Reed Krakoff Talks School Days at Parsons, Advice for Aspiring Designers

reed krakoff
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Reed Krakoff talks about his days as a student.

Reed Krakoff may be the creative director of the über-successful accessories brand Coach and the man behind the buzzy year-old Reed Krakoff fashion line—but even he was once a humble student.

The Parsons grad hosted a cocktail party April 5 at his Madison Ave. store along with Simon Collins, dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons the New School for Design, and a handful of students whose work was on display in the boutique. (The 10 looks were a preview of sorts for the 2011 Parsons Fashion Benefit, which takes place May 9 at Chelsea Piers.)

FashionEtc checked in with Krakoff—and took a trip down memory lane to his own school days.

What do you think of the students' work?

I’m really amazed at not just how thoughtful they are but how polished as well. A lot of times students tend to be overly ambitious and, conceptually, they’re really interesting or really beautifully made, but the concept isn’t there. These are incredibly thoughtful and incredibly well executed. The inspirations really surprised me—they varied from dreams and childhood to sections of the brain. Another person was inspired by drowning, which was … interesting! I’d never heard that before!

Were you this good when you were in school?

No. I really wasn’t! I say that with all honesty. I’m so impressed. It takes a long time to develop an idea and execute it, and they’re really very mature designers already. It’s amazing for these people just beginning their careers.

Does being here make you reminisce about your school days?

I loved Parsons. It’s where I really discovered what I wanted to do. I went there pretty sure I wanted to study fashion but not really sure I would end up in it, and I never thought about it again after the first couple days. I was lucky to land there.

What would your Parsons self say seeing you here now, mentoring other students in your own store, with your own collection?

Probably “That’s surprising!” [Laughs.] I was not a star student, at all. I was good at some things, but I wasn’t great at a lot of things. It’s such a complicated industry and it can go so many ways. I was in womenswear, then I was in menswear, then I was in accessories, then I started working in advertising. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m still very young. I don’t think I could have ever predicted the jobs I’ve been able to have.

What advice have you given the students here today?

Just to stick with what they believe in. Understand what you have to say—something that’s believable and unique and something you really want to commit to. The world is very different from when I started—there was really no global fashion the way there is today. You would go to Northern Europe and there were Northern European designers; you’d go to France and there were French designers … Now you have Americans designing French labels, British people designing for Italian houses. It’s a big global world, and with the Internet, everyone knows everything. You have to be true to yourself and be unique, because people are critical.

Do you think it’s harder now, because the scale is so much bigger, or is it easier, because there’s so much more opportunity for exposure?

Harder. Much harder. It’s easier because there’s much more excitement around fashion than there ever was. When you look at the realm of fashion, from H&M going up to couture—that never existed before, fashion on every level. So that’s created a bigger world. But I think it’s so much more competitive, because there’s such a global view of everything. Twenty or 30 years ago, there was a lot of regionalism, but now everyone competes with everyone. Women shop couture to Gap, and you’re competing for dollars from that woman. There’s more excitement, but I think it’s gotten a lot harder!