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Parsons MFA Grads Show at Fashion Week With Big Ambitions

By this time next year, they just might be showing on their own.
Ryohei Kawanishi. Photo: Parsons

Ryohei Kawanishi. Photo: Parsons

Late Wednesday morning, 11 Parsons MFA graduates were forced to compete with an FIT alumnus: Michael Kors, whose show was scheduled for an hour before Parsons's, started a reported 45 minutes late due to a model falling ill backstage.

There were some empty front row seats, but those who did make it to Milk Studios in time witnessed something a lot less fine-tuned, but far more creative than Kors's romantic spring collection. Of course, Kors has investors to appease and a billion-dollar business to drive; but for the group of young designers chosen to show, it may have been their last chance to be as creative as they wanted to — and they knew that.

"This is where you can be a blue sky thinker and have fun with it; you can go as far as you want you and have no worries about the implications, of the business perspective," explained Parsons's new School of Fashion Dean Burak Cakmak, who has only been on the job for about a month. 

This resulted in some very avant-garde looks, many of them not quite suitable for day-to-day life. Menswear designer Shih Hsun Lee stood out less for being the only menswear designer and more for showing familiar styles, like trousers and blazers. 

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But just because the graduates weren't necessarily thinking about retail, that doesn't mean their clothes couldn't end up at a store near you next spring. Every now and then, you hear about someone's Parsons graduate collection getting bought right off the runway, like Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler (Barneys placed an order for the entire range). More recently, Dover Street Market has practically made a habit of buying up graduate collections, like that of Andrea Jiapei Li, who graduated from the Parsons MFA program just last year and showed solo at NYFW earlier in the week. 

I asked Cakmak how normal it is for graduate collections to get picked up. "As far as I know [because, again, he's only been at Parsons for a month], we see this on a regular basis, especially at our MFA show," he said. "I personally was impressed because I went to the shows of our students that are now on the official New York Fashion Week schedule that graduated the year before — Claudia Li, Andrea Jiapei and many others. That’s very encouraging and we want to allow that to happen even more."

Those incidences may have instilled some confidence in the designers we spoke with as well, all of whom expressed interest in starting their own labels now that they've graduated. Thinking a bit more pragmatically, perhaps, knitwear designer Katherine Mavridis said she would "love to work for a great knitwear brand," but that if she could work for one while also doing her own small line, that would be "ideal."

Somewhat surprisingly, Ryohei Kawanishi — who spent undergrad at Central Saint Martins — said that starting a fashion line feels more feasible in New York than it did in London. "It's more close to the general people," he said of New York's fashion scene. His collection, which featured things like a jacket bearing the FedEx logo, a shower curtain fashioned into a dress and an umbrella worn as a hat, was inspired by commonplace American objects. 

Click through the gallery below to see a few of the designs from all 11 graduates. You might be seeing their names at NYFW again — at least if they have anything to say about it.