The 2013 CFDA Awards took place this past June and for those of you who don’t know the ceremony is basically the Oscars of Fashion Design. Some of the big awards that went out that night were to Proenza Schouler for Womenswear Designer of the Year, Phillip Lim for Accessories Designer of the Year and oh yeah Parsons senior Justin Chu, recipient of the Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship Award. One of CFDA’s four scholarships, the Geoffrey Beene Scholar is selected by a panel of prestigious industry experts and is also awarded $25,000 which will go towards senior year tuition as well as other educational expenses. I recently chatted with Justin about his experience at the CFDA’s, his winning design submission (which can be viewed here) and also took a peek at his junior preview collection shot by Parsons photography major Emma Pratte.
Lauren Davis: Okay first and foremost what was it like being at the CFDA awards with so many amazingly talented people?
Justin Chu: It was a mind blowing experience attending the CFDA awards this year. I was completely starstruck. Everywhere I looked was a famous designer or editor. Diane Von Furstenberg even came up to congratulate me, personally! Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez (Proenza Schouler) were talking in the hallway as I was walking past the restroom. I bumped into a designer, Meryl, who I used to intern for at Marc Jacobs Collection and met Alexander Wang, who was really humble and nice. I also had a special chance to thank Joseph Altuzarra for an incredible internship experience this year with his company. One of my costume designer idols, Colleen Atwood, who has worked on films that have inspired me so much such as Edward Scissorhands, Silence of the Lambs, Sleepy Hollow, Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha congratulated me as well!
It was a really magical night getting to see everyone in person and sharing the moment with my friend. The CFDA judging panel and staff were so gracious at the event. I couldn’t have been more grateful for their generous support and allowing me to attend this memorable night.
LD: I know the CFDA scholarships can be very time consuming processes. What were some of the main components required and what was this process overall like for you?
JC: This CFDA project was a different design process for me because the development began in winter, and the illustrations were finished in spring. So there was a break in the project because of scheduling. However, I was lucky to have two professors, Steven Faerm and Martin Price, review my work before submission. Their point of views were different yet insightful and the diverse point of views helped me gain a better perspective. Without their help, I could not have won the award. Eventually, it led to long hours, days on end, to finish the drawings. It takes a lot of time and hard work. However, the thinking involved in the fabrics, to me, spoke to the essence of Beene and his passion for combining the high and low brow culture.
LD: This particular CFDA scholarship was to “challenge students to look beyond conforming trends and the practicality of business in order to advance the art form”. Being that the guidelines are a bit specific how was it for you to follow this while still staying true to yourself as a designer?
JC: Fashion is an art form that requires designers to think outside of the box and to evoke thought. Following trends could become boring really fast, so a strong point of view and change in design is really important to keep the art form and industry moving forward.
I’m an open-minded type of thinker. I try to take in anything my professors have to offer and then reevaluate what I learn later. However, I find it interesting how my inspiration parallels with designers I admire including Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada. It’s funny that you mention this guideline because I was watching the other day fashion critics of Showstudio mentioning how Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada are the trend setters of the industry. I think in order to be a trend setter you have to break away from current trends and have your own voice. During research, I fell in love with Geoffrey Beene‘s work and his spirit so it was very easy for me to be passionate about the project and put my heart into the designs.
LD: What advice do you have for students who will be applying in their junior years?
JC: I recommend that students who apply should feel comfortable in drawing and research Geoffrey Beene well before designing. You can’t design for a label without being aware of the history. I think too many designers reference the past without doing enough research. Be prepared to be focused and have passion in the work. Take in your professors feedback. Designing is a team effort. I couldn’t have done this project without the support and advice of my professors at Parsons. Lastly, I would research inspiration outside of fashion that feels unfamiliar and untouched. Don’t be afraid to stand out and be yourself.
LD: How do you feel this experience helped you grow as a designer?
JC: I think setting the goal to finish this project, within itself, is a strong learning experience. To finish 40 views of finishes and 40 views of flats adds up to 80 drawings of just the designs. There is also a separate final illustration. It is a long process, which includes not only quantity but quality. It has definitely influenced my design approach for my Senior Thesis, which I’m currently working on now.
JC: I still have so much to learn about this business and my dream will always be to design. I am considering on getting my masters degree in Europe. I went to Paris this summer to take a haute couture masterclass with Arts of Fashion at Les Arts Decoratifs in the Louvre. We visited Maison Lesage of haute couture embroidery and beading, and Atelier Lognon of haute couture pleating. It was life changing and mind boggling. Not only did the project inspire my thesis but the city of Paris stole my heart. Hopefully, one day, I could achieve my dream of being a designer in the Big Apple!
Huge thanks to Justin and I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see him at the CFDAs!