Representing the creative future

Industry in the classroom: Parsons Paris X MM6

Parsons Paris MFA Students Finish Off the Year with a Collaborative Studio Project Under the Tutelage of MM6 Maison Margiela

Over the course of their first year at Parsons Paris, MFA students had the intensive and real-world task of designing through the lens of a brand’s artistic universe. Teamed up with the creative minds behind MM6 Maison Margiela, the MFA students worked on themes and icons from the fashion house and collaborated with peers on various steps of development and communication. Students Ahmed Keshta, Milagros Pereda, Hairan Su, and Xingchen Lin share their experiences from this unique semester and speak to insights on what this reality-driven process brought to their creative practices.

The course started with each student being assigned a core value/icon from the Maison Margiela to use as a foundation. Which theme (trompe-l’oeil, utilitarian, multifunctional, ready when worn, circle, self-reference, unexpected matches) were you assigned and how did you interpret it in your work?

XL: The theme I was given was “unexpected matches.” Initially, I put two contradictory words “private and public” together to create “unexpected matches”. Then my idea was to blur the lines between public and private by using intimate apparel to make “public garments.” Bras become tank tops, socks become jeans, and stockings become trench coats.

MP: Following my theme “Self-reference” my collection begins by understanding Martin Margiela’s methodology and how MM6 references his original way of working into wearable collections. Margiela took every day, common/quotidian things as a source of inspiration, and made them into something desirable, through the use of archetypal shapes, and simple materials. My collection reflects an exploratory process of myself and my everyday life that serves as a source of inspiration to create unique garments from ordinary and plain materials. I focused on some of MM’s ways of working, like the use of workwear and making practical/mundane garments, as well as his dichotomic process of destruction-reconstruction. He focused on creating multifunctional garments that can work in different ways without losing a beautiful and defined shape. The starting point for my research were three practical and easy-to-store objects I found while looking into my everyday life in Paris: a market knitted bag, laser cut wrapping paper, and a huge cotton tote bag.

AK: I got the theme Utilitarian and I interpreted it by coming up with a story and honouring part of my heritage which is german. I was researching utilitarian clothing/workwear in the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) of the 50s and 60s and French couture of the same decades. The idea of a working woman coming from a society that doesn’t value beauty as much as hard work and community service and her longing to wear luxurious French couture that was secretly changing her old workwear into voluminous shapes and was how my hybrid garment was created. Both garments existed at the same time, but the lives of the wearer couldn’t have been more different.

HS: My theme is trompe-l’œil. I noticed that a lot of trompe-l’œil archives used printing, so I wanted to develop some techniques which are more 3D, more touchable by hand instead of just creating optical illusion on a flat fabric surface.

“The collaboration adds more external influences to the personal design process and opens up more possibilities.” – Xingchen Lin

This project was a chance to work with the MM6 creative team but also with fellow MFA colleagues as you photographed each other’s collections. How did the collaborative nature of the project impact your work? Do you think it will impact your future work?

XL: The collaboration adds more external influences to the personal design process and opens up more possibilities. The collaboration is serendipity. It gets things out of control. It is very thrilling because you never know what will happen. It becomes an outside limitation, but at the same time, it breaks out of my own limitations. It could turn out to be a surprise, but it could also be terrifying. I enjoyed such a game, and of course it will impact my future work deeply.

“As students, we are used to doing everything on our own, with our personal vision as a main point, and it was interesting to step aside to follow the brand’s DNA.” – Milagros Pereda

MP: It was an interesting experience to see how one, as a designer, has to adapt when working for someone else. As students, we are used to doing everything on our own, with our personal vision as a main point, and it was interesting to step aside to follow the brand’s DNA as well as the photographer’s choice and lose control of certain decisions. It is not a project centered on ourselves, and one’s work is not 100% oneself. In my work, it forced me to explore outside of my safe zone in order to fit MM6 ’s point of view.

AK: It was interesting to work that way because, in a sense, it was totally up to me to interpret my assigned theme but it gave me a glimpse of what I think working for a fashion house looks like. For every design decision I made, I had MM6 and Martin Margiela in the back of my head to consider. It did help that I admire the brand, but I experienced their work in a new, deeper way [through this course]. It definitely will impact my future work, as it was interesting to see my work through the lens of a fellow designer and also look at a fellow designer’s work and direct the way it is displayed. It is especially beneficial for me because as a designer, you will never work alone, the way you do in fashion school most of the time.

HS: I think letting us shoot each other’s collection is a wonderful idea. The photos let me discover a new perspective of my collection and I like it. As a student, I get used to fully controlling my own work, from garments to photos. Sometimes, I would get caught up in my own thoughts, which not only stresses me out but also misses out on a lot of possibilities.  After this collaboration, I feel like I could slightly reduce my pressure and let others participate more.

What is one lesson from this semester that will stick with you for the rest of your MFA?

XL: For me, what I learned is to pay more attention to normal stuff in life because amazing things always come from normal things. The concept could be easy to understand but not too direct. The process of such transformation, “easy but not direct,” is a process that requires design and thinking.

MP: That in professional life one can’t control everything, and that is a good thing, cause it gives a place for different visions to combine and create something unexpected.

AK: The simpler the idea, the better. MM6 and Martin Margiela himself play/ed with extremely simple ideas and build/t their visual language that way, which makes it desirable. Also having a human touch, a sense of relatability in my work, gives it a soul.

HS: Definitely in this MM6 collaboration, the research process I did for this collection is much deeper than any other projects I have done before. I read interviews and articles about Margiela; I saw and touched the archives which I‘ve only seen online; I wrote a decent description for my ideas… In the rest of my MFA I will try to do other projects with this amount of work.

As a first year MFA student, how did this collaboration with MM6 set the tone/expectations for the rest of the MFA program?

XL: It was the first project we did when we started our MFA study and it impacted my way of thinking in a subtle way. We conducted thorough research (archives learning, conversation…) It led me to a world of low-voiced humor: ironic and humorous. Now, I am lucky to get an intern opportunity in their company, it has not yet begun, and I have no idea what will happen, but of course this collaboration leaves me a life-changing influence and the adventure all began last year when the collaboration started.

“This collaboration makes me consider more understandability, wearability and desirability.” – Hairan Su

MP: It was a hint of what working in a brand would look/feel like, very different to school projects which are usually more detached from the professional world. It helped us have a clear understanding of our personal DNA and how we can merge with a brand. But personally, after having done two brand collaborations, and having learnt a lot from them, I am looking forward to developing a thesis collection where I can dig deep into my own aesthetics.

AK: Personally, it created a new design approach for myself as a designer, in which I juxtapose any theme I currently have in mind or am particularly interested in with haute couture shapes, practices, techniques, methodologies, etc. and I plan on developing my visual language further, learning more about haute couture practices and translating them into contemporary design.

HS: For me, this collaboration makes me consider more understandability, wearability and desirability.