I need to get hired by a big company to pay back my student loans.” Either way, you’re sure to be seeing more of this rising star soon.


This year’s students—the above two included—were able to balance the artistic vs. the commercial in their cerebral, but often saleable, collections. “Sure, if you wear the pieces as I’ve layered them, it might be a bit too much,” said Pakistani designer Ammar Belal of his politically charged collection (below), which deals with the U.S.’s occupation of Afghanistan, the prisoners in the Bagram detention camp, and the current state of the region. “But at the end of the day, all these pieces are just organza T-shirts and sportswear.” Case in point: A translucent poppy-embellished top (a reference to Afghanistan’s heroin production) was shown over a shirt printed with the face of a grandmother killed by an inaccurate drone. Together, the pieces pack a loaded punch. On its own, that intricate poppy top would look great as a soft summer dress or worn with jeans. When asked about the course, Belal, who’s maintained a menswear business in Pakistan for the last ten years, said, “[Course director] Shelley [Fox] helped me find myself in a way I haven’t found myself in years. If there’s one thing I can say about the MFA, it’s that it helped me channel my identity.” And a strong identity, at that.

Twenty-three-year-old British-born menswear designer Jessica Walsh (below), too, merged concept and reality with a skilled hand. Inspired by the men around her, the designer, a former Marc Jacobs intern, interviewed and photographed her muses before heading to the workroom. Massive abstract black puffer coats—the shapes of which evolved from a series of Walsh’s line drawings—were shown alongside jersey tops printed with the designer’s photographs, slick basketball shorts, tracksuit bottoms, and shirts constructed from black nylon and gray cotton. The latter were carefully sewn to appear permanently wrinkled. The effect was oddly elegant. Bruises, too, came into play, influencing the tactile print on an attractive painted overcoat. “Boys get into fights, but the bruise is very intimate,” Walsh said, adding that her highly involved design process allowed her to “create an idea of who I am and what I want to do.”


Thirty-five-year-old Ukraine-born knitwear designer and Parsons undergrad tutor Natallia Pilipenka also shone, thanks to her tactile collection of foggy cashmere sweaterdresses, white lace shirts, and burnout dévoré frocks. “The MFA program is based so much on research,” she said, “so it allowed me to work with textiles and delve really deep into what interested me.”

Easily the most out-there of the bunch, 27-year-old Taiwanese menswear designer-cum-performance artist Bei Kuo offered up a series of silver metallic, white embossed neoprene, and slick black sportswear looks that easily could have been unisex. Printed with white text, one pair of trousers stated, “You do not exist.” For fashion’s sake, I hope Parsons’ graduating designers are more than just figments of the imagination.

Parsons The New School For Design’s MFA Fashion Design and Society exhibition is on view at 685 5th Avenue, 9th Floor, New York, NY through May 23.

Photos: Courtesy of Parsons

Required Reading: Parsons The New School for Design Releases Its First Book


Mazdack Rassi, Simon CollinsNostalgic Parsons designers rubbed elbows among alumni old and new at Milk Studios last night in celebration of the design school’s first book. One would think that all those featured in The School of Fashion: 30 Parsons Designers were star pupils, but Anna Sui wasn’t one of them. Inside the crowded room, the designer confessed to her less-than-scholarly ways. “Being 18 and living in New York City with no parental guidance, I wasn’t a good student,” confessed Sui. But it was a fun time, she admitted.

Working her way around the room, Behnaz Sarafpour correctly named all of the designers whose sketches hung along the walls—including her own, drawn on a cocktail napkin. Sarafpour later reunited with fellow alum Reed Krakoff who, like her, once interned with Narciso Rodriguez. The two stood in front of a wall of black-and-white portraits opposite Proust questionnaires that asked designers Alexander Wang, Derek Lam, and Jason Wu the following: “What fictional character do you most identify with?” and “Who are your heroes in real life?” For Chris Benz, who was in attendance, the answers included Tom Sawyer and Martha Stewart, respectively.

“When I realized there hadn’t been a book written, I figured it’d be crazy not to,” said Simon Collins, the school’s dean of fashion, who hosted the event along with Milk’s Mazdack Rassi. The new tome includes thirty designer-dedicated chapters with a host of vibrant illustrations, photographs, and introspective quotes taken from exclusive interviews conducted over the past year. Part of the proceeds from sales will benefit scholarships for Parsons students.

While upping the school’s fashion cred ranks high on Collins’ to-do list, the dean was quick to boast that crafting the book was good for all involved. “I mean, the designers loved it,” offered Collins. “They can show their mums.”

The School of Fashion: 30 Parsons Designers is published by Assouline. Available at select bookstores or online at

Photo: Lola Haze/ 

Area Enters the Market



It takes a lot of balls to leave a gig at Calvin Klein Collection to start your own brand—especially when you’re a 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. But that’s precisely what Beckett Fogg, one half of new line Area, did. And if the innovative first collection that she and design partner Piotrek Panszczyk whipped up is any indication, she made the right move.

Fogg, a Kentucky native, and Panszczyk, a Polish-born 28-year-old who previously worked at Chloé, met at Parsons the New School for Design while pursuing their MFAs in fashion. “We started talking about teaming up a year before I graduated, but it was really just for LOLs,” offered Panszczyk. However, a pair of ribbon-trimmed shorts he stitched up, which, worn by Fogg, got rave reviews in the Hamptons, pushed the designers to make their pipe dream a reality. “Every single person was like, ‘I have to have them!’ So we thought, Maybe this is something we should actually consider doing,” recalled Fogg.

While their backgrounds differ drastically (Panszczyk is a die-hard fashion head, while Fogg studied architecture before heading to Parsons), the talents share a unique, unified vision. Inspired by fragments, transformation, and mind-boggling experiments with texture, their debut lineup expands upon unexpected techniques we saw in each of their graduate collections. For instance, while at Parsons, Fogg used a method of embossing that’s usually reserved for car interiors. Area employed it to bring new dimension to the sleeves of a metallic silver velvet tunic, the body of a handsome steel coat, and the skirt of a burgundy silk lamé slipdress. Meanwhile, the studied pleating Panszczyk featured in his graduate outing provided a sculptural edge to creased trousers and elegant coats.


Most interesting, however, is the pair’s obsession with textiles. The designers worked a heavy mohair—typically reserved for luxury upholstery—into an easy gray shift (above), which was made all the more special via organic patterns created by shaving. Another standout was their stonewashed velvet denim. “It didn’t exist,” said Panszczyk, pulling at a shearling-lined jacket, “so we just made it up!”

Walking me through their sundrenched, whitewashed Canal Street studio, Panszczyk in a frayed Jil Sander suit, Fogg in her own designs, the duo discussed their simultaneously cerebral, sexy, and commercial aesthetic. “We want to see people actually wearing our clothes,” said Fogg. “So I don’t think commercial needs to be a dirty word.” Panszczyk elaborated, explaining how a second-skin velvet jumpsuit (shown with leather chaps) or fluid shift could be sultry one moment and sophisticated the next. “Our work specifically focuses on manipulation. We like to take something and change it.”

As for why they named the brand Area, Fogg told me, “It’s clean, simple, and inclusive.” Never mind that the iconic nightclub was once housed mere blocks from their studio—a fact they didn’t learn until a few friends of a certain age clued them in. “It’s all about serendipity,” mused Panszczyk.

Photo: Courtesy of Area

Exclusive: VFiles Names Its Fall Triumvirate


The Winners of VFiles' fashion show

Back in September VFiles launched the raucous runway rave that is its user-generated fashion show. Last time around, the jam-packed affair afforded four emerging brands (chosen by the online community’s users and a panel of VFiles judges) the chance to present their Spring ’14 collections at New York fashion week. “We believe in the future of fashion,” VFiles founder Julie Anne Quay told us after the inaugural outing. “And the future of fashion is online.”

VFiles’ experiment continues for Fall ’14, and today, can exclusively reveal the three rising stars who’ve been voted into the sophomore show. First up is Melitta Baumeister. We initially met this German-born, New York-based talent last season when she opened the Parsons MFA runway with an impressive collection of sculptural white silicone looks. She’ll be joined by ASSK, a cerebral, Paris-based streetwear label by Australians Sarah Schofield and Agatha Kowalewski, and Hyein Seo, a South Korean womenswear designer who’s currently pursuing her master’s in fashion at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In addition to sending their Fall ’14 collections down the catwalk at Eyebeam Studios, the three lucky winners will be flown to New York pre-fashion week to receive mentoring from famed stylists Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele and Mel Ottenberg. Check back in on February 5 to view our full coverage of the VFiles fashion show—and if it’s anything like last season’s, we’re in for a wild treat.

Photo: Courtesy of VFiles

Remembering Perry Ellis—the Man and the Brand


Archival looks from Perry Ellis

“Most people today think of Perry Ellis as a brand,” said menswear designer Jeffrey Banks, the co-author (with Doria De La Chapelle and Erica Lennard) of the new Rizzoli monograph, Perry Ellis: An American Original , of his late friend and colleague. “They don’t realize there was a real person named Perry Ellis. And that he was such an incredible influencer—he never followed other designers. He did what he believed in.”

The book, which will launch this evening alongside a one-night-only exhibition of Ellis’ finest designs at Parsons The New School For Design, traces the sportswear enthusiast’s all-too-short career (he died at age 46) with an aim to change that. A forward by former Perry Ellis designer Marc Jacobs (“When we talk to Marc, the one designer he ever idealized and wanted to be like and loved his clothes more than anyone was Perry Ellis,” recalled Banks) and never-before-published photographs from Lennard, who was Ellis’ campaign photographer, accompany Banks’ narrative.

The pieces on view at the show (a sneak peek of which debuts here) are a celebration of Ellis’ singular ability to push the aesthetic boundaries of sportswear classics. A hand-knit sweater emblazoned with a P for Perry (from Ellis’ first collection in which Princeton University cheerleaders danced down the runway) brings to life the moment the designer brought hand-knits into the high-fashion lexicon; a mohair dress and matching cape (“Perry always had amusing touches that were not silly, but fun,” remembered Banks) sits alongside a rich cashmere tunic in a graphic print inspired by French cubist artist Sonia Delaunay. Elsewhere, an oatmeal tweed jacket with Ellis’ signature dimple sleeves and an all-red suit for men (“It takes a gutsy man to wear a raspberry red tweed suit,” said Banks with a laugh) are on display. Each element of the show illustrates Ellis’ take on traditional, all-American sentiments—loosened up and ever-so-slightly irreverent.

“There was no compromise in his vision,” said Banks. Lennard continued, “He really had his own path. He was, to me, the only American designer of his time who was completely original. The other designers were looking at Europe. He had his own vocabulary.”

Photo: Samuel Bristow