Inside the 70th Annual Parsons Benefit
Pretty much every fashion icon in the making has a memory of being tortured at an early age for standing out, or just for trying something different. For Solange Knowles, it happened like this:
“When I was 10 years old, I visited New York City, and Capri pants with little slits on the sides were all the rage,” Knowles said at the 70th annual Parsons Benefit on Monday evening. “I got a pair in three different colors, I went back to Houston, Texas, straight feeling myself, walking into school with a little shoulder lean and head held high, and them hating-ass kids dragged me from one hallway to the next, and asked me if it was flooding because my pants were so high-water. I learned then and there I had to figure out a way in life to maintain and preserve my sense of pride.”
Look at her now. Solange is one of the most daring style stars of music today, inspiring her fans to dress independently and fearlessly. And it is for that reason that she was one of three honorees at the benefit, joining Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive of Gucci, and José Neves, the founder and chief executive of Farfetch. The annual Parsons show, held at Pier Sixty for the last few years, has a reputation for uncovering some of American fashion’s biggest stars before they are even out of school.
For its 70th edition, the design school featured the work of several students in a series of runway shows that were interspersed with performances of gospel, voguing, and really, really loud jazz. All that pomp tended to overshadow the fashion, but the work this year looked promising, with conceptual pieces that suggested the students are paying close attention to the work of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga. Coats were eating other coats. A handbag was designed as a flat white square. Pretty much everything had a harness attached to it somewhere. One model was carrying a plastic baby (perhaps a nod to Alessandro Michele’s severed heads at Gucci?).
The very, very long evening had its highlights, and for the Parsons students, it was a chance to meet leading designers and artists, perhaps even learn a lesson or two. La La Anthony, the actress and designer, wearing a white pantsuit from Brandon Maxwell, stressed the importance of being “a leader, not a follower.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “There were so many things coming out of high school and college I thought would be the end of the world, like a break up with a boyfriend. When I look back, in hindsight all of these things didn’t matter as much as I thought they did then.”
Kelela, wearing a crinkled gold suit from Sies Marjan, reflected on her own experience as she took her seat.
“For me, college was about synthesis,” said the singer, who attended American University in Washington, D.C., studying international development, sociology and politics. “Memorization is something we all are trained to be really good at in school, and memorization can get you pretty far. But synthesis – being able to digest and put things together, really making sense of things, analysis, being able to deconstruct my reality – those are the things that provide me with solace as an adult coming out of school.”
Navigating the world, in modern times especially, is not so easy for young people, but Kelela said that she was pleased by progress toward inclusiveness and concern for others’ well-being, including in the fashion industry.
“I’m really glad those things are intersecting,” she said. “When I was in school, I didn’t think they ever would. As someone who always felt outside in some ways, it feels really beautiful that there’s something happening that makes me feel welcome.”