On February 22 2013, Parsons Dean Joel Towers announced that in January 2014, the fashion school will moved downtown, joining the cluster of buildings that comprise the university’s main campus. Five New School buildings will house the Fashion School. In preparation of the Parsons Fashion Department’s move to the University Center on 5th Ave between 13th and 14th Street, this is a look back at some of the most important events that have taken place at the 560 Seventh Avenue building.
The Original Owner of the building: Brotherhood in Action; Second Owner: Garment Center Congregation; Third Owner: Albert A. List; Fourth Owner: The New School for Social Research. The synagogue occupying the first floor continues to be the Garment Center Synagogue for which the space was designed. The rest of the building, the first floor lobby and the top five floors, have gone from holding the offices, meeting rooms, and auditoriums of the Brotherhood House to being part of Parson’s The New School for Design.
The prime location – 560 Seventh Ave. – has spoiled its students with convenience: if anyone ever needed swatches or fabric, the local stores provided it, all within walking distance.
Most famously, Parsons is the home to Project Runway. The show follows talented designers as they compete in various design challenges with the goal of being one of the finalists to show their collections at New York Fashion Week, with Heidi Klum as the host, Nina Garcia, Michael Kors and a different guest judge every week. Guest judges have included Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Olivia Palermo, Kim Kardashian, Kaley Cuoco, Kate Bosworth, Kristen Bell, Katie Holmes, Kerry Washington, Miranda Kerr, etc. For the last 12 seasons the 2nd Floor Auditorium has been the stage for judging, the room above the stage has been the L’Oreal Hair and Make-up Room, the 4th floor studio has been Contestant’s Workplace. In addition, other Parsons rooms have served as Project Runway’s sewing room and lounge. Here is a peek of how Project Runway has used Parsons fashion as the set for their show:
Fusion Fashion Show
The First Fusion Fashion Show was in 2000. Fusion Fashion Show is an annual competition in which 15 undergraduate designers from Parsons and 15 undergraduate designers from the Fashion Institute of Technology compete for the Best Overall School award and Best Designer award. A Best Designer is chosen from both schools but only one school wins the coveted Best Overall School award. Currently the score for Best Overall School is tied at seven to seven.
Prabal Gurung won the first Parsons’ Best Designer award. The designers show a five-look collection that can be in either men’s or women’s wear. The competition takes place over a weekend during which there are five different shows that have been held at Parsons’ 560 Fashion building. A panel of industry elites judges the final fashion show. Some very well known designers have judged the Fusion Fashion Show including Chris Benz, Prabal Gurung and Cynthia Rowley. And Tim Gunn judged the first three years. Mood Designer Fabrics, M&J Trimming, and Maybelline, New York sponsor the show and the designers. These companies help the designers bring their collections to life.
Senior Thesis Week
Senior Thesis Week is a week fully dedicated to the presentation of the senior classes’ final thesis collection. The senior thesis is a five-look collection that is an accumulation of two semesters worth of work based around a single concept. Key members of Parsons’ faculty along with established people from the fashion industry make up the panel that judges the thesis collections.
The students that show at “Panel” talk about the process of designing their collections, and recognize the sponsorships that they have arranged through the school or individually. The school participates in sponsorships with Saga Fur, Fabulous Furs, Shoe Poly, Swarovski, IGEA, Knitwear, and many more. The Panel also selects the students that are going to show at the Parsons Benefit. At the conclusion of Senior Thesis week the panel selects three students to be Designer of the Year, one each from Women’s Wear, Men’s Wear, and Children’s Wear.
The Parsons Fashion Design Curriculum
The fashion design curriculum itself has seen many changes since 1950. The fashion department at Parsons is prestigious for providing students with a curriculum that prepares them for working in the fashion industry. With the many different changes in the industry worldwide, Parsons is constantly tweaking the curriculum to better suit its youngest leaders.
One of the largest changes in the fashion design department has been with the Senior Thesis. The project, which is a staple in the senior BFA Fashion Design curriculum, is worked on throughout the year and ends with some form of presentation of work. In 1950 the format of Senior Thesis involved an undergraduate fashion show including student designers, with judges Copeland, McCardell, Mooring, Walker and Wilkins, a “fantasy fashion” assignment and a panel discussion.
Later, Parsons incorporated working with industry professionals into the curriculum. The importance of knowing how to work under a designer, as a young designer would most likely be doing post-graduation, was something that Parsons felt was important to include in the curriculum. Each student worked with a “critic” throughout the year, from the conception to the muslin version to the final version. This version of the Senior Thesis ended with the Parsons’ Fashion Critics Awards Show, “a presentation of the student’ best work, created under the guidance of New York’s top fashion industry professionals.” Each critic would choose one student designer to win the Golden Thimble award of the year, and out of all of the Golden Thimble award winners one single designer would win Designer of the Year.
Today the Senior Thesis is a collection of 5-7 looks fully developed (everything from the concept, to the muslin versions, to final versions). In Integrated Studio, also known as Concepts and Methods, we develop the concept of our collection, the patterns and muslin versions, fabric choices, and final versions of pieces of the collection. The collection is then presented to a panel of different industry professionals for each section; Womenswear, Menswear, Childrenswear, Accessory, Eveningwear or Knitwear. From there, the best designers of the class are chosen to show a few of their looks in the Annual Benefit Fashion Show, where Designer of the Year awards are given for Women’s wear, Men’s wear, and Children’s wear.
Over the years, with a large increase of students in the fashion design program (this year’s graduating class is around 200, while the Class of 1989 was only 79 people), it has become important to accommodate the students with the concentration of study that they want. There has always been Ready-to-Wear, women’s and men’s but recently concentrations like Accessory, Evening wear, Children’s wear, Knit wear and Lingerie have had their own sections. The professors of these classes are experts in these specific concentrations and provide the curriculum needed for fashion design students.