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Parsons: Three to Watch Part II: Shen Zhang

  • November 4, 2019
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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

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?

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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

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

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.

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