My summer at Parsons

Two years ago, whilst pondering what it was I wanted to go on to do after my time at Sidcot, I found a Design school on the Internet that ran Pre-College programs in the summer for 16-18 year olds, ‘Parsons The New School For Design’. After looking into the College more closely, I found it to be one of the top university’s for Fashion in the world. Having always been extremely interested and enthusiastic about textiles, and being only fifteen and highly unrealistic at the time, I decided right then that this was where I wanted to be, only one thing stood in my way; roughly 3400miles.

Located in Manhattan, New York City, Parsons became the topic of almost every conversation I had with my friends and family; in fact I feel I should probably take this opportunity to apologise to them for talking incessantly of nothing else for 18 months. By now I was used to people’s reactions when I mentioned anything about Parsons, humoring me seemed to be the most common reaction I was met with; the idea of me going to live and study on my own in New York for a month seemed completely ridiculous to everyone except myself.

However, despite everyone’s skepticism up until this point, when the application date for summer programmes 2013 came around, with help and support from my parents I applied for Parsons Pre-College: Fashion Design.

Seven months later I arrived in New York. I spent the next four weeks living at the 13th Street residence hall located in Greenwich Village, with three roommates and another two hundred odd teenagers just down the hall. I used to think sharing a bathroom with my brother was bad, however nothing compares to the morning dash we all partook in at 7am each day; all of us stood, toothbrush in hand, bedroom door slightly cracked, listening for the sound of someone leaving the bathroom; this was then followed by a mad stampede as doors all down the corridor flung open and we all raced to be the first to reach that illusive door handle. Despite spending the majority of the morning waiting to brush our teeth, at 8.30am without fail we would all dash out of the building, matching Parsons tote bags filled with sketchbooks and art supplies flung over our shoulders, waving to the security guards as we left. Then whilst juggling a bagel, Starbucks and metro card we would all pile onto the 1 train to 42nd St and the heart of the fashion district for classes at 9.00am.

The course consisted of four classes: design, drawing, 3D, and digital. We were given a design brief and the city of New York to base our work around, taking inspiration from anything within the city; our task was to design a collection consisting of ten looks. After doing lots of research and exploring New York I was inspired by buildings such as the Chrysler Building, having been built at this time and in this style, I decided to base my collection around the 1920s and Art Deco. During each class we were taught the skills and techniques we would need to inform our work.

Whilst in design class we would discuss concepts and ideas, develop a style and visit exhibitions, including the ‘Punk’ exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a Stephan Burrows ‘When Fashion Danced’ exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York. Now, being a less than adequate illustrator upon arriving at Parsons I was in awe of the drawing skills displayed by my teacher; having worked for top designers in the fashion industry for many years and having published her own book on fashion illustration I felt extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be taught by Anna Kipper. In drawing class we learnt technical drawing, how to draw flats, render different fabrics, draw faces and work in a range of different media, within days the improvement in not only my own drawing ability but my classmates’ too was astonishing.

I have never been very adept when it comes to technology, and the few brief encounters I’ve had with the program Photoshop in the past have not been pretty. Therefore, when faced with the prospect of an entire day every week in digital class, working with what I can only describe as the single most infuriating program on the planet, I knew this was going to be my biggest challenge of yet. However, I was delighted to discover that I was not alone, for my entire class shared my dislike and frustration. Slowly over the next few weeks we did eventually learn invaluable skills such as creating patterns, layer masks and mood boards that would be integral in creating our final collections.

Having studied textiles with Mrs Green at Sidcot for over six years now, I was more than prepared for 3D class. Where I had persevered with my less than impressive illustrations and battled with the dreaded Photoshop, I was finally in my element, I finally knew what I was doing; for the most part anyway. During these 3D classes we were taught professional draping and how to use an industrial sewing machine; which at first was perhaps the most intimidating piece of machinery any of us had ever seen. Once we had learnt the skills and techniques we needed we were given the task of making a top; the overly ambitious; myself included, opted to make a dress instead. I can say for certain that this was my favorite part of the entire course - the facilities were fantastic. I was used to doing the majority of my sewing on my bedroom floor, and now I was working in the same rooms they use to film ‘Project Runway’. Unsurprisingly it became a struggle for my friends to drag me away from the studio.

Parsons programs are called ‘summer intensive studies’ for a reason: the volume of homework I received each night closely resembled that of my weekly A Level prep. However when researching meant traipsing the streets of New York taking pictures or going to one of the university libraries which are not only home to every book you could ever need, but every issue of Vogue ever printed, it was hard to complain. Being teenagers we adapted a very healthy way of getting our work done. This consisted of doing absolutely no work between the end of classes and around twelve o’clock which was our curfew, this time was instead saved for shopping, eating and exploring the big city. After this the rest of the night was spent working on our projects and true to our teenager stereotype, ordering pizza and cookies; New York is the city that never sleeps after all and the poor delivery guys really did never get to sleep.

I spent my final morning in New York going to get one last bagel with my friends, and after an emotional goodbye I hauled my endless pile of luggage into a taxi bound for JFK. My summer at Parsons was one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my life. Not only did I learn a great deal, I made a lot of really wonderful friends from all over the world and had the opportunity to be taught by truly inspirational and successful people.

Alexandra Melvin
Year 13 Student

Independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 - 18 in Somerset