The Parsons fashion design program has been the starting point for many of today’s industry leaders. Not many people know that before Tim Gunn was the host of Project Runway, he was the Chair of Fashion at Parsons School of Fashion. We’re looking at all of the notable people who have come through Parsons as an important part of Parsons fashion history since 1950.
Gunn first began working at Parsons in 1982 as Assistant Director of Admissions and served as associate dean from 1989-2000. In August 2000, Gunn was appointed chair of the fashion design program at Parsons School of Fashion. Under his direction, the department has become one of the leaders in fashion design education in the United States. He is credited with “retooling and invigorating the curriculum for the 21st century.”
“It ended up being a tremendous labor of love,” Gunn said of revamping Parsons’ fashion department. “It was hugely daunting and hugely unsettling in many ways, but what kept me focused and kept me on a straight and narrow line were the students.”
Chairman of the Fashion Department from 1953 until 1982. Ann Keagy was the chairman during the time when Parsons first merged with the New School in 1970. Parsons went through changes during the time, including curriculum, faculty, and location. Keagy herself recruited professors for Parsons including Norman Norell and invited numerous fashion stars as critics or judges, such as Geoffrey Beene. Keagy initiated the designer critic program, which still remains. Parsons had a dress code during her time of not permitting students to wear jeans or dungarees to class. Keagy believed in making clothes that will not only look beautiful but will sell: “Design ability and an understanding of quality are the first requirements of the fashion beginner today.” (1974)
Simon Collins is the dean of the Fashion Department; he oversees all areas of fashion studies at The New School, including the BFA degree program in Fashion Design; AAS degree programs in Fashion Studies and Fashion Marketing; and the new MFA in Fashion Design and Society. Collins has worked with some of the world’s leading brands: Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Fila, Zegna, and Marks and Spencer. As creative director for Nike’s Asia Pacific division, he led a $900 million apparel business that launched collections he created in collaboration with Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garcons, Naoki Takizawa of Issey Miyake, and others.
Norman Norell is the first American fashion designer to compete successfully with French couture. Norell received his training at Parsons, graduating in 1922. Norell upheld a strong relationship with Parsons serving as a lecturer and a critic for the Fashion Design program. Norell served as a visiting critic at Parsons School of Design from 1943 to 1972. He also served on the school’s advisory board and the Board of Trustees. He was given the Parsons Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 1956.
Jack Mccollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez met each other in their junior year at Parsons and recieved permisson from Tim Gunn to collaborate on a joint Senior Thesis Collection. The duo graduated in 2002 and founded a New-York based women’s wear brand. Proenza Schouler won CFDA Women’s wear Design of the Year award in 2007 and 2011.
At the 2013 Annual Parsons Benefit show the two designers were honored by Dean of Parsons Fashion, Simon Collins, and announced the designers of the year. Tim Gunn said: “Proenza Schouler is the collaboration. Neither one of them would have achieved it alone.”
Jacobs graduated from Parsons School of Fashion in 1984. While at Parsons, Jacobs won the Perry Ellis Gold Thimble Award, Chester Weinberg Gold Thimble Award, and Design Student of the Year Award for his senior collection of three Op-Art sweaters, hand-knit by his grandmother. The oversize, trapezoidal pieces also netted him the school’s Chester Weinberg and Perry Ellis Gold Thimble awards.
Mizrahi graduated from Parsons’ prestigious fashion design program in 1982. While at Parsons, he completed an internship with New York-based designer Perry Ellis. Mizrahi presented his first collection in 1987 at a trunk show held by famed New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. Today Isaac Mizrahi is known as an American fashion designer, TV presenter, and creative director of Xcel brands. He is best known for his eponymous fashion lines.
Lam graduated from Parsons in 1990. Lam began working as an assistant for Michael Kors in the 90s and worked there for four years. Lam then moved to Hong Kong to work for a large retail brand. Following his Hong Kong experience, Lam returned to New York and was appointed vice President of Design for Michael Kors’ Kors line.
In 2003, he launched his own label. He debuted at the New York Fashion Week in September 2003. In 2005, Lam won the CFDA Perry Ellis Swarovski Award for new designers and started his own line of clothes. In addition to clothes, Lam also has a line of shoes and jewelry. In February 2010, Lam launched an e-commerce website selling an edited collection of ready-to-wear and accessories.
Sui graduated from Parsons in 1986. She is one of the most celebrated names in fashion history, known for her timeless designs and ability to transcend eras with historical and culturally inspired collections. She was named one of the “Top 5 Fashion Icons of the Decade” and earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the CFDA, joining the ranks of Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Diane von Furstenberg. Her worldwide luxury fashion brand includes clothing, shoes, cosmetics, eye-wear, and accessories, as well as her renowned line of signature fragrances. Anna Sui products are sold through her free-standing stores and distributors around the world in over 50 countries. In 2006, Fortune estimated the collective value of Sui’s fashion empire at over $400 million.
Rodriguez received his formal education at Parsons in New York. Following freelance work in New York’s garment industry, he joined Anne Klein under Donna Karan. Later, he moved to Calvin Klein where he worked on the Women’s Collection. As Anna Wintour editor in chief of American magazine Vogue has said, “No one but Narciso has ever made a simple line look more stunning.”
In 1996, Rodriguez received international acclaim when he designed the bias-cut sheath wedding dress that his close friend Carolyn Bessette wore when she married John F. Kennedy, Jr.
On November 4, 2008, Rodriguez became part of a monumental event in American history. To celebrate her husband Barack Obama’s triumphant victory as the first African American president of the United States, Michele Obama chose to wear a dress from the designer’s Spring 2009 Collection. “It was both emotional and exhilarating,” Rodriguez said. “To be part of this memorable moment in history was a great honor.” Today, Rodriguez’s fashion house is based in New York City where he shows his women’s ready-to-wear collections.
Gurung graduated from Parsons School of Design with an AAS in 2001. In his first year he was awarded the “Best Designer” title at the annual Parsons/FIT design competition. After Parsons, Gurung spent two years with Cynthia Rowley’s design team. Soon after, he became the design director at Bill Blass. Following five successful years at Blass, Gurung launched his own collection, PRABAL GURUNG, during New York Fashion Week in February 2009 at the FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea. For fall 2010, he staged his first runway show in the tents at Bryant Park.
Gurung’s designs have been worn by Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, Zoe Saldana, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Demi Moore, Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Kara Hayward, Diane Kruger, Elettra Wiedemann, January Jones, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Selena Gomez, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, and Katrina Kaif. In 2010 he was the recipient of the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund Award and received a nomination for the 2010 CFDA Swarovski Womenswear Award. He was also chosen by prominent fashion editors, retailers, designers and business people for the (CFDA Fashion Incubator) for 2010-2012. In November 2010, Gurung was awarded runner-up for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
In 2010 he was the recipient of the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund Award and received a nomination for the 2010 CFDA Swarovski Women’s wear Award. He was also chosen by prominent fashion editors, retailers, designers and business people for the (CFDA Fashion Incubator) for 2010-2012. In November 2010, Gurung was awarded runner-up for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.