Representing the creative future


Discover the collections and sketchbooks of this year's Parsons Paris BFA students

Graduate fashion shows are stressful and beautiful at the same time. Stressful, because designers have been working on their collections tirelessly for a year. “From the end of March until the first weeks of May, I was working the hardest I had ever worked. This was a period of time when every aspect of my life was dedicated to completing my thesis. I was at school from opening to closure (9 am-midnight), 7 days a week,” one of the designers, Gabrielle Todd, shared. Beautiful, because it’s all been leading up to this moment, a culmination of 3 (or more) years of study. It’s a rewarding creative high: a chance to show off your skills and be completely true to yourself as a designer. “It’s exhausting, but it is also incredibly fulfilling,” graduate Aubrey Briggs says of the dedication and near-obsession required to pull it off.

It’s at this point in their lives that we meet the BFA students of Parsons Paris, the European branch of Parsons School of Design. After the hectic rush of presenting the collections, designers have a moment of peace to reflect on their work and congratulate themselves. That moment is tinged with uncertainty for some. What now? If you’ve been so hyper-focused on executing your collection, life after university may not have been top of mind. For some, there’s a sadness about finishing university and closing a chapter of their lives. And, for others, there’s an excitement about what’s to come. For now, all these designers are looking for an internship in which to consolidate their skills and gain industry experience.

This year, uniforms were a recurring motif throughout many designers’ collections. Nehru jackets, popular with Indian politicians; a conservative Christian school uniform; a waitress working at a country club. Of course, it wouldn’t be a graduate fashion collection if these uniforms weren’t subverted in some way, as the designers purposefully wanted to take advantage of the freedom education provides to experiment and express their creativity.

This year’s cohort used existing visual codes and symbols but played with them, in order to question established notions or comment on society’s relationship to clothes. For instance, Sadie Poisson used Princess Diana’s wardrobe to challenge the constraints put on a woman’s appearance. Gao Jiahui also commented on the constraints put on women, but through combining the military jackets of the Chinese Communist Party with the avant-garde proportions of Thierry Mugler, while Layla Al Tawaya took archetypes of masculinity and femininity but switched their materials around. We dived into the work of some of this year’s graduates and explored the use of visual codes as a way to send unconscious messages and draw immediate connections between what you’re seeing in a collection and the wider world.


Sadie Poisson

A woman controlled by the rules of etiquette, but with great style… who would you think of? For Sadie Poisson, it’s Princess Diana. The designer challenges the constraints put on a woman’s appearance through the figure of the Princess, particularly when still married to then-Prince Charles.  She is “a symbol of a woman who was heavily restricted in the way she dressed, yet also was a fashion lover and icon.” Focusing on Diana’s style in the ‘80s, the strict rules of British royal life are juxtaposed with the anarchy of the punk movement going on at the same time.

Poisson translates this by using signature Diana silhouettes made of punk-inspired fabrics. Ballgowns with big puffy sleeves, full skirts and bows are made from a patchwork of jersey and vintage shirts. The designer then screen-printed this fabric, a nod to the technique embraced by the DIY punk culture. For accessories, pointed-toe heels and a pillbox hat are made from black leather and emblazoned with crossbones.

When it came to research, Poisson thrifted garments from the ‘80s in order to study how they were made, even using a pattern from the era to help one garment look more convincing. To better understand punks, she looked at iconic members of the movement such as Nina Hagen, Alice Cooper, and the Sex Pistols.

Sophia Sacchetti 

In a country club setting, Sophia Sacchetti explores the contrasting uniforms of tennis players and waitresses and how they represent opposing classes who exist in the same space. “In a way, their uniforms are costumes because of the performative aspects of daily life in both occupations,” says the designer, explaining that sport and service are both actions that are seen as “for the viewer”.

Visual inspiration came from film documentation of tennis players and waitresses in the ‘60s, which inspired the collection’s colour palette and certain silhouettes (the pleated tennis skirt, for instance.)

For Sacchetti, the most challenging part of university was believing in her designs. “I feel like almost everyone second-guesses themselves or feels like they could have changed aspects of final projects. Then you have to remind yourself to take a step back and realize what you just created and the value it holds. If you aren’t your biggest supporter than who else will be?”

Stephanie Abou Farhat

Stephanie Abou Farhat used the codes of a conservative Christian school uniform to question discipline and symbolise the maturing from childhood to womanhood. “It symbolises the ideal vision a kid would have of a mature, grown-up woman,” says the designer.

Pieces included boxy pinafores, cardigans, and pleated skirts. These were all made from one fabric, however: chiffon. The designer wanted to push the boundaries of a material which is typically flat, and manipulated the fabric to mimic different textures and patterns, like a knitted wool, argyle, or tartan. Garment shaping, through the use of darts and seams, expresses maturity and “speaks to the idea that clothing can be a reflection of personal growth and development.” In another reference to Christianity, Derby shoes are encrusted with rosary beads and crosses.

On the highlight of her university experience, she says: “the best part was working 24/7 in a studio with a small group of strangers who soon became like family. Watching everyone, including me, grow in their own and unique paths was truly rewarding and kept me motivated throughout the journey.”

Layla Al Tawaya

A biker jacket made of tulle, and a ballerina tutu crafted from leather: Layla Al Tawaya reverses the materiality of stereotypically gendered pieces in her graduate collection. The designer wanted to question notions of gender by choosing symbols of hyper-masculinity and -femininity, with connotations of hard and soft. To execute this, she drew inspiration from the British punk movement, noting its androgyny but also the décollage process (which involves ripping away parts of an image.)

Each panel of the tulle biker jacket was reinforced with 4 layers of the fabric to enhance rigidity while maintaining the same effect. Lace bias tape was used to finish edges on details like pockets and zippers. As for the skirts, the designer used a laser cutting technique to recreate lace patterns in pleather, while screw-in studs from punk clothing were also used to mimic patterns found in lace on ballerina tutus.

Gao Jlahui

What do the Chinese Communist Party and designer Thierry Mugler have in common? Designer Gao Jiahui combines these elements, serving “as a provocative exploration of the intricate relationship between physical restriction and mental liberation, challenging traditional notions of freedom and conformity.” Researching the historical context of Communist China in the 1960-80 period, Gao drew on the visual language of Mao suits and military coats and combined this with Mugler’s exaggeration of bodily proportions. The result is a comment on the resilience of women amid societal constraints, “inviting viewers to contemplate the multifaceted nature of personal autonomy and self-expression.”

The designer used a pattern book printed in the ‘70s to create the Mao suit pattern. Traditionally, the Mao suit is made from light cotton or wool. To emphasise the sculptural female figure and the avant-garde silhouettes Mugler is known for, she selected heavy wool to mould the shapes. The most challenging part of the experience, she said, was identifying suitable techniques and manipulations for different fabrics, working with their different qualities.

Dhir Baxi

Dhir Baxi’s collection presents an imagined uniform for women in the mafia, based on real stories from the book “Mafia Queens of Mumbai – Stories of Women From The Ganglands”. “Without glamorising [them], these stories highlight the complexity of these women taking on unconventional and often overlooked roles in society,” says the designer. She was particularly drawn to the relationship between what would typically be considered lawful or noble and the opposite.

This grey area between the lawful and unlawful parts of society is translated through the use of archetypes like police uniforms and Nehru jackets (known for being popular with Indian politicians.) These representations of the law are married with the loose drapery of a traditional sari, which Baxi considers to symbolise a type of freedom and autonomy as the garment allows the wearer to decide the exact outcome of their look. In contrast, the police uniform and Nehru jacket are more rigid in their construction.

The most challenging part of the designer’s university experience was midway through the degree, when students had to perfect their new-found technical skills and combine them with their creative abilities. “Trying to foster both creative and technical growth felt extremely difficult originally,” she says.

Carolina Baldor

Carolina Baldor’s concept was to merge the worlds of children’s clothing and workwear. It began with a childhood dress preserved by the designer’s mother. Baldor took this as a starting off point before delving into research on Victorian children’s garments with rich details like big collars, frills and lace trims.

In the final outcome, babydoll dresses are reimagined as coats and shirts, which “serves as a symbolic bridge between innocence and utility.” For this, the designer took inspiration from staples of practicality like denim and leather jackets, trench coats, and plaid work shirts. In her own words: “this collection is a tribute to cherished memories, connecting individuals to the physical experiences of childhood, and embodying a unique past-meets-present aesthetic.”

In her research, Baldor also came across an 1898 book of fairytales: “King Long-Beard, Or Annals of the Golden Dreamland,” which was illustrated by Charles Robinson. His black-and-white illustrations became the inspiration for printed crop-top and short sets.

Youssef Zogheib

Cross-dressing and the military might sound like an unlikely combination. However, Youssef Zogheib’s collection takes inspiration from a collection of photographs by war photographer John Topham in Gravesend, Kent, on the Christmas Eve of 1941. The photographs captured Royal Air Force soldiers participating in a pantomime performance, when suddenly a German airstrike forced them to run to the front lines and fill up the cannons, “all the while wearing babydoll dresses under their equipment.”

Finding these images resonated with Zogheib: he had grown up around men in military uniforms, including his late father, but also because Lebanon is “one of the most militarised regions in the world.” He felt that they expressed his own frustration with being militarised and politicised since birth, especially as a queer person whose experience is erased from the political reality. This led him to imagine a queer military uniform, influenced in part by the creations of couturier Cristobál Balenciaga. He imagined them as “deserters who had fled the war and whose military uniforms started merging with the babydoll dresses they had sewn by hand.”

Combining tailoring with dressmaking, Zogheib was in his element – he has experience working in couture ateliers in Beirut and bespoke tailoring workshops in Paris (the latter of which even produced uniforms for French penitentiary officers.) He was also sponsored by British heritage fabric developers Hainsworth and the British Millerain, to stay true to the military uniforms he was interpreting.

Ho Tin Albert Chan

Ho Tin Albert Chan’s collection is inspired by a particular figure: 20th century German artist Joseph Beuys. In part, Chan explores the intersection of fashion and art through an examination of Beuys’ wardrobe, characterised by a fedora hat, fisherman’s vest, white shirt and blue jeans. In the 1970s, the artist developed the theory of ‘social sculpture’, which posited that everything is art. He strongly believed in the democratisation of creativity and “sought to inspire people to engage critically with their environment and actively participate in shaping a more just and compassionate society.”

Chan reflects the artist’s very functional wardrobe by integrating elements typical of workwear, like buckles, harnesses, D-rings, and pockets featuring velcro, snap and zip closures. The collection also references Beuys’ graphic work through the use of screen-printing. For instance, a white t-shirt sports the print of an orange fisherman’s vest, while another shirt features a red knitted sweater vest, “providing a deeper connection to Beuys’s artistic legacy and ethos.”

Of his experience at Parsons Paris over the years, Chan emphasises the focus on teaching construction, repeatedly drafting patterns and sewing the same garments: “we have received invaluable education in constructing standard archetypes, such as tailored jackets and trousers, denim jeans, and outerwear garments like the macintosh and bomber jacket.” As a beginner in fashion school with no prior sewing or pattern-making skills, this sort of tuition was essential for his development.

Aubrey Briggs

Aubrey Briggs analyses Native American culture through the lens of mainstream American style. A member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, she was inspired by her heritage. However, as much of Native American culture has been erased, remaining cultural knowledge is predominantly passed through generations. So, Briggs began her research by looking into family archives, including family photos from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and textiles representative of ceremony and heritage such as a quilt and shawl given to her by her family matriarch.

The work of Indigenous artist Wendy Red Star was also an inspiration: her images often play off common stereotypes of Native Americans, situating them in American pop culture. This is what encouraged Briggs to combine contemporary Native American culture with American pop culture style archetypes: denim jackets, jeans, varsity jackets, t-shirts, sweatpants and sportswear jerseys.

The aim was to enable the wearer to feel connected to their culture in an accessible way, through everyday garments. Casual wear is combined with elements of ceremonial regalia like jingles, ribbons, fringes and quilting. “As traditional ceremonies and regalia were forcefully stripped from Native communities and banned during colonisation, the feeling of connection to culture through the expression of dress is incredibly important to young generations trying to preserve cultural knowledge and practice.”