Parsons MFA Fashion 2019: full line-up
“The central theme is leaving a remnant of yourself in the work, privileging handicraft and personal expression,” Meg Calloway said of her collection. Her words summarise the modus operandi of the Parsons MFA Fashion Design & Society program at large, whose students learn to build collections one yarn, crystal, or brushstroke at a time.
The lost “remnant” of self to which Meg refers is evident in the program’s eighth generation of graduates. A diversity of losses drive these twelve collections—loss of life, of innocence, of memory, of meaning, of environment—but no-one’s in mourning. Instead, they celebrate the new potentials that emerge.
Death can strengthen family and surface forgotten stories, as Aideen Gaynor (Bugs Garson) learned. But forgetting has its own beauty too, poeticised in Evian Li’s knitwear. Hualei Yu and Natalie Vladimiroff illustrate how miscommunication creates moments of humor and intimacy. Even the climate crisis can inspire new futurisms grounded in respect, compassion, and contemplation, as found in Sho Konishi’s “wearable archive” collection.
Leaving school is itself a loss these graduates will now endure, but if their work is any indication, they will readily find the upsides.
After Aideen’s grandfather died, she discovered a box of correspondence written by her grandmother. “He saved all the letters she had written to him. She didn’t know,” Aideen said. Her grandmother signed each letter by a pen name: Bugs Garson. To unpack the stories behind each letter, Aideen spent time at her grandmother’s house upstate. “She pretended it was an inconvenience but secretly loved it,” Aideen laughed.
Each look of her collection refers to the emotion of a particular letter: the joy of a day spent drinking martinis and playing scratch-offs, for example. Her textiles transform physical relics corresponding to each letter—like a matchbook from a restaurant she referenced—into prints using solvent-based photo transfer, hand-painting, and embroidery.
Her toiles began with her grandparents’ wedding suits. Aideen tried to preserve their integrity, mixing construction details and shifting proportions with care. “It wouldn’t be respectful to blow out the silhouettes,” she said.
The whole process felt like inhabiting an alter-ego, she said. “I’ve been living a double-life.”
Hualei is done trying to know all the right answers. “Sometimes misunderstanding is much better,” she said. You could, for example, happily misinterpret her collection as mere rock-and-roll fandom. The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” cover appears atop a real trouser front. A “Like a Virgin” look reproduces Madonna’s dress from the cover. And a very enlarged “Unfinished Music No. 2” situates the wearer in bed with Yoko Ono.
But don’t be fooled: Hualei’s work is fundamentally about wordplay. The musical references constitute a well-elaborated pun on the term “album jacket.” The collection also includes a handbag made of a cast hand and a pair of briefs printed with a project brief. Sometimes meaning is broken more brutally: she printed images on some garments crumpled-up so the prints appear fragmented on the body.
Her design process was like playing the “Chinese Whispers/Telephone game,” she said; each iteration of the idea changed the meaning slightly. And like the game, “it makes people laugh.”
“My collection has a lot of holes,” said Jue, fumbling with a twisted red dress to show exactly where one’s legs would go. The many contortions and openings of her garments are symbolic: Jue sees the body as unfamiliar terrain, a topography to be charted.
As a child, she felt “confused and scared by different body features,” so growing up was a process of becoming familiar with herself. She identified a similar feeling in the work of Jean Arp and Louise Bourgeois, and the voluptuous curves in their work informed her pattern-cutting. She also studied how the body stretches during yoga, drawing and photographing a friend in various poses.
The final collection consists of foam wrapped in mesh and lace, coaxed into sensuous forms. Beads obscure all seams and hang like fringe in certain areas, meant to resemble body hair.
“This collection is like a gift for my mother,” said Yong. Having recently survived breast cancer and a mastectomy, Yong’s mother felt like her body was part-real, part-fake. She underwent a drastic change in style from fitted womenswear to more relaxed menswear.
To honor her experience, Yong conducted photo studies of her new wardrobe. He scanned her clothes flat. He experimented with putting them on in the wrong order, undergarments on top. He also curated images of sculptures with missing limbs. Yong selected the best photos and tried to reconstruct them—part-real, part-fake.
For the fakery, he sought a trompe l’oeil effect, hand-stitching ribbons in gradating hues to mimic the highlights and shadows of his studies. This technique on his Venus de Milo dress took ten days alone. Somehow the ribbon-reconstructions look more three-dimensional than the “real” panels from a distance.
Ji Min Lee
Female gaze of Male body
The western art canon was built upon men drawing nude women. So was Ji Min’s collection, but with the gender roles reversed. Her research consisted mainly of figure-drawing nude men. She found herself rendering the bodies with deliberate contour lines. These abstract sketches register more like transcripts of her gaze than representative drawings.
To transform her drawings into garments, Ji Min adopted the trouser-suit as an analogy for the male body. Each look slashes a suit along curves taken from her sketches. The bold cutting doesn’t sacrifice detail; one mostly chopped-off welt pocket, slim enough to hold just a single pencil, is perfectly finished. The cutouts reveal bodysuits adorned with hand-drawings, beadwork, and dripping plastic.
Helping wearers self-actualise is Ji Min’s primary intent. “I want people to find some new freedom by themselves.”
How do you sum up a city in just three people? Zill-e-huma knows. Her collection celebrates three friends she made after moving to New York from Pakistan: a Jewish octogenarian writer who immigrated from Israel, a police officer who helped her navigate a park, and a classmate who likes to pole-dance. “Our ways of dress and sexuality are different,” she said. “There is a contrast but still a connection.”
She developed her silhouettes through exaggerating her characters’ senses of style: squared-off shoulders, police jackets, leotards, etc. Using traditional Pakistani embroidery techniques, Zill-e-huma meticulously adorned each garment with crystals, French knots, and cross-stitches. One top made of vacuum-formed silicone (to reference a common style of Pakistani dress with built-in bra cups) took over a month to bead.
Long hours in the studio and endless repetition of the same gestures, “all leading up to a show”—it’s a pattern common to dance and fashion design, reasons Meredith. She attributes her creative drive today to a childhood devoted to ballet. Her collection marries the glitz of recitals with the grit of their performers.
This duality materialises through Meredith’s functional placement of crystals, like as the seams of a denim coat. She also strung them into fully-fledged textiles. For example, crystals alone make up a remarkable plaid-patterned t-shirt—off the body, it’s just a glimmering puddle of Swarovski.
Meredith developed silhouettes from the workwear dancers favour off-stage. “I added nuances to archetypal garments,” she says. She re-worked a denim jacket to have the seam lines of a leotard. She made overalls out of tulle, layered to mimic the hue gradation of faded jeans. Like ballet, they look deceptively effortless.
“Movement is always at the frontal lobe of my brain,” Tara says, having relocated from Baghdad to Sheffield to Manchester to London to New York. Her multi-gender collection unites the five cities. For each city, she photographed herself dressed up in exaggerated associations with the place: “I literally performed the vibes of my mood board,” she said.
Her Catholic school uniform from Sheffield, plaid and punked-up with safety pins, inspired a textile hand-woven with elastic cording as well as the ribbing of an American-style varsity jacket. She tufted a shaggy coat that spells out Arabic words in the “club girl, junk food” colors she associates with her late-adolescent life in Manchester. Latex panels throughout the collection allude to London’s fetish scene.
To craft the handwoven looks, Tara custom-made looms for each panel by nailing into discarded wood from the street. Most looks took over two weeks to assemble, though the ball gown took two months.
With a background in studio art, Meg thinks more like a sculptor than a designer. She renounced a traditional concept, instead researching a punk-nouveau ethos rooted in rebellion, self-expression, and handicraft. “I didn’t really plan the lineup,” she said. “I was given carte blanche as the ‘art kid’ to just do what I want.”
She began by hand-weaving panels of fabric, leaving some areas porously threadbare and building up others with nubby clusters of knots. “It takes on this organic topography,” she says. Her yarns switch from cashmere to wool to lurex within the width of an inch, producing deep, dimensional hues.
After finishing a few panels, Meg would pin them together around a dress-form, just following her instincts. “I really didn’t second-guess a decision: I just attached it and then dealt with it.” She added some fragments of tailoring for contrast, enjoying the challenge of “how to subvert that precision and imbue it with an element of the hand.”
Memories aren’t stable or resolute, believes Evian—they morph and fade over time. Or sometimes they yield to the untrue, “like memory is cheating you.” To interrogate her own memory, she chose knitwear partially because her mother knit all her sweaters growing up.
She designed knits that fade from heavy to sheer, sometimes with spiky, splintered transitions. She also played with techniques of crossing yarns over between beds and needles. “It’s like the process of memorising, in a way,” she says.
For prints, Evian scoured Chinatown for housewares resembling those of her childhood: bars of soap, combs, hair barrettes. She made rubbings of the objects, as well as some of her parents’ clothes, with ink on muslin. She screen-printed these rubbings onto her knits such that the images repeat and fade in Warholic fashion. The final garments look part X-ray, part-solid, but well-worth remembering.
For Australia-born Natalie and her Russian-speaking grandmother, handicraft is the common language between them. “It’s always been a thread throughout my family,” she said. Fittingly, her collection began with family heirlooms. She wondered how their value would change by translating them into her collection.
Plastic, symbolic of disposability, became the core material for her inquiry. Natalie distorted intricate motifs from the heirlooms and embroidered them on plastic bags. She UV-printed scanner-glitched photos onto plastic, bonded plastic to woven fabric, and spray-painted plastic tablecloths. The crumpled form of the bag shaped her silhouette development. After drafting some seam-twisted suits, she allowed the toiles to wrinkle between fittings. “The unintentional, random creases in the toiles became the final shape,” she said.
The finished collection represents a balance between planning and spontaneity. “I’ve had a combination of unexpected surprises and keeping the nature of the original idea.”
Garden of Eden
When the biblical Eve ate the forbidden apple, she became aware of her nakedness and tried to hide. Her shame, Sho contends, was the beginning of fashion. Thousands of years later, there is a supermarket called Garden of Eden near Parsons, which is equally relevant to Sho: “grocery stores for me are the same as natural history museums.”
Described as “a wearable archive,” his collection memorialises all the non-human death from which he has profited. He preserved feathers, spices, flowers, and much more by sealing them in plastic (which after all is just cremated dinosaur, he figures). Archived specimens include the bones of a chicken he ate, the hide of a horse he first met alive, and the mushrooms he grew out of an old Nike sock. The patterns of his garments are lifted from an old textbook—another form of archiving.