Sunday, September 20, 2009
Reconstruction at Parsons; photo by Caitlin Donnelly
On Thursday morning and all through the afternoon, there were people lining the street outside 66 5th Avenue. Everyone was peering into the Parsons storefront gallery, trying to get a glimpse of the signature pieces lining the walls—all designs from the Parsons archives and Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Marc Jacobs himself. Ten teams of students were deconstructing the costumes and creating new, historically based pieces.
The five iconic, inspirational looks from Marc Jacobs/Louis Vuitton along with the five looks from the Parsons costume archive were previously presented to the students. Raw material was provided for the competition—material that would otherwise be destroyed due to its lesser quality or because it was duplicate material.
Initially, the student competitors presented sketches, individual renditions of new, abstract concepts. Fiona Dieffenbacher is the Director of External Projects at Parsons, and Dieffenbacher kindly admitted me into the storefront gallery and further explained the competition and its purpose: “The Nouveau Classical Project works to re-engage and excite everyday people about classical music. Parsons will team with the Nouveau Classical Project for the debut of our students’ designs; a concert combining classical music and the fresh, new fashions made by the design teams today will be held at the Tishman Auditorium in New York on October 2, 2009.”
I squeezed between the busy students, all of whom were intently sewing, ironing, and altering their pieces. Concept teacher Michele Bryant offered guidance to the students and chatted with me as we watched them work. “Today has been quite surprising,” Bryant commented. “Those experienced with deconstruction dive right in. Other students who are very good workers in 2-D were frightened by the 3-D process, but all of the students have been turning out brilliant work.” I gazed around, and although I expected frazzled, stressed out students, everyone calmly and familiarly maneuvered about their dress forms. Some students sat on tabletops for better access to their garments in the crowded workspace. Sitting in such a location, student Anna Choi told me about her menswear piece: “We originally submitted designs for women, but in the end a different approach seemed advantageous. I’m not as familiar with constructing menswear, but luckily our designs were pretty androgynous. By altering fabrics and colors we easily adjusted our initial ideas.”
The students also kept in mind their specific musician assignment—whether they were male and female was important, but also noting their individual instruments was essential. For example, Katherine Leaver and Victoria Choi were assigned a cellist. Recognizing the constraints placed on a cellist—unique movements or the distinct wide-leg, seated position of the musician—they adjusted their costume accordingly.
Another Parsons student, Gabrielle Arrada, worked solo on her dress: “My partner is in the ER,” she said as she busily weaved a needle in and out of her material. “We hand-dyed our material in the bathroom sink, and now I am finishing our look up alone. Things will happen, so I just have to keep working.”
Later Thursday night, all of the students’ pieces were critiqued by a panel of judges, including Harold Koda, the Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All of the students were winners though—each of their completed pieces will be worn at the concert at Tishman Auditorium, enhancing the already noteworthy classical music by Samuel Barber, Maurice Ravel, and Thomas Osborne.