Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

By Eric Wilson
Updated May 24, 2016 @ 5:00 pm
Parsons Show - Eric's NYK LEAD
Credit: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Parsons School of Design/The New School

“I’m a little obsessed with showing Parsons that they taught me how to drape,” said Donna Karan, speaking at the annual fashion benefit and student show for Parsons School of Design on Monday night.

In fact, it’s been nearly 50 years since Karan, as an undergraduate, famously failed a draping course and was forced to make it up in summer school. Look at her now, having stepped back from her signature company last year to focus on her philanthropic pursuits and her Urban Zen collection, she was among four women who were honored by Parsons for their influence in fashion, arts, and society. Beth Rudin DeWoody, Arianna Huffington, and Sarah Jessica Parker took turns on stage before the graduating seniors would present their work, and this turned out to be something of an avant-garde fashion show in itself.

Parker wore a dress that appeared to be made of a studded, see-through plastic liner for a shower curtain, worn over a black body suit and underpinnings, from the Valentino fall collection. DeWoody, a distinguished and daring art patron, wore a bulbous lime green knit coat with a grid-like pattern of black fringe that resembled the shell of a tropical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (below right, with Karan). This was a design by Qinghe Cao, a promising graduate student in the Parsons MFA program who, because her professors could not pronounce her name, now calls herself “Queenie.”

Parsons Show - Eric's NYK EMBED 2
Credit: Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images for Parsons School of Design/The New School

As strange as everything seemed (and we haven’t even gotten to the student runway yet), do remember that what’s shocking today can seem absolutely normal 25 years from now. Karan’s infamous dresses with gaping shoulder cut-outs from the early '90s are a great example. Hillary Clinton was blasted for wearing one then, but they’re all over the place today.

“I’m very honored that after Women’s Wear [Daily] killed me on the ‘cold shoulder,’ that it has finally hit a fashion trend,” Karan deadpanned.

So what can we look forward to wearing in the future?

As the seniors’ fashion show began, there appeared a parade of collections that would have been perfectly suited for residents of the Capitol in Hunger Games. Parsons, and its new dean of fashion, Burak Cakmak, have clearly placed a priority on encouraging free-spirited creativity among students, partly in response to the perception among international institutions that the American fashion and education system is perhaps a little too focused on commerce. Well, these collections were anything but safe.

Parsons Show - Eric's NYK EMBED
Credit: Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images for Parsons School of Design/The New School (3)

From Left: Ming Peng, Angela Luna, and Jackson Wiederhoeft.

It was possible to detect the influence of fashion’s most innovative designers here, with notes of Comme des Garçons and J.W. Anderson, and a large whiff of Vetements, coming from pillowed dresses, sandwich-board-shaped jackets, and an array of absurdly oversize pieces. There was, too, a strong touch of the surreal, like a rubber poncho trimmed with rubber duckies, or a sash-sized backpack in the shape of a white wiener dog. The final collection, by Jackson Wiederhoeft, was a jaw-dropping display of luminously pastel court attire, simultaneously glamorous and campy and worn by a gender fluid cast, a fashion statement that was both provocative and timely. It might be a good 25 years, however, before you’ll catch me in a sparkling bikini and fur-fringed operatic coat – but by then you won’t want to see that.

But congratulations are in order for Wiederhoeft, who shared the evening’s top prize, women’s wear designer of the year, with Angela Luna, a student whose work veered sharply nomadic, with post-apocalyptic clothes that would have played well in District 12. One model’s headgear was removed during the show by the designer, who then proceeded to unwrap it into several pieces and then constructed an REI-style tent onstage. The men’s wear designer award, by the way, went to Ming Peng, whose contributions included the wiener dog bag, which was actually quite chic.