“Have you all got your elevator pitch together?” Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design, was speaking to a group of about a dozen students on the eve of the annual Parsons Fashion Benefit. They stood in a darkened auditorium surrounded by mannequins, each next to a single look from their graduating thesis collections, which would debut on the runway at this major fashion event. The students, nervously shifting from foot to foot or clutching glossy sheets of photographs of their work, were all nominees for Womenswear Designer of the Year, and they were waiting for a meeting with some very special critics: Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, better know as the fashion brand Proenza Schouler, who would also be the honorees at the benefit the following evening.
McCollough and Hernandez are both graduates of the BFA Fashion Design program at Parsons and past winners of the Womenswear Designer of the Year honor. It was the Parsons Fashion Benefit that launched their careers in 2002, when their thesis collection was bought on the spot by high-end retailer Barney’s New York.
“You hear this from me all the time,” Collins continued, “but you know what I mean – ‘I’m really interested in X, so I used Y, because something something.’” The students all nodded vigorously. Not long after, the Proenza Schouler team arrived, and immediately fell back into student mode, guessing at how particular pieces were cut or sewn, and joking about insane deadlines and sleepless nights.
“Is this bonded?” McCollough asked, examining a copper-colored vest by Sophia Suh.
“This looks like an alligator tail!” Hernandez said, running his hand down the scaly back of a lazer-cut dress with hundreds of tiny pieces by Harin Yang.
The pair spent more than an hour looking at the students’ work, offering tips and insight into their own process. After the individual feedback, they took questions from the students. They revealed that having a business partner is very important, it’s best to make your early mistakes on someone else’s time, and got into the finer points of the differences between a pre-collection and a collection. Perhaps their most important bit of real-world advice had come earlier in the evening, when a student had asked if McCollough and Hernandez had learned any shortcuts they could share. There was a beat of silence before Hernandez replied. “There are no shortcuts.”
See highlights of the Parsons Fashion Benefit, including the announcement of the Designers of Year, here.