Representing the creative future

Parsons MFA 2024: maybe the kids are alright?

Discover the stories behind the collections of this year’s Parsons MFA Fashion Design + Society graduates

On the anniversary of a universally grim day in New York City, Parsons graduates debuted their capstone collections to an eager crowd at the Brooklyn Museum. This year’s cohort of Gen Z designers used their platform to make a statement for the future. Curated by Creative Director and CFDA Future Fashion Graduate, Jeff Karly Drouillard, this showcase was an invitation to the immersive nucleus of fashion’s next generation of designers. Parsons’ twelfth graduate class, issued a symbolic chronicle of a changing world at the feet of a crisis-acquainted youth class.

Titled, “We Dem Kids”, Drouillard intended to honor the cultural influences of his heritage as a Haitian-American bred in Flatbush, and the 15 pupils he mentored as professor at his alma mater. This manifestation began with a quote from American literary and cultural agent, James Baldwin: “To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.” These words shaped the self-mythology Drouillard encouraged his students to pursue. “I teach my students to put their ideas out there–with care, respect and intention. It is my duty to make sure that those who enter my class leave a little bit more true to their artistry and committed to their vision. This activation serves as a tribute to the bonds that span generations and serves as a reminder that our past experiences sculpt our present and guide our future.”

In a symphony of live performances by saxophonist, Marvin Carter, Courtney “Mac” McFadden, and poet, Sean Slaughter, the cadence of the show was reminiscent of The City’s spirit amidst a weeklong excursion into local fashions. Divided into 3 chapters, “Gen 12” (as the designers abbreviate) honored heritage, futurism, and nostalgia rich with social commentary on isolation and joy. Ushering in the next fashion epoch, the graduates make a crucial declaration on human connection, and our societies inevitable demise without it. The parable of Gen 12 brings a metaphysical disruption to the current state of fashion. Nevertheless successful in capturing the essence of a post-pandemic and youth culture, the collections left us wondering: maybe the kids are alright? We spoke to Gen 12 to prove us right.

Yamil Arbaje

In a radical exploration of a new Latin-American youth, The Life and Clothes of Leandro Cid: Why Fashion? looks to construct a new masculinity across the Global South. Inspired by his Caribbean roots of the Dominican Republic, the collection builds on the legend of fictional Dominican artist, Leandro Cid— yet encapsulates Arbaje’s IRL vision for the future of youth. “A frequent question that I would ask myself is how the Latin-American youth should be? It represents the pain, the joy, the culture, the history of Latin America.” Representing the wavering of pain and joy, the collection is an inventive fusion of classic Latin American cinema, 1980’s graphics, and polarizing hues. Bright or muted, the colors of the collections aim to convey the radical youth vision of Leandro Cid. “[Our youth] needs to be cautious and political […] but, most importantly, radically aware. My hope is that we realize what that means for our future, so we can make change with our work, and in how we interact with people.” Urging a fight against the monotony of fashion through social media, he has mastered refreshing takes on classic silhouettes and the political garment. Printing “El Poder Produce Realidad ” (“Power Produces Reality” in English) on his pieces, this collection is a constant reminder of the Latin American political vision for the future of youth.

Siri Majaroen 

Preloved undergarments got a bold second chance at life in the 2001 collection. Aimed to foster open conversations around sexual expression and promote sex education through designs, Siri brought the taboo to the forefront with an avant garde upcycling of underwear and tights to uncover the often ignored circular potential of the fashion textile chain. She says, “2001 was the year I moved from Thailand to Germany, and was exposed to a very different outlook on sexuality and nudity.” In an emotional broadcast of sensuality, this collection has an acute focus on textile innovation and embroidery. An opening look with a bejeweled penis was a brilliant statement to the audience that the youth have grown tired of quiet whispers about sex and sexuality. “My collection embraces our boldness, curiosity, and fearlessness. It acknowledges the complexities of growing up in a world saturated with conflicting messages about sexuality and body image. By repurposing everyday garments like underwear and tights, I challenge conventions and encourage a sense of creativity and rebellion— and I hope that my collection sends a message that fashion can be both expressive and responsible.”

Anna Roth

Attracted to the resources Parsons could provide to help her make an impact in the industry, Roth is keen on using fashion as a tool for community. Her collection, How To Fit In, is a seven step action plan to finding your people. Featuring puppet characters representing shame, self-esteem, friendliness, mimicking, mentalization, humor, and active listening, Roth is confident in her use of comedy to bring these characters to human scale. “My collection does not take itself seriously, but is grounded in anyone’s reality of trying to connect to others. I mean look at the names of the characters: Fart, Flow, Cassi, Nolon, Piki, Booger, and Wobbles. Their naming conventions and physical performance are lighthearted and goofy, with a very clear intention to make the audience feel joy.” Roth’s collection aims to urge Gen Z to find their joy earlier in life, believe in their artistry, take up space and most importantly: be kind.

Mel Corchado

A decolonial activist and intuitive designer at heart, Corchado witnessed the excitement and wastefulness of the industry firsthand. Her collection, Everything for Everybody (E4E) centers co-creation and aims to democratize access to the fashion industry by empowering a small community of femmes in New York City to exercise aesthetic agency. This collection is a seamless display that experimentation is a privilege. Several accessories featured in the collection were made from pure sugar, including a full breast plate in the collection’s fourth look. “This collection was made with and for the girls! The real aim of the project was to build relationships. I wanted to strengthen my immediate community, by working with friends and family, and also hopefully restore the connection between garment and consumer by involving the wearer in the design and production process.” Through use of recycled leather deadstock and gluco-textiles, Corchado held space for co-collaborators to have the much needed conversations about consumer relationships, the act of dressing, and processes of care. With all the efforts made by Corchado, and her team— she says the work remains unfinished. Culturally we have grown to dissociate from the processes of production and commit injustices against garment workers. Mobilization is the E4E vision; mobilizing the community to make creation and consumption sustainable and equitable.

Fabiola Soavelo

In a constant race to eradicate the mundane with viral moments and celebrity appointments, Soavelo’s collection is a refreshing take on memory. Referencing the cultural mementos of science fiction architects like Octavia Butler, this collection blends the aesthetics and collective memories of her Swiss-Malagasy heritage. In an artful examination of cultural techniques and histories, Saovelo confronts the uncanny senses of childhood nostalgia with future thinking historical references to patent the Malagasy concept of Fihavanana: togetherness. Leveraging her backgrounds in Biodesign, the collection harmonizes cultural memory and methodologies to transform deadstock leathers, raffia fibers, and intricate silhouettes. “My collection combines the minimalism of Swiss culture with the rich essence of Malagasy heritage. It reflects my personal journey from childhood in Madagascar to my current self [and] represents the way our memories can sometimes appear intimidating when we compare our past selves to our present selves.” Spending her youth in a vastly different culture made her question the reality of those memories. This collection is a calculated amalgamation of cherishing the spirit of youth, culture, and memory. Mastering the art of credibility through her creativity, Saovelo challenges the next generation of designers to not be burdened with the expectations of solving all of the world’s issues in one collection. “Focus in on one area, articulate your vision, and master the subject.”

Hsiao-Han Kuo  

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a global suffering of illness and isolation. For Taiwanese knitwear designer Han Kuo, her collection “Guide for Un-Isolation” was a contribution of solace. In a conception of “touch-as-comfort”, Han is able to forge new relationships to physio-emotional comfort and visual perfection through adult swaddling and knit innovation. “Combining the knitting process with the physiological and psychological concept of deep pressure integrates “self-healing” into wearable clothing. A knitwear that hugs you and embraces your body. This collection is not like seeing a doctor or having medicine, but it is something you can wear daily to help individuals in their healing process and comfort those who need it the most.” For Han, the existential crises that burden Gen Z inspired the collection, but offer a commentary that embraces curiosity, connection, and healing.

Ren Haixi 

Developing her skills under American powerhouse designer, Thom Browne, Ren looked to develop a visual diary of cultural uniformity and prep school aesthetics. Inspired by her six years at a private international school in Beijing, her collection, “1998”, pulls references from American prep school culture the school imitated to an extreme. Drawing from architecture and classroom decor,  Ren redesigns the Ivy with humorous mistranslations of mimicry and a youthful angst for rebellion. Through the rugby stripes and knife pleats, is an artistic identity waiting to emerge. “The shattered patchwork of plaids and abstract school badges reflected my controlled act of rebellion, as I sought a balance between my artistic self and the ideal prep school girl I was imitating.” The collection speaks to identity formation and using clothing as performance. Designing the constant stressors of teenagers uniquely placed in the spectrum of personhood are critical take on where youth is and where it’s headed in a media-saturated world. Ren, CFDA Geoffrey Beene Design Award recipient, recognizes the role of the designer is a unique position (with its own set of difficulties in identity formation), but her greatest learning is to never stop being creative.

Chang Liu 

Chang Liu misses the humanity in knitwear. “Cold machines gradually replace the warmth of hand-made clothes.” The art of knitting is a familial tradition imparted to her by her grandmother. Experimenting with dye techniques and textures, this collection is a celebration of the natural progression of aging and the profound impact of memory loss on the human experience. Each of the looks encompass the essence of memory— in transition and in evanescence. The constant musing of her grandmother is evident in incorporation of varying yarn thickness and embroidery techniques that she learned from her, the repurposing of her garments, and the oversized silhouettes honoring the memories of trying on her grandmother’s clothes as a child. “This entire process allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the influence my grandmother has had on me and the potential for my skills to impact the lives of others.” In a passionate collection, Chang is honoring composition and human experience. The fluid fleeting of time is an incentive to slow down and cherish the time we’re privileged to have.

Daorui Story Si

As a past intern of Parsons Generation 6 student, Jason Wu, Story’s collection is heavily influenced by gender codes. Reconstructing the details of a traditional Mao suit for a contemporary era, Story incorporates queer notes with an aim to characterize the changing notions of sexualities’ expression through dress. Drawing influence from Oscar Wilde’s green carnation, and Peter Berlin’s nudity photoseries, Story offers a balanced representation of queer stylizations with universal mens sportswear. Linked to his own struggles with expressing his true aesthetic, this collection is an open source for people to decide how much space they want to take up as queer individuals. “I think my collection is providing a choice for the youth who are in situations where they are not able to express themselves. The garment’s details are meant to be emotionally supportive.” A lifelong student of queer dressing history, Story is dedicated to materializing and re-identifying queer fashion.

Ying Kong

The relenting future of work is here. Around-the-clock virtual conferencing, 50 hour work weeks, and the threat of artificial intelligence replacing human ingenuity, Ying Kong’s “Literally me? Workaholic” collection is a concept of the humanoid relationship to work. Engineered with functional details, varying levels of tension with the incorporation of bungee cords and elastics, this collection plays humorously on our toxic relationship with work. The juxtaposition of formal suits, to the athletic functional details of casual wear reflect the dysfunction of our performed resilience and optimization; urging us to reflect on this disordered behavior in playful ways. She says, “The collection originated from the heated topic of workaholism. I never expected that during the course of this collection, I would also become a complete workaholic, that’s why it’s titled “Literally me? Workaholic”.” This is her redemption-arc.

Nan Jiang

Nan Jiang “Mimi” is on a quest for authenticity. Her interim in London at UAL revealed the transformative power of textiles and craftsmanship. Specializing in knitwear, Mimi is keen on designing the hidden languages of fashion in her ‘Home Decor, In Decay” collection. Delving into the themes of alienation, her existential examination of filling the “home void” is a pretence for the tactile experience of her textured yarns and hair-like materials. There is an unsettling sensibility to her work accompanied by a charming cuteness. The concept of “home” is depicted in literal reconfigurations of grandfather clocks, dresser chests, and taxidermy decor. The profound theme of loneliness engulfs the audience in images of what seems like an abandoned refuge left to rot. Stemming from her own experiences with loneliness, this collection was an ode to the paradoxical struggles of human existence and a complete immersion into the materialization of creative fantasy.

Yu Gong

Yu Gong’s “Phygital Uniform” is a kitschy take on our “inherently online” population. Exacerbated by the pandemic lockdowns, the metaverse became the universal reality for us all. The NFT was on its way to recode the human genius, and we were game. Openly redesigning for the metaphysical to satisfy our physical world desires, this collection represents our boundless connection to the meta. Transferring daily archetypes like t-shirts, hoodies and puffer jackets, Gong parades her multimedia creative prowess to bring a collection of printed hyper-realistic fabrics, multi-dimensional silhouettes, and electronics to our metaphysical reality. Seemingly coming straight out of a Minecraft journey, this collection is a vacant portal between worlds.

Natsumi Aoki

“A love letter to you/ but I still want to live” is anything but cheeky fantasy. Made to reflect the desperation of today, Aoki’s agender collection professes a parable of nihilism. Based on the speculative theory of sociologist Marcel Gauchet, “The Disenchantment of the World”, these pieces challenge the human process of rationalizing our eclipsed contemporary world. With nuanced, somber color palettes and apocalyptic takes on street-tech fashion, this collection rethinks the protective functions of garments. To conceive these looks, Aoki asks: How does hopelessness and powerlessness manifest in garments? “The collection evolved from the question of how clothing can work both physically and spiritually in this society where it is harder to have hope.” Though there is a palpable spirit of gloom, also lies a slim gleam of hope for the future. The synergy of craftsmanship and clashing textile usage leads us to think maybe this is a call to action for fellowship among difference. Aoki claims the role of spectator and designer and in this love letter is her plea for us to acknowledge our present, and subvert our pessimism for the sake of the future.

Sunny Ning

How do we define the feminine sexy? For Sunny Ning’s collection, sensuality was rooted in traditional Chinese modest codes, and her signature Dubied inlay knitting technique. The pastel, reflective yarns gave structure to her romantic silhouettes and allowed for an open dialogue about the vast expressions of feminine sensuality. Modest, and everything but subtle, Ning is a master of understanding the delicacy of “sexy”. The fine threads offer an alluring sheerness to the pieces that tease the viewer for what doesn’t meet the eye. Her passion for knitwear innovation is clear, as she proves with this collection that knitting is not just craft, but a form or art. Though her knitting genius is evident here, she realizes her lapses in concept creation. Drawn to the mere beauty of some color combinations, she vividly remembers her professor telling her “He’s allergic to pretty” and to develop further. For Sunny Ning this is only the beginning, and she’s still figuring it out.

Lorena Pipenco

This was anything but a debut for Lorena Pipenco. Dressing pop culture’s largest stars, Pipenco’s signature textured realm of fantasy has made her a go-to name for the next generation of knitwear. Using references from 1970’s Romanian film, Veronica and Maria Mirabella, this collection evokes a certain nostalgia about the present, past and future self. Exploring the true meaning of emotion and memory through feathered textiles, reinterpreted childhood garments, and enlarged silhouettes, Pipenco is more than comfortable in her translations of beauty and memory. Her collection reflects the struggles of her youth as a Romanian immigrant in London. “Before I was anything I was “the Romanian girl” in London Essex at school, I wasn’t Lorena the girl who loved art. I was a “foreigner”. This insecurity and complexity followed me a lot until my adulthood where I’m finally at a place where I accept myself and am proud of where I come from. The contrast of adult emotions versus her childhood perceptions reveal a larger narrative in her messaging as a designer. Unconcerned with trends, she is more keen on having a creative vision and the transformative powers of clothing.