Meet Parsons Alumni: Whitney Michel

Major & Year:  Design & Management, ’10

Hi Whitney! Where are you from and how did you first hear about Parsons? Well, I’ve always been a huge researcher, and since junior high school I had always been sketching and designing. When it came time to start looking into the steps for becoming a [fashion] designer, I researched where all of the admirable designers attended school. It was then that I became aware of Zac Posen, Tom Ford, Badgley Mischka, Proenza Schouler. It just made sense!

Definitely makes sense, especially since all six of those designers had attended Parsons! Why did you decided upon the Design & Management major? I initially enrolled in Foundation, as I was going to study Fashion Design. Later, when it was time to start thinking of what was going to take me to my end goal [of becoming a fashion designer], I realized that I wanted to understand business.

What was your first year at Parsons like? Was it your first time in NYC?              I was born in NY, but abandoning the Pennsylvania suburbs to return to NYC for Parsons was magical. It was [everything] I had imagined. I lived in the West 13th Street dorms, went to museums, lugged around wood from the 23rd street Home Depot to the 2 W 13th Street Workshop to build projects for 3D class. Then you have all of the lovely vices of the city. You are 18 in a big city and you can do whatever you want. Parsons was amazing in challenging my thought process during that period of growth – just when you are becoming an adult. I built things I never imagined, was taught to look at the world with a design thinker’s eyes and with students that came from the other side of the world. I’d do it again in a heart beat. It’s funny because you can speak to people that graduated from my major and they all have this Parsons language of sustainability, design thinking, good design.

There truly is a Parsons language! Since graduating from The New School, what have you been up to? I started my Menswear brand MICHEL MEN, which happened to be my thesis project. It’s brought me to so many places, meeting so many different people. I’ve learned with the brand that anything is possible with truly good design, especially when you believe in your market. My love for menswear and the men that inspired my brand also brought me to Vogue working in the Mens Editorial Department and the Fashion Closet as a Freelance Assistant. You really start to notice how everything fits in: My 2D classes with Robert Fisher and 6 hour lab class (now with Dean Joel Towers) literally created for me a life of possibilities.

What internships have you completed? Any favorite experiences that stand out in your mind? I’ve done many internships that I think slowly led me here. Freshman year I worked with a young designer Nima Taherzadeh, later with a very smart woman who created conferences with designers and artists like Chuck Close. I was her only intern, so I’d get to interact with people who were inspirations to me, like Thom Browne. I remember an awkward moment when his mother said, “Tommy, this young lady is trying to get your attention.” By far, my best internship was spending time with the Menswear Editor at Vogue. I was really pushed to the limit there. You are expected to perform at a certain level and the pressure is on! It was definitely a crash course that led to me working at Vogue and other magazines as a freelance fashion assistant.

Have there been times when you were able to take what you learned at Parsons and have been able to apply it towards life after graduation? Absolutely. I always go on about Parsons, literally everywhere I go. They really think of their students and they believe in them. They believe that you will believe in yourself enough to make a difference. I remember starting a non-profit during my time at Parsons and having the 100% support of the Dean. I also remember going to dinner with a professor and another student and him telling me how I reminded him of his friend Ralph Lauren, when he was starting his brand. You don’t get this support everywhere. I still have this feeling of responsibility as any good student should. I feel like I have to make my Dean, my school and my teachers proud. I feel like I have got to contribute as the men of Proenza Schouler have, like Tom Ford has, like Alexander Wang has. The only way to do so is to create, the Parsons way. You can only become a winner when you are schooled on artists, drilled on visual hierarchy and taught Economics in the same place.

What are your future plans; anything in the works right now?                                  Yes of course! I’ve been more inspired than ever to make sure that my market understands the MICHEL MEN story and loves the pieces that come from the brand. I just recently stumbled upon an article while at Vogue of Marcus Samuelsson boasting about the MM goods. I will forever be a Parsons student with my eyes and ears open so I’ve allowed this love of the brand to take me everywhere. I’ve also continued with assisting stylists. It’s a magical and inspiring thing to see how other people work with clothing. Imagine wanting to know Grace Coddington’s thought process. For instance, I have the greatest curiosity for Robert Rabensteiner and the thinkers of GQ. I’m open to whatever the love of my brand takes me. I cannot wait to have my Ready to Wear. Waiting is torture. It is a journey after all.

I can’t wait to see where your MM brand takes you either! Finally, any last minute advice for students out there who hope to follow in your footsteps? Yes, of course. Ask questions—always. Even if you don’t have an idea of where it will lead. Never stop asking questions because you’ll be shocked at who answers. I remember emailing a C-Level Executive of LVMH/Dior during my freshman year and looking at the number on my mother’s caller i.d and she was calling me back! I believe that as you get older you are forced to be ‘practical’ and not so adventurous with your ideas and aspirations. You have to fight that. Parsons’ curriculum and your willingness to explore will help you fight that. The world of design, in my opinion starts at Parsons. You’ve got to want to absorb it in order to excel and be another great.

Thanks so much for the advice Whitney! Your story is truly inspiring!

(To see more of what Whitney has been up to, visit her site!)

– Written by Lauren Sanchez, Design and Management BBA ’12

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