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Parsons: Three to Watch Part I: Lea Germano

By Jackie Mallon

Jun 16, 2015

Fashion |INTERVIEW

As the student fashion shows wrap up for another year, and graduates’ job search plans are put on short term hold while well-earned vacations are embarked upon, I’ve had a moment to reflect on this year’s stands outs. If Parsons represents the cream of the crop, it is there I must return to seek out the three BFA students whose visions for their runway have lingered in my mind while those of others have since faded to mere line-ups of clothes. As the students lie tanning on a beach or lounge till noon in their pjs, mentally preparing to thrust themselves into an industry whose commercial restraints and corporate conditioning will contort their creativity in previously unimaginable directions, I want to know what they were thinking about during this halcyon year of pure creativity? Here is the cream of the crop in their own words. The first one is Lea Germano.

Tell me about the experience of creating your final collection, the inspiration and your process, its evolution and anything you might have done differently.

I wanted to shape a world and a narrative that intrigued me enough to be constantly inspired and excited to dissect it from every angle. ‘The sweet insanity’ echoes an idea of confinement, in a medical soothing environment. A fantasy muse escapes her nest of inner captivity, where she was unable to interact and limited in her movements. She floats away from her ties and progresses frantically in a new fantastic world of acutely sweet color-coded hues. A soothing pink, mauve and lilac environment guides the patient, but her insanity bursts through saturated pops of acidity and shine. Lime green yellows and dark purples strike her path, as she makes her way through dripping color splashes of dementia. She is calm and enlightened but seems lost. Hallucinating, exhilarated, she slowly reclaims her body movements. Looking aimlessly for something.

My collection is very personal. Working from a dark troubling starting point, I decided to break the spell and use color unconditionally. I based some of my research on studies about the “Baker-Miller Pink” color, that was painted all over cell walls in an experimental way to soothe prisoners and patients, in Switzerland and the U.S.

My obsession for paralysis and movement restriction comes from young memories. I am fascinated by medical gear, and I started exploring my shapes by draping with pillow cases, half shirts and collar pieces on the mannequin. I would reproduce cast elements, and enveloping shapes. I used my sketchbook as an endless canvas to collage, doodle, draw, document, paint, write, always manipulating visuals to appropriate and repurpose them. I applied thick layers of paint over dark blurry still images from ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ (1975). My goal was to create an anxious climate, a suffocating atmosphere dominated by a heavy solid pink.

I pushed the boundaries of textiles through machine knitting and marbling experiments. I based my developments on knitted “braids” because they represent a delicate balance between light restriction and insanity. I machine knitted every strip and braided them together, to knit them back together again and so on, with a lot of detailed hand sewing. The marbling technique was a way to express crazy splashes of asphyxiating colors. I created ethereal and disturbing cell-like designs, and came up with 4 different prints. For the red orange print, I inlaid the scan of stuttering tiny pleats in the background of the colorful cells. I wanted the colors to clash in a very poetic way, to create an uneasy feeling. The infinity of uneven pleats materialize the patient’s shaky train of thoughts, and the half pieces represent a decaying bandage or half blouse falling off the body during the escape. Throughout the collection, the silhouettes express different states of liberation. The very light shirt paired with the pleated wrap skirt show a new ease as she reclaims her body movements.

I had a strong desire to create beauty through unexpected subtle details and new combinations, such as the organic beige wool crepe with an intense dark purple print on delicate cotton sateen. The Sweet Insanity allowed me to kill some of my interior fears and turn them into an explosion of grotesque sweet colors and delicate shapes, in order to recreate the fantasy world and interior conflict of my imaginary muse.

Did you receive fabric sponsorship for your collection from designer houses and, if so, how did that come about?

Back in October, I won The Shoe Polytechnic Sponsorship. It was an opportunity to design and prototype footwear as a pivotal component of my senior Thesis work. I designed a complete shoe collection. The Italian sponsors picked two of the designs, and made them come to life.

Then, in January, I won the Hugo Boss Award. Only 4 senior students were chosen for this prize of 10,000 dollar, based on the quality of their thesis process work. It provided me with financial support in producing, assembling, and promoting my Senior Thesis Collection.

What percentage of your collection, if any, was outsourced?

After winning the Hugo Boss prize, I considered the idea of outsourcing some of my garments. I quickly decided to spend the money on other things, such as making a fashion film for my collection. I didn’t want to outsource my garments, because I wanted to control every step of the textile development, handwork, focused details and finishes. The amount of consideration I put in every choice and decision made it impossible to leave it up to someone else. Towards the end, a seamstress came a couple of times to help me with a few binding finishes and closures a few days before the presentation. Therefore I probably outsourced less than 5 percent of my collection.

Were you able to complete any internships during your time at Parsons? If so, where, and how did the on-the-job experience compare to what you do in class?

I completed 4 fashion internships while at Parsons. Mainly as a fashion design intern in very small companies, which allowed me to gain experience with a lot of different tasks. I first interned at Gustavo Lins, a Haute couture house in Paris; then Plein Sud, a slightly bigger Parisian brand; Sophie Theallet, a French designer based in New York, and Concepts Paris, a lingerie trend forecasting company in London. I sourced fabrics, assisted design, sales, PR, executed technical drawings, and even designed prints, garments and lingerie.

Real life experience is very different than class work, but I think it is a normal thing. It can sometimes be repetitive, non rewarding and difficult. However I don’t think that the school’s role is to fully prepare us for the industry. Parsons taught me how to work my hardest, be excited, push the boundaries, dream and be creative. It was a very important learning experience, before having to deal with the daily responsibilities of the industry. I think we learn jobs by experimenting them.

Did you always wants to study fashion and why?

I didn’t always want to study fashion. I grew up surrounded by my mother and grandmother who both worked in the fashion industry. They had the elegance and natural authority of French women, and probably inspired me unconsciously, influencing my taste and aspirations. Since a very young age I would spend hours drawing characters from my imagination. I only decided to study Fashion Design when I found out about Parsons, which opened my horizons to a stimulating program. I was always extremely hardworking, but combining rigor and work ethic with my passion for drawing was something new and exciting. I grew into loving the fashion design process.

How did you find ways of letting off steam, or managing the stress and competitiveness that usually goes with studying on a prestigious fashion program?

Letting off steam was hard. I always feel guilty about not doing work. I very simply enjoyed some moments to go to the gym to liberate some energy, or spending a nice meal with my family. Living with them was my biggest advantage and gave me strength. They helped me stay awake and human. During this year, I didn’t go out at all, as it was too hard to balance it with staying focused and alert. Any moment I wasn’t working, I would take the opportunity to get some sleep.

Do you hope to work for an established company or do you intend to pursue your own label?

I would absolutely love to work for established companies and be trusted with real design work. I have so much more to learn and assimilate from the industry that I can’t imagine starting my own company right now. I might even want to get a masters degree in a few years from now, because I very often admire the work produced by Master students; it is poetic, extremely detailed and unique.

Being in full control of my creative process was an empowering and unique experience, and I hope to one day have this amount of control, maybe by creating my own label, or collaborating with close friends.

Have you already been pursuing interview opportunities or are you taking a well-deserved moment of rest?

I started working on my resume and my contacts during the last weeks of school. I began to search for a job and understand what exactly I am looking for. I took a real week off away from New York, and I am now fully invested in finding a job or an internship that would make me gain experience. I am open to different positions, as long as it relates to womenswear/accessories design.

Do you believe a BFA from Parsons gives you a head start entering the industry?

I believe Parsons gives an excellent fashion design formation. However, entering the industry isn’t always about a school diploma. It is more about a way of approaching people, presenting yourself, and valorizing the work you have produced. Parsons is really good to have on a resume but can’t be the only asset, as about 250 of us graduate each year. My teacher would always say that persistence is key in looking for a job, because people he knows that are successful are the ones who don’t give up.

Stay tuned for the next interview in the series "Three to Watch Part II: Shen Zhang" appearing June 17.

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.