Parsons Grads Dress Rihanna And Address The Future Of Fashion – Forbes
I’m going to say what everyone is thinking but is afraid to say, fashion as we have known it for the past 100 years is done. There’s been much debate on this subject the past few years, but I’m calling it. Yes, catwalk shows will continue for some time, perhaps forever, but they just don’t serve the same purpose they used to. These days they look fatigued, with designers recycling past decades and even each other to the point of losing all relevance. It’s a truth that brings with it a tear of sadness for the drama and grandeur that has taken our breath away, the beauty and craftsmanship that is disappearing, the exclusivity that has created works of art that will inspire us forever. At the same time, it’s clear that something needs to change and that fashion needs to step into a new role that fits the needs of the 21st Century.
What will that role be? The students of Parsons School of Design are working hard, to answer that question, collaborating with organizations and companies around the world and using fashion to solve social and environmental challenges. Activist and health care provider might seem like strange roles for fashion, but not when you realize how much fashion has always been about transformation, reflecting our desires, and communicating cultural, global and technological shifts.
Since the late 1800s, designers have been the steady guides of what we wore, clairvoyants who knew instinctively what we needed before we did: Poiret freed women from the corset, Chanel brought women the ease of the little black dress, pants and affordable faux jewelry. Dior brought femininity and elegance we craved after the atrocities of WWII. Mary Quant introduced us to our youth in the 1960s. Designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Lacroix, Galliano and McQueen gave us magic on the catwalk and transported us to far off places where we dared beautiful dreams.
So why isn’t fashion as we’ve known it, working? It’s in transition. Traditional fashion was first disrupted by Fast Fashion which upended the design world two decades ago, toppling Haute Couture’s exclusive status and bringing style to the masses. In less than 20 years, the number of Haute Couture shows went from 100 brands to 12. It freed people from trends and created a hunger for style that brands tried to meet by producing more and more shows sometimes at the expense of the health of their designers. Then came slow economic growth and the rise of online shopping, leaving retail scrambling to sustain itself. Bleak times indeed, but not if as Parsons School of Design students and faculty see it, you look at this as an exciting time for fashion, where it can use its considerable power to connect and persuade to solve the problems of our century.
The school, which has led the fashion industry in the US since its inception in 1906 and produced some of the biggest names in American fashion, names like Mark Jacobs, Anna Sui, Donna Karan and Proenza Schouler, has adopted a progressive and challenging curriculum that pushes students to address the needs of their generation, to offer solutions that redefine and disrupt established methods of production and ideas of fabrication. Students are encouraged to think about fashion in terms of the “future of wearing” and research, across disciplines, looking at design, aesthetics, cultural curation, image-making and visual communication to address fashion in the context of civic issues.
How did a school steeped in traditional fashion methods make such a quick leap to become a leader in fashion innovation? Thank the united vision of Parsons’ dynamic faculty, the leadership of Burak Cakmak Dean of the School of Fashion and Fiona Deffenbacher, BFA Fashion Design & Assistant Professor of Fashion Design. Burak has spent a lifetime helping luxury and sportswear brands strategize ways to integrate corporate responsibility starting at Gap in San Francisco as part of their Global Responsibility department. It was a unique experience that allowed him to understand the full value chain for a fashion company, from corporate function to marketing and how products come to market. Building on this experience, he then established sustainability departments for other companies in including luxury brands under Kering. At Swarovski Group, he established public commitments to manage the sustainability and social impact of the company and introduced corporate citizenship initiatives aligned with brand values. Fiona is a Parson’s Alumni who started and ran her own brand for many years, and began teaching at the school in 2005 before going on to become Program Director, BFA Fashion Design. Both Burak and Fiona are futurists who believe, like their faculty, that fashion has a duty to go beyond wearing, to address social needs. They understand that fashion graduates need to be prepared for future fashion jobs that will incorporate tech, AR, AI, engineering, and biology, and more. What makes the program unique is its concentrated and committed social focus, holistic approach to design, and the extensive global partnerships.
In many ways, the school is bringing back a revival of the focus and purpose of the arts and crafts movement of the 1800s that questioned the role of nature and industrialization in society. Parson’s students facilitate these explorations through one of four areas of focus: Collection, Systems and Society, Materiality, and Fashion Product. Students are able to spend the four years learning about different ways they can utilize their newly acquired skills, understanding the diverse ways they can go out into the society as a designer and bring about positive change.
Collection (all gender) looks at design from outside traditional categories of menswear and womenswear with a more holistic approach. The first two years students are encouraged to focus on developing their own personal identity, design methodologies and aesthetics while being exposed to a variety of creative, universal techniques and strategies that expand their skills to support exploration of expanded definitions of fashion. In the senior year where gender specific fittings occur, students may opt to specialize in all gender/unisex categories as well as mens, womens and childrenswear. The reason for the addition of unisex, is that “Roles of gender have changed and so have clothes,” says Burak.