The First-Year program at Parsons can be very fun but also very daunting at the same time. In my experience, it seems that it is designed to teach you about working in teams, and making the best out of everyone’s strengths. Most students are intimidated by the idea, and in most cases they will choose not to put their best foot forward.
This is a dangerous mistake because in all industries, especially design, your peers are the people who teach you the most. In the last century, there have been very few creations that took only one person to produce. Diane von Furstenberg may take the bow at the end of each runway show, but backstage, her staff of designers, stylists, models, and photographers make her craft all the more special.
As I said, we learn from the people we collaborate with. Perhaps more than we do from our professors. I can attest to this based on a recent photoshoot for my Integrative Studio: Fashion class.
The assignment began with research on a group of artists who captivated the East Village in the 1980s. Tseng Kwong Chi, Keith Haring, Frank Holliday, Jenny Holzer, and Kenny Scharf were among this groundbreaking troop. In a team of five, we were told to design two garment concepts inspired by our assigned artists.
Rhoda and Kitty, who possessed the best drawing abilities, produced croquis for the two designs. We then made a presentation to the class to explain our inspiration. Because I am experienced with Pinterest, I volunteered to create digital mood boards that would enhance the meaning of our designs.
Based on the class’s reaction, we chose to produce the garment inspired by the new wave movement, a period in which many of our artists began to flourish.
We knew from the start that this piece was extremely ambitious, and many of us, myself included, had little to no experience sewing. With that, Kitty, the most talented seamstress of the group took on the most heavy duties of construction. Her knowledge of fabrics and techniques truly benefitted us in the end.
After weeks of what seemed like endless work, the garment was finally complete. But of course we were nowhere near done with this project. The next step was to design a concept for an editorial consisting of 10 photographs. Five of these had to enhance the meaning of the garment, while the other five had to create contrast between the garment and a location. Alex, another member of the team rose to the occasion as our fashion photographer. The idea for our first photoshoot came straight from
Tseng Kwong Chi, an artist famous for his photographs of the east village art scene, did a series of images with iconic American structures. One of these photos was with the Twin Towers.
As an homage to Chi, and also to the Twin Towers, our team decided that a modern recreation with the Freedom Tower would enhance our garment perfectly.
The idea of juxtaposing the garment proved much more difficult. It was not until we were on location that an idea popped into our heads. Frank Holliday, who today is a Parsons professor, told us that fame was never something these artists expected to achieve. With that, we decided to create a paparazzi style photo essay that would illustrate the confusion that money and fame brought to the East Village scene.
I am biased, but I do believe that this team achieved extraordinary results. Each of us came from different backgrounds and different levels of experience, but that is what gave us strong results. It is like Adam Smith’s theory of specialization; the separation of tasks based on individual strengths will lead to a more effective economy (or in this case, more meaningful fashion). You cannot learn that in a classroom.
If your interested in viewing this garment in person, it will be on display on the 5th floor of 2 West 13th Street (The Parsons Building).