The New School News

Rihanna Inspires Student Designers at 69th Annual Parsons Benefit

Rihanna had a clear and powerful message for Parsons School of Design students gathered at Pier 60 last week.

“You should be celebrated for your creativity, for your fearlessness, for your persistence and determination,” she told the audience, which also included fashion executives and members of the media. “You should be celebrated for all of the work you put into building your future, for being different, for not being given enough credit. My point is, we often tear our youth down when we should be building them up. At the end of the day, our future is in their hands.”

The world-famous singer and actress made her remarks at the evening show of the 69th Annual Parsons Benefit, an event that raised more than $2 million for student scholarships and which featured a runway show of innovative and socially engaged designs by recent graduates of the BFA Fashion Design program.

Rihanna’s message of support was underscored by her oversized pantsuit, a custom creation by Matthew Dolan, MFA Fashion Design and Society ’14. She has worn him on several occasions, along with a number of other recent Parsons graduates.

Rihanna was honored by Parsons for her commitment to initiatives that educate and empower young women. The leading art and design school also recognized designer Eileen Fisher, a champion of sustainable design. Fisher recently hired two Parsons graduates to work at her headquarters after they finished a CFDA incubator program culminating in a capsule collection of redesigned pieces sold at a Brooklyn pop-up. Neiman Marcus, which was represented at Benefit by company CEO and president Karen Katz, also was honored.

Prior to the evening show, select graduates from the BFA Fashion Design program showed off their collections in a provocative runway show. Reflecting its ever-evolving curriculum, Parsons revamped its Benefit awards format this year to feature four new categories. The winners were:

  • Social Innovation: Tianjiao Qu
  • Fashion and Technology: Cen Si
  • Future Textiles: Jacob Olmedo
  • Creative Systems: Olivia Leblanc

Winners of design competitions with prestigious partners also took home awards. Jiwon Choi won the sustainable Yooxygen Award, while Emma Cleveland and Jiwon Choi won the 6th Annual Kering Empowering Imagination Awards.

The evening capped off with an appearance by Donna Karan, an honoree at last year’s Benefit, who was on hand to announce the winners of the Design Fellowship. A partnership between Parsons and Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, Design Fellowship sends students to the D.O.T Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to work with Haitian artisans over the summer. This year, students — Helena Bajaj Larsen, Valentina Ramirez, and Ishita Mehta — will work with Urban Zen Foundation and Haitian artisans to develop a merchandise line for Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation.

Concluding her speech, Rihanna gave students incentive to keep working — and innovating.

Said the singer, “I’m here to say that I’m listening, I’m watching, and you’re up next.”

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