Parsons: Three to Watch Part III: Elizabeth Bastian

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 third and final one is Elizabeth Bastian.

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

When I was younger I attended The Waldorf School of Philadelphia, where the curriculum is balanced between artistic, academic and practical work. Throughout grade school various artisan skills are taught and while I was learning math, reading, and writing I also learned how to knit, crochet, felt, weave, sew and embroider. I am interested in the idea of being a child again, enveloped in a world of learning and playing in color. I began by focusing on the problem of “layering clothes” and how my mom would pile on extra pieces just in case I was cold, but come midday I found myself tying extra sweaters around my waist and leaving jackets behind.

We live in a world with excess amount of products and “stuff” and I looked at different ways of creating useful clothing that can transform throughout the day. Meaning that depending on one’s mood, comfortability, the weather, and overall desired appearance, pieces of a garment could be moved around, changed, removed, replaced or become something else.

My collection evolved from a focus on childlike shapes to a more refined attention to how the body interacts with the garments. Each piece in some way was inspired by my childhood sketches, whether in the pattern of the print, or in the construction and draping of the garment. The garments I created mimic in many ways a child’s toy that can be reimagined and manipulated giving the user control over playing with the function of each piece.

here is not much that I would change from my final collection but I plan to further experiment with transformable clothing and even possibly expand my collection.

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

I was nominated for the Jason Wu Fabric Sponsorship by my teachers. I had to submit my portfolio along with other nominated students to Jason Wu and I was very fortunate to be selected to have some of my fabrics supplied. The sponsorship was a huge financial help and a great experience.

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

I did almost all of the work myself from the embroidery and knitting but I became a little bit too ambitious and had to get help from a wonderful seamstress at the end for some of my hems and linings. Knitwear is huge love of mine and I took some amazing classes at Parsons where I learned how to use different knitting machines. I did all of the knitwear either by hand or on a double bed knitting machine.

I was also very lucky to be one of the winners for the Shoe Polytechnic Sponsorship this year. It is a sponsorship through Parsons where six pairs of shoes that I designed for my collection were fabricated in Italy. Having shoes of my own designs for my thesis was something that, without this sponsorship, I would never have had the funds to create and outsource.

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 Rogan / Loomstate, two companies with the same design team, that focus on sustainable design and ethical production. It was a great experience because I got to see a design firm practicing ethical design first hand and got to meet some amazing people. I spent another summer in Philadelphia interning at US*U.S. a co-op boutique that consists of a handful of design houses, such as LeLe Tran and Lobo Mau where designers create, manufacture and sell their collections in one space helping each other out with support, man power, and technical skills.

This was one of my favorite places to work because I was involved in all aspects of the process and the environment that the designers had created was nothing that I had experienced before. Attending Parsons and even working a bit in the Industry in New York I had found quickly how ego-centric many designers can be. This model really opened up my eyes to different ways in which designers can work together that I wish Parsons could push us towards. I learned so much about design, construction, and theoretical ideas from Parsons but many of my outside internship experiences opened up my eyes to how different design teams can work and operate in unconventional ways.

Did you always want to study fashion and why?

I still do not exactly remember when it was that I decided to study fashion. Attending The Waldorf School I was obsessed with hand crafts, but also sculpture and painting. Growing up in a family of architects I knew that I was going to somehow be in design and when I realized that fashion could satisfy my craving for textiles, sculpture and painting I decided to pursue it. Creating three-dimensional shapes from combining several different design elements continues to be the most appealing and inventive thing to me about fashion.

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?

It was very hard. I have always been a nerd and a workaholic but this past year was by far the worst. I think the more stressed I became the further I pushed myself into my work. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic group of friends to not only bounce ideas off of but who helped me not go crazy and who allowed me to vent when I needed to. It was not until mid-way through my last semester did I really feel the competitiveness of some students and I found myself being wrapped up in it and I quickly had to take a step back. I am not going to lie, it was not all that fun towards the end of the semester. The main thing that truly helped me throughout the process was how happy I was with my final collection.

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

For now, I need to make some money and start paying off my college debt so I am going to find a job at a company that I am interested in. I think in a couple of years I will go to Europe and gain some experience there. I want to keep my options open. I am obsessed with Scandinavian design and would love to live in Stockholm and design crazy shapes and textiles. I think there are too many young designers who have money in their pockets jumping off to start their own labels. The industry is overcrowded at the moment with very similar houses that I feel wastes energy and resources.

Over the past two years I have been bouncing the idea off my friends of starting a transdisciplinary design co-op. Designers are going to continue to create more and more “clothing” and a lot of it consists of technology and “innovative” approaches that I feel are very gimmicky. If you think about it, fashion is one of the few industries in the world that really has not advanced at in the past 20 years or so. I think we need to stop being obsessed with the individual in design but need to collaborate with other designers not necessarily in fashion to truly come up with unique ideas by addressing problems differently. Basically I think it would be a lot of fun to get together with some amazing people and experiment with crazy materials and not follow the fashion system to try create more sustainable and innovative products.

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

Right after graduation I went back home to Philadelphia for two weeks. I needed to get away from New York and just relax and do nothing. I am now about to start the process of applying for jobs and while I loved doing nothing and relaxing I really do love the stress and working on projects that I am passionate about.

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

Absolutely! I loved Parsons and I had some amazing teachers that taught me so much but, more importantly, truly helped me discover who I am as a designer. One of the most important things I learned is that you have to work hard if you want to reach a level that you have in mind. The drive and work ethic that Parsons has instilled in me is a huge advantage that I have entering the industry.

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.