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New Parsons Grads Show They're Ready for the Big Leagues, Design-Wise
April 29th, 2008 @ 11:41 AM - New York
Designer Diane von Furstenberg and Barneys New York chairman and CEO Howard Socol were the two honorees at Parsons The New School for Design's annual benefit and BFA student fashion show on Monday night, April 28, which raised $2 million for scholarships and programs at the school.
Von Furstenberg, who is also the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which counts numerous Parsons grads as members, donated $250,000 to the school herself.
Parsons also announced the appointment of Simon Collins, the new dean of the undergraduate and graduate fashion department, who replaced Tim Gunn as of this past Friday after an exhaustive search. Gunn, who appears on Bravo's "Project Runway" and "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style," took a position at Liz Claiborne as chief creative officer in 2007. Collins has more than 20 years experience in the industry with companies like Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Fila, Zegna and Marks and Spencer.
As dinner commenced, Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz introduced Howard Socol, praising him for his personal approach and ability to inspire a family-like spirit in the company. Every year for the past seven years, said Elbaz, when he visited Barneys stores in New York and L.A. for semi-annual trunk shows, he always saw the same sales associates working the floor. "When I see the same people still there, I see longevity, loyalty and happy people loving what they are doing," said Elbaz.
"You need to be cool and you need to have commerce," said Socol about his philosophy for the store. "Listen to the suits," was Socol's advice to the new graduates. "They will help you be successful and flourish. And to the suits: Being cool, creative, artistic, that always wins out."
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper introduced Diane von Furstenberg. Cooper, whose mother is designer Gloria Vanderbilt, characterized von Furstenberg as the epitome of "strength, glamour and mystery." Describing an experience he'd recently had hiking with her, said von Furtsenberg "hikes as she does all things - fearlessly. Her body slants forward as if wanting to meet the future first."
"Thank you, Anderson," von Furstenberg said as she stepped onstage, and joked, "you sounded like an American Express commercial!"
Von Furstenberg encouraged graduates to be fearless as well, and not to be intimidated by press, buyers, retailers because "we're all one big happy family....Don't waste time. Life goes on and before you know it you'll be here where I am today."
With Parsons graduates like Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler preceding the current crop of BFA students - upon graduating the duo immediately went on to sell their collection to Barneys New York and were met with instant critical acclaim - young designers today might harbor the expectation of early fame, or perhaps be met with supporters pushing for their quick success. So is there too much hype surrounding new designers today, too soon?
"It is definitely a challenge when you are young and starting out to meet the expectations that people have of you," said Tim Gunn. "I face this every day with the 'Project Runway' designers. The world's view of what they should be achieving is completely unrealistic. It's a long maturation process. But when you do put yourself out there in that manner, there is an expectation. My hope is that the designers are prepared to meet it."
"It's an incredibly tough and competitive industry, but I think that's good," Gunn continued. "It means you have to be agile, you have to have your antenna up for all the variables that can possibly happen and you have to have a steady path. It doesn't have to be a straight path. It needs to navigate curves wherever they may happen to lie."
If the BFA collections shown on Monday night are any indication, then the latest round of graduates certainly have the talent in place to be successful and the technical ability. The highlight of the evening was the fashion show featuring the top BFA students' collections, and in many respects it was almost more exciting than four weeks of fashion weeks combined. There was the thrilling sense of the possibility of something new, something fresh and something never-before-seen. The excitement in the room was palpable, and the polished and professional collections drove the point home of Parsons' success as design educators.
Before the show, Parsons Womenswear Designer of the Year Stephanie Suberville described her starting point for her final collection.
"I wanted to show who I am, and a lot of who I am as a designer comes from my background," said Suberville, who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico and whose grandparents owned a department store. "I come from a French background, but I am actually Mexican. As a Mexican and as a woman I have always been very inspired by Frida Kahlo, but it was very important for me to not be the Mexican student doing Frida Kahlo. So instead of focusing on her paintings, I focused on her personal life. Frida always said that her whole life was based on two tragedies: Her back accident and her love for Diego Rivera. So it's a very dark, very romantic collection."
From corsets to pants to a wedding dress, Suberville brought a very light, ethereal touch to her thesis collection, which brimmed with intricate details like pleated layers of ombre-dyed organza that floated on top of one another like a towering wedding cake. The Kahlo reference was not literal, as Suberville promised, but more an expression of a life lived in pain like Kahlo's, where support hangs by a thread: The lace of a corset or the gauzy effect of being swaddled in raw white silk, as though bandaged.
Other students selected to show their collections - all designers to keep an eye on - included Boram Oh, Kirstyn Catlett, Nayeon Lee, Yoon Jeong Gee, Sunghiun (Seonghyun) In, Amira Marion, Judy (Yun-Chu) Lee, Hanmin Kim, Sarah Law, Samantha Aprea, Heezu Hwang, Dominique Cammaert, Spencer Phipps, Melissa Luning, Wen Shi, Sylvia Kwan, Andrew Rogers, Esther Marina Shimberg, Hye Seong (Clara) Yoo, Yoon Jung Ha, Grace Shin, Aiden (Seunghoon) Yoo, Bo Bae Lee, HJ Lee, Cullen Meyer, Sara Shahbazi, Rachel Rymar, Hernan Garcia, Woomi Pyo, Freyja Van Noort, Hyun Ah Choi, Jigon Son and Angela (Yang Zi) Gaoxia.