Last night, the annual Parsons Fashion Benefit celebrated the school’s 2011 graduating class, and honored distinguished alumnus Reed Krakoff, who is currently the President and Executive Creative Director of Coach and his eponymous label, Reed Krakoff. The top students presented their collections in a fashion show, with past Parsons graduates like Peter Som, Simon Doonan and Narcisco Rodriguez looking on. In honor of the year-end festivities, we chatted with Krakoffand his fellow Parsons alumni Prabal Gurung and J. Crew’s Jenna Lyonswho all have some invaluable advice for all of the recent college graduates out there.
Is there something you wish you’d been told in design school before you embarked on your career in fashion?
Reed Krakoff: I wish someone would have told me to have confidence in what I believed, as opposed to trying to do things the way people thought I should, or someone said I should do things this way, that my career should go like this or like that. I think that hearing that early, early, early, in my education would have been good.
Prabal Gurung: I always knew it would be a hard roadthe minute I applied to Parsons and started to intern at Donna Karen, I knew it. For me, it was never the glamour of the industry that I was interested inI was never driven or excited by it, it was a byproduct of what I wanted to do. For me personally, the very fact that I could design or could possibly make a career out of what I love doing was more than words. I have an open mindIve always had an open mind about things and advice, so I just soaked it all in.
Jenna Lyons: I didnt realize how important being a good communicator and a good manager are, all of these things were really important. I just thought you had to be a good designer! I never really understood the volume of that, and I think I underestimated how important being able to communicate your vision is, as well as having a vision. I wish I had a prettier picture of that when I was young.
Do you have any advice for the recent college grads? Especially since the job market in our industry is not so great right now.
Reed Krakoff: I think you have to follow what you believeits the most important thing. The other thing is to enjoy the journey and the process. Its not so much about what you get or what youre achieving, is more about enjoying it everyday. It’s funny because Ive heard it from many people and it’s hard to incorporate it into a dance, but you really just have to appreciate what you are doing and thats the best thing you can get out of a career.
Prabal Gurung: What I think is exciting at this point in our lifetime is the fact thatyes, there might not be too many jobs available immediately, but that calls for reinventing. That calls for innovation and invention in the way we approach what we do. My advice is to not be in a rush to start your own stuff because Im a firm believer in paying your dues. Everyone has their own path to success and the sincere advice I want to tell them is just to create their own path and make sure they dont stop learning.
Jenna Lyons: I think whats really hard is that nowadays everyone thinks that they have to be an “It” kid right away, but thats a little bit like winning the lottery. It doesnt happen to everyone, and I think people get disillusioned and feel like, “oh my gosh, Im not successful enough.” It’s extreme, its something you have to nurtureits a career, its not shooting to the moon on your first day out of school. Its about letting it happen and taking your time, working hard and just enjoying it. If youre enjoying it youll be fine, youll be really successful and thats all that matters.
Care to share a fashion school horror story? Or maybe one of your proudest Parsons moments?
Reed Krakoff: I had one good oneI was making final jacket for one of my tailoring classes in my apartment, which was kind of dark, and I made an entire jacket all wrong. The left side was on the wrong side of the fabric and the right side was on the correct side of the fabric. When I got it into the classroom, which was really bright, it was two different colorsand I was so proud of my jacket except for that part.
Prabal Gurung: My fondest memory of being at Parsons is when there was a fashion show between FIT and Parsonsit was the first year they did itand I won the best designer, and Parsons won the whole competition. To me, without trying to sound corny, was life changing, because thats where I met Cynthia Rowley and thats how I got my first job. It’s always going to be those memories because Im very fond of her and Im very close to her still.
Jenna Lyons: I sewed right through my finger once! I had never used an industrial machine when I came to New York. It was the first time I used a regular sewing machine and I was trying to sew on a zipper, and I literally just sewed right through my thumb.
Photos courtesy of Parsons