Parsons: Three to Watch Part II: Shen Zhang

Friday, 19 June 2015
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 second one is Shen Zhang. Tell me about the experience of creating your final collection, the inspiration and your process, its evolution and anything you might have done differently.

Oh boy, It was the most difficult task that I have done thus far! I see seniors slaving over their thesis every year, and I knew that I wanted to make sure that I have all the time that I needed. To do that, I had to take at least 6 classes every semester with one session of summer school plus internships. During the second semester senior year, I only had to take the main thesis class. I flipped my sleeping schedule and came to school to work at night after all the classes ended, and went home to sleep before the classes came in. I did that for about three months.

The name of the collection is Temptation vs. Restriction, It was inspired by my first and last relationship that came to a very difficult end after six months due to different issues like religion, cultural background, family difference. I found the way to cope with it by designing my thesis around it. I wanted to pick the color turquoise because of my ex's Middle Eastern culture background, the turquoise stone is very popular for jewelry making in the area, it is also a prominent color that frequents the Islam religion, which he practices. I chose to make a monochromatic collection because I wanted to make a statement and put the focus on the silhouettes.

I designed silhouettes that appear very oversized, but are actually quite restrictive to comply with my concept. The very long sleeves were designed to serve that purpose. I utilized menswear elements, every look has the men’s shirt element on the inside. I was also trying to incorporate the idea that I'm the one that is "Trapped" inside this restrictive situation. I used different symbols in this collection based on my feelings at the moment.

The dollhouse bag was inspired by a gingerbread house that we made before Christmas, and the fact that you can see that it's empty really pulled through the idea of wanting to be a family and can't. I also used the motif of windows and made them into cufflinks, since windows to me are symbols of hope, showed that inside me I still have a sliver of hope. The knit sweater vest was knitted in the same stitch as a scarf that I made him before we decided to call it off--it is a stitch called Indian Cross Stitch.

For this collection I don't think that I would do anything differently, things came out organically from my feelings at the moment. I'm glad that it came out good. The most difficult aspect was to color match different kind of fabrics. Since I don't have enough quantity to dye to match anything, I could only go from store to store to find fabrics and try to match them to the same color.

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

I did not receive any sponsorship.

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

I'd say around 5 percent, I made mostly everything.

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 interned at Brandon Sun and Oscar de la Renta Fur during Junior year, where I learned about different leather and fur techniques. It was eye opening since the same techniques can be used in all different kinds of fabrics. I also interned at 3.1 Phillip Lim during Senior year where I touched on embroideries and product development work. Compared to the work in class, Internship provides me with real world experiences where practicality is taken very seriously. Internships kept me grounded while school gave me more freedom creatively.

Did you always want to study fashion and why?

I became serious with fashion since high school. I was very much into the art and design scene, and I started to take different lessons during sophomore year in high school. I'm interested in all fields of design, and I hope one day to extend my resume to more areas.

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?

I'm always happy with more time to sleep! Usually when I could get more than 5 hours of sleep means I caught up with the workload and I could relax a bit. Also I try not to deprive myself of anything that I wanted to eat during that period, even if it meant 2 boxes of Oreo's at 3 in the morning.

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

I want to learn more from established companies, since I know that I'm nowhere near ready in terms of knowledge and experience, to have my own label. I will pursue knowledge through working in the industry and hopefully one day I'll have something of my own.

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

At the moment I have been submitting resumes and trying to learn Japanese.

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

Absolutely. I think Parsons' name is very powerful in the industry, not just in the US, but globally as well. Ever since I became a semi-finalist for my thesis collection, I have gained a lot of exposure. I was very lucky that I got selected to be in the show, which was reported in different publications around the world, and to have my work featured in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue. None of which I could get without Parsons. It was truly a humbling experience to have this opportunity studying with all the talented individuals, and thank you for having me on this interview!

Stay tuned for the next interview in the series "Three to Watch Part III:Elizabeth Bastian" appearing June 18.

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.