Opening Night: 'The School of Fashion: 30 Parsons Designers'

The curtain was pulled back at Milk Gallery last night to give a glimpse into what it really means to attend a prestigious design school such as Parsons. The mixed-media exhibit dedicated to Dean of Fashion Simon Collins’ new book, The School of Fashion: 30 Parsons Designers, revealed through portraits, sketches and video interviews that fashion at this level is never an accident.

We asked Peter Som, one of the celebrated Parsons grads profiled in the book and exhibit along with Anna Sui, Alexander Wang and Kay Unger, to tell us about what his time at Parsons meant to him.

“For me, Parsons meant being in the same company as Claire McCardell and Norman Norell and going to school in the heart of the fabled Garment District. That was enough for me,” says Som. “I didn’t consider any other schools actually! I made up my mind and I went for it.”

How would you describe ‘The Parsons Experience’?

Very, very intense, but I loved every minute of it. Parsons was a lot of work! The amount of homework was nuts–and this was all creative based stuff. You couldn’t find your homework in a library–everything had to be spun out of your head. There was no time to go on a trip to get inspired or anything–you had to have your inspiration, put together your swatches and crank out collections. And everything was done in gouache!

Was there a professor or instructor who was a game-changer for you?

For me, it was Ellie Fishman. She was a great teacher, but she also had such elegance and heart. Don’t get me wrong, she was tough! But she had such personal style–she often wore Geoffrey Beene which was no joke for me as he was and is one of my fashion idols. She sort of combined knowledge and talent and the ability to teach with a particular level of Audrey Hepburn meets ‘New Yawk’ fabulousness that inspired me to work hard.

What was your most memorable Parsons moment?

During the many, many, many hours of homework, I would play the movie ‘The Women’ over and over again on my VCR for background noise. I needed background noise that wasn’t music. I probably have listened to the movie a million more times than I have actually watched it.

What does it take to stand out as a student in the fashion design program? How did you do it?

It takes an intense amount of commitment. It takes knowing who you are or want to become as a designer and where that might fit into the world, and it takes always questioning how to get better, and doing it. And oh my god tons of coffee.

How did your Parsons experience prepare you for the industry?

Parsons prepared me for the industry in the level of work that was required. Sure, I came out knowing how to drape and to sew and to do patternmaking–all of those fundamentals. But when I started my business–that level of work–that I got from my Parsons days.

Photography by Zlatko Batistich

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