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Parsons Fashion Show 2016: Sustainability First

By Jackie Mallon

May 24, 2016


Burak Cakmak, dean of the School of Fashion, introduces the Parsons 2016 BFA show by emphasizing the school’s increased efforts towards sustainability during the past year––his first complete year as dean. The force of the school’s commitment is evident throughout the show: in the aesthetic statements, in the clothing’s multi-purpose aspects, and in the materials used. It opens with a parade of resourceful-looking backpack-wearing travelers kitted out in utilitarian olive-drab layers decorated with reflective strips. One stops mid-runway to be relieved of his voluminous lightweight anorak so that an assistant may cannily build it into a tent while the show continues.

Oversized belts, almost seatbelt-proportioned, are fastened above the breezy volume of pants. Atypical fabrics, some with an industrial appearance, some with a lived-in look, rest side-by-side.

Colors brighten into a primary palette with flashes of hazard-alert orange and neon yellow in toggles and drawstrings, before blending into the murky tie-dyes of grungy music festivals (more Glastonbury than Coachella––these travelers are prepared for the most unexpected of weather conditions.)

Coinciding with the Met Museum’s summer marquee exhibition Manus X Machina, the womenswear, in particular, boasts armor-like strength, with limbs sheathed in slabs of aluminum-looking material cut with the sharpest of edges.

A scarlet evening dress with an intricately draped bodice is trapped inside transparent plastic like an old favorite that had been cellophane-wrapped and put into storage for the season. The dress is backless and, when the model turns, the plastic against her skin seems to encourage the idea that, despite their imperfections, we should preserve our clothes.

Another model dressed in the neutral ecru of student toiles drags a cloth chain behind her like the chain gang members of the early 1900s. It pointedly reminds us how the lack of monitoring in the apparel industry’s supply chain contributes to the inhumane treatment of foreign workers. The chain also serves as a symbol of how attached we are to the lure of cheap clothes and encapsulates the idea that we are all linked, designer and consumer, in the struggle to combat the devastation our industry has wrought.

The hazard orange returns even alongside chic pastels and plaids as if there is no escaping the plight in which we find ourselves. While we all must confront the grim reality of today’s industry, it is undoubtedly emerging designers who are the ones faced with it most glaringly as they contemplate beginning their future professional lives.

Undulating stripes make the eyes water. The floppy wide-brimmed hats associated with a seventies jetset glamour now seem to imply protection rather than paparazzi disguise.

In perfectly tailored camel, giant holes had been dug out and filled in with green, as if mimicking the introduction of green spaces into our concrete jungles. Asian headwear and the traditional geta shoe worn with patchwork reminds us that we are connected to whoever sews our clothes despite the fact that they are most likely on the other side of the globe.

Hearteningly, many of the menswear collections exhibit an almost goofy optimism in their cozy pastel palette and naif styling. Baby pink is a feature, along with curvilinear seams, big hoods, and pockets roomy enough to nest in.

In contrast, the womenswear seems to contain a harder core: flowers and frills are hacked and spliced: cascading ruffles are attached with studs, to swing, defiant and precarious. Grass seems to sprout from seams like the green slivers at the center of a highway.

A dramatic coat with samurai-like shoulders in dusty pink and buttery leather and punctured all over with studs might provide the most urgent reminder that we must be prepared to go to battle to save our planet.

For the first time, work from the students of the College of Performing Arts is shown alongside the collections from the School of Design, lending the show impromptu bursts of vaudevillian cheer. As the models tramp by in the finale, the single bell on the upturned toe of one jester’s satin slipper can be heard jingling above the pumping techno.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.