Donna Karan and Joanna Coles Celebrate Parsons MFA Grads

Donna Karan Joanna Coles Parsons MFA grads

Photo: Billy Farrell Agency/BFA NYC

Donna Karan and Joanna Coles.

Donna Karan told us at last night's Parsons MFA event that two years ago, she had a revelation of sorts. "I was constantly going to Royal College and Central Saint Martin’s [to recruit designers.] And I said, why doesn’t Parsons have a graduate program? So I started it." Karan endowed a professorship in her name, a role filled by Shelley Fox, and 18 students were selected to participate in a brand-new MFA program.

Parsons' Dean of the School of Fashion Simon Collins calls the program "a sort of massive incubator of input from the entire industry," with mentors like Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, PR Consulting's Pierre Rougier, and Marie Claire's Joanna Coles and Nina Garcia. “We’re publishing a magazine in the summer, which will be a showcase for what’s happening here in the MFA program, and then in September the MFA is showing during Fashion Week.”

Beckett Fogg Parsons MFA grads

Photo: Billy Farrell Agency/BFA NYC

Beckett Fogg poses with her designs.

Coles was present at the night as well. “I am an old friend of Simon’s,” the Marie Claire EIC explained (in fact, they grew up on the same street!). “I came in, met the students—all 17 girls and 1 boy—looked at what they were doing, and was very impressed by their work, and was thrilled to get involved. We’re going to have them come into the magazine and talk to them about the reality of getting their work into fashion publications, and what that can mean to them….how an editorial dress may be something that gets photographed in a magazine, but it’s not necessarily the thing that will sell.

“I’ve put several offers in on several offers of clothing. Right now I’m very excited about Beckett Fogg. She’s doing beautiful cream leather that’s embossed; it’s really, really special. I love the button collection [by Sinead Lawlor.] It's almost enough to get me into shorts!”

Fogg, who was clad in all-white, showed a minimalist, textured lineup in black white and cream. (“I mean, it’s obviously very much the color scheme that I wear as well!”) Fashion is the second stop on her career trajectory- she majored in architecture at UVA—but you'd never know it from her accomplished work, which Karan herself was admiring when we stopped by. What was her mentor's best advice?  "She said, 'Design what’s important to you. Think about what is most important to you, and turn that into your inspiration'…I think that’s such excellent advice because I don’t think about a specific client, it’s really about what’s important to me and what I respond to. I think that’s what my designs reflect, hopefully."

Claire Diederich Parsons MFA grads

Photo: Billy Farrell Agency/BFA NYC

Claire Diederich poses with her designs.

Claire Diederich's cocoon-like pieces with exaggerated shoulder evoked 1950's Balenciaga, though when we mentioned this to the designer she started laughing.“I’m terrible, I don’t look at fashion [history] at all! My passions are rock climbing and skiing, and if I’m going to watch a movie it’s probably going to be about snowboarding.” Though she may be an outdoorsy girl, the Central Saint Martins grad has plenty of fashion cred too: she interned at Gucci and Valentino and then worked for London designer Roksanda Ilincic. “[My collection] was based on body language and interactions, non-verbal interactions, and noticing the way the body [moves.] Shrugging and different signs that you’re uncomfortable, you’re closing up, opening up—and exaggerating those proportions to statement pieces.”

Two more standouts were Irish designer Sinead Lawlor's splashy prints and Noriko Kikuchi's ghostly, pale-pastel lineup. Lawlor explained, “I went back home after Christmas. My dad works in a psychiatric hospital. The seamstress in the hospital has collected buttons for years, and she color-coordinated them, so I photographed them,” turning the results into digital prints on jeans and silk tops. Kikuchi, whose presentation included artificial snow, was inspired by white and the way it absorbs all colors on the spectrum. Her ghostly frocks featured fine knits needle-punched to woven pieces.

Among the designers there to check out the student work: Chris Benz, VPL's Victoria Bartlett, Ruffian's Brian Wolk, Threeasfour's Gabriel Asfour (who gravitated to Jie Li's avant-garde pastel pieces), Carlos Falchi, and Nary Manivong of NAHM. Whether they were scoping out new talent or just there to shop was a little harder to determine. As Karan put it, "I wish, at this point, I had tried on the clothes. That’s what I really want to do."