Representing the creative future


Discover the collections and sketchbooks of this year's Parsons BFA Fashion Design graduates

In her article preceding the inauguration of the 2021 MET Gala, NY Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman defines the current state of “American fashion” and its quest for an aesthetic national identity “kind of a hot mess”, although that’s exactly what makes it “kind of cool” right now.  The BFA Fashion Design at Parsons, helmed by Marie Geneviève Cyr, just gave its annual graduate show, and the 188 (!) designers showcasing have proved to have their finger steady on the pulse of the industry, tackling in unique ways contemporary issues of sustainability, identity, ethnicity and class. We gathered the thoughts and the creative intentions of ten of them.

It’s about channelling “the transformative qualities of narrative-based fashion as manners of celebration, musal inspiration and boundless communal force”, Michael Yuxiao Zhang says of the aims of his collection. The words of the designer encapsulate a vision that is common to the whole program: fashion is a tool to politicise the body, a territory to challenge sartorial norms of gender and class, and to decolonise the dichotomy between fashion innovation and traditional costume, that ended up being associated respectively to Western and non-Western cultures.  Not only social and political themes, but the designer’s intimate journeys, nudging up to the surface grief, trauma, and intimate emotion that are masterfully narrated within the collection, set the bar high on what to expect from fashion in 2023.

The holistic approach is at the core of the Fashion Design major, where creative and technical experimentations, such as sculpture, 3D printing, cosplaying and virtual reality, are fostered with the scope of further exploring the fashion practice, discovering along the process new ways of addressing and manipulating the body and its politics.


Photography by Joseph Jagos


Eva Cass created her graduate collection “Jetsam” collecting “imagery, rituals, materials and craft jettisoned from the bow of the ship” and washed ashore along the southern coasts of Massachusetts. With a combination of hand-stitching, knitting, weaving practices and machine, Eva manufactures an intimate portrait of the fishing community she grew up with, in a men’s and women’s collection. Not only the fishermen, but their wives too, for their “strength, resilience and grace”, have inspired her designs. In her homage to the nautical world, net floats hanging from a boat are now made of rocks and corals and tied together in macrame pendants nestled around the neck, while motives of cords and knots are woven onto suits and coats with a Japanese embroidery technique, ensuring strength to the garments as well as endowing them with a unique decoration.  From the deadstock rope of the stitching, to the cotton, wool and waterproof fabrics such as latex and nylon, every material used in the collection could be found inside a fishing vessel, and was sourced by Eva within the family or donated to her by the community. What Eva weaves is a tale of self-sufficiency and “gentle roughness”: “ the resourcefulness and willingness [of these people] to share their craft have served as my inspiration”.


“Dorveille” is the word used in poetry and in literature to define a mental state between the familiar and the fantastical. Every state of in-betweenness is also a threat to the order, for it eludes any sort of categorisation and control. In the liminal space of reverie, Australian designer and winner of the BFA Fashion Award, taps into his experience as queer immigrant to develop a collection for all identities, tackling sartorial structures of class and gender. “Working class” fabrics such as denim and cotton twills – torn, dyed and with the hems left unstitched as marks of manual labour and sweat – are gloriously reworked into couture silhouettes. The pieces made of humble materials, narrate a story of family immigration within the wider phenomenon of the Asian diaspora, but endowed with long trains, corsetry and draping they don’t fail at elevating the wearer to a state of semi-mythical creature, escaping gender, status and class.  “Dorveille” allows Michael to dream and to demand redemption; it’s a collection in which the fantastical informs and politicises the body, “connecting the transformative qualities of narrative-based fashion as manners of celebrations and boundless communal force”.


Shirley Tang’s “Ascension” is anything but a debut with the public. Her graduate collection has the creative intents set out with “Oriens”, the brand she launched in 2020, just after Junior Year. Inspired by the movement of the sun rising in the East, that informs ideas of both linearity and circularity in time, Shirley’s design process has since then been catalysed by the female body. From sculpture and metalwork to 3D printing and virtual reality, every creative and technical experimentation has been carried out with the only scope of paying tribute to the women’s body while enhancing their shapes.  Her new collection “Ascension” is a rendition of the themes previously explored, juxtaposing the “Ancient” to the myth of modernity and diving into the “cinematic depictions of ‘Future’ as rooted in ancient ‘oriental’ culture”. The result is a visually appealing collection of sinous constructions, waist squeezing corsets, low-rise denim and leather pieces that shield the body like an armour, while revealing its sensuality. The designer honours her roots merging the sci-fi inspirations, with the ancient Chinese myths gathered online and while talking to her family. “These relics become […] pieces of ‘Future Archaeology’, rooted in the past but propelled forward, a memento unbounded by time”.


There is a centuries-old dichotomy between modernity and tradition, or in our case, forward-looking fashion and frozen-in-time costume, which has irremediably found a place in the binary opposition between Western and non-Western cultures. And yet, that spatial and temporal lag can also become a territory of possibility, where the encounter between opposites engenders something powerful and unique. In her graduate collection “Weaver of the Heavenly and Earthly”, Korean American designer Rachel Lee explores this new territory, bringing together “Korean aesthetics and Western sensibilities, using traditional textiles and techniques paired with contemporary silhouettes and styling”. Drawing on her personal experience of the jesa, a shamanic rite performed to connect with the ancestors, Rachel manufactures an arcane collection of deconstructed silhouettes, heavily decorated with fringes and woven elements of fibre rush and raffia. As in the Korean rite the shaman is seen as a weaver capable of connecting the spiritual and the physical worlds, so is Rachel “incorporating various rituals, offerings, and transcendental states into the materiality and movement” of her designs. With leaves and flowers blossoming into golden headpieces and jewellery, rattle accessories and amulets of glass and natural fibres complementing each look, an aura of magic exudes the collection that challenges and mixes up notions of fashion and sacred costume.


Designer and recipient of the 2022 CFDA Scholarship Fund Grace Gordon describes her knitwear collection as “a recollection of moments coded and arranged on the body”. The creation of “To Love is to Lose, to Love is to Exist” started with an act of introspection, observing on a personal level her very own way of dealing with feelings of grief, loss and intimacy. “I plan to investigate the layered self, ever-present and ever-changing versions of me that exist as I move through time”. The written and visual research is followed by sustainable sourcing of the yarns and materials, making sure that a circular approach is adopted throughout the design process. Keeping in mind both practicality and the romantic ideal of weaving deeper messages into her knitted designs, Grace executes a collection of lightly distressed pieces, that protect like a second skin and at the same time emphasise the delicacy of the wearer.


Right in the middle of the archive craze, where forgotten brands are revamped from private collections and words such as archive and curation abound in the social media handles of every vaguely artistic project, Shepard Spink’s graduate collection is a curious, refreshing take on this very contemporary urge of capitalising on our heritage. “Collecting Dust” was born of “an appeal of the discarded” that originated “personal accumulative collections” of WW2 toys. While racking up mass-produced trinkets denotes a certain fascination with consumer culture, with his collection, Shepard is actually proving a point: “With the increasingly excessive nature of human consumption, it is not only crucial to make use of what already exists, but to develop systems of continuation, bringing longevity and personal connections to the objects we hold”. Inspired by the functionality of the uniform, the designer reworks old objects and images into new styles and design elements. The collection is an ingenious ensemble of modular pants with toy cars and scrabble pieces printed on the pocket linings and upcycled blazers with removable sleeves and cuffs that enable a potentially endless cycle of renewal. “The garments provide the wearer with both adaptable and collectable styling options, opening the door for alternative sustainable processes and future collaborative developments”.


Virtual fashion is too recent a practice to have a clear idea of all its possible uses and creative outlets. For designer Jialu Xu, for example, the design process doesn’t start through a screen, but rather on the shadow projected on a surface by the physical garment once lighten up. Jialu reverses the process of shadow art – the creation of images with the aid of hands, objects and a source of light – manipulating the plastic material of the sculptural dress according to the silhouette produced on the wall. At the centre of her design process, the interest to explore the relationship with the “unseen”: “I want to use shadows of physical garments as a metaphor for the hidden selves behind our physical existence”. The graduate collection culminates in the digital rendering, that is “what I believe will be the future of fashion and also what inspired me in the physical making”.


Is there such a thing as the wardrobe of an adult? And that of a teenager? In his graduate collection, “Untitled”, multi-disciplinary designer Robert Ferretti delves into the unfolding of time and the exquisitely intimate experience of growing up at one’s own pace. So essential and yet meticulously crafted, Robert’s designs are “the site of action for storytelling and time. Clothes are integrated into the ordinary life of the ‘adult’ making these pieces subjectively personal to them through arbitrary decision-making”.

With neutral tones and weathered fabrics sewn together into uncluttered artisanal pieces, and inspired by the Fluxus art movement that considered the process of making art more important than the artistic product itself, the designer crafts a timeless collection, emphasising the construction and the materiality of each piece, rather than the age group it should belong to. The name of the collection, reminiscent of a work of art with no name, allows the viewer to add in their personal interpretation.


Inspiration may come from the most remote places. Designer Yiren Skylar Wang, has found in astrophysics and the imagination of the outer space her personal “place of solace and hope”, as well as the very matter of her wearable art. Armed with soft weapons such as machine guns and chainsaws and shielded by armour-like corsets, Yiren’s heroines don’t inhabit a space utopia though. “This area appears to be just as complicated and contaminated by the aspects of aggression and nationalism rooted in humanity, generating the feeling of ambiguity and anxiety perhaps shared by many young adults of our time”. Bringing together experimental techniques that unite comics, sculpture, and virtual animations, and extra-terrestrial aesthetics, her graduate collection “Neon Space/Rage!” is a sci-fi, visual essay on the post-human body and its inter-galactic merging with the machine. While more and more often, the manipulation of the body into voluminous designs defying gravity has implied the use of virtual fashion, Yiren’s knowledge of techniques and materials used for cosplay, prop design and performative arts, has made possible the physical creation of the collection. “I strive to be a part of the bridge between different territories, paving ways for what is possible in multidisciplinary endeavours that set out to surprise and amaze”.


“Americans thrive off their fascination with controversy, fame, and fear,” says fashion designer Bradford Billingsley. All the themes of his graduate project “The Spectacle”, created with the support of the Swarovski Sponsorship, are encapsulated in those words. Inspired by the queer sailors of Paul Cadmus’s 1934 scandalous painting “The Fleet’s In”, Bradford dresses an array of delightfully camp characters from the Thirties. “Sexual orientation, gender, and sex itself, are the constant subject of our American controversies, [with] the artform of drag being the latest target in the right wing’s culture war, the story is as old as time”. However, the bourgeois layer of righteousness hides a nucleus of transgression, that is very much alive and pulsating. “The Sailor” uniform has long shed its respectability; it fashions the wearer as an object of (male) gaze, a fetish in the homosexual narrative. At the end of the day, as proved by the designer, gender and sexual preferences can be performed and displayed with clothes. “The Pansy” ’s red tie, for instance, is a recognisable “gay signifier”, artfully transformed by Bradford into the halterneck of a pleated dress. Such bravura at reworking classic silhouettes into a visually captivating narrative didn’t go unnoticed and has granted him the CFDA X Häagen-Dazs Design Scholar Award.