2009 April 30

The Graduates

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Francisco Costa and Eva Mendes in Calvin Klein Collection Francisco Costa and Eva Mendes in Calvin Klein Collection
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(NEW YORK) The fashion industry is diabolically fretting about that elusive element it needs to thrive--especially now. Last night, the answer was found in 173 Parsons seniors crowded behind a roomful of star-studded tables at Cipriani Wall Street, unabashedly cheering for their fellow classmates as the senior thesis runway shows debuted on the runway.

The crowd at the Parsons Fashion Benefit was as illustrious as they come, thanks largely to the evening's marquee honorees--Francisco Costa and Tom Murry of Calvin Klein. Timesitrix Cathy Horyn accepted the first Fashion Icon Award chosen by the Class of 2009. Some joked that their less-glossy alma maters couldn't summon Anna Wintour, Eva Mendes, Molly Sims, Dree HemingwayDonna Karan, Rachel Zoe, and Marc Jacobs. "Actually, I did go to the Royal College of Art in London," joked Kevin Carrigan, looking trim and glowing despite a grueling travel schedule that just brought him back from three weeks in Asia. "So from time to time, we did draw some royals!"

Calvin Klein, and specifically the partnership between Costa and Murry, was celebrated appropriately in a video that had guests marvelling how seamlessly Costa's design has launched the venerable house into the 21st Century. "A few quick thoughts: avoid using the word 'genius'," advised Cathy Horyn during her acceptance speech--but surely for the Calvin Klein designers (Costa, Carrigan and Italo Zucchelli), it's the only mot that makes sense?

"More than anything else, it means a lot to be honored with Tom," said Costa, whose award was presented by André Leon Talley. (Terry Lundgren did the honors for Murry.) "That’s what makes this night so special for me, because a lot of designers have their partners, but Tom has been with me for all my time at the company. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his support. Our partnership happened organically. He is a business brain, but he understood the way I was doing things, and it went very, very, very smoothly. He is my rock and support without making me compromise or taking wrong turns, which can be really frustrating as a designer. What he does is completely amazing."

As guests tucked into a shrimp and asparagus appetizer, Mendes chatted up tablemate Linda Fargo. "This is unbelievable," said Mendes. "He’s a great friend, a great designer, and to be able to support him means the world.” Between the awards, guests like Rachel Zoe, Anne Slowey, Amanda Brooks, Chris Benz and Phillip Lim table-hopped while Fargo was approached by a brave group of Parsons students eager for words of wisdom from the Bergdorf Goodman senior vice president.

Stefano Tonchi discussed his imminent trip to Cannes with Zucchelli. "Even the paparazzi have to wear bowties!" he exclaimed. "One young man was wearing a very nice black tie, and they wouldn't let him in [to an event]. That's when my inner stylist came out and I turned it into a very floppy one!"

Given the event's scholastic nature, several couldn't help but wax nostalgic for their own student days. "Sleepless nights!" recalled Peter Som, who caught up with Parsons new dean Simon Collins during dinner. "That’s so boring, but it happened every night! Parsons was such a thrill. I went to a regular college beforehand, so I knew about all-nighters, but Parsons really forced creativity. My hardest class was draping. We had some amazing teachers, but they’d make you cry like you wouldn’t believe."

"As a student, I wasn’t afraid of anything," said Lorenzo Martone. "You’re not afraid of making mistakes, because you don’t know what’s right or wrong--you don’t have parameters from the industry. I was very ambitious in my thinking, because I wasn’t boxed-in by society. I did an MBA, so my favorite class was Luxury Advertising. That’s a no-brainer, but this class was all about looking at ads and understanding the strategy behind them—studying the photographers, models. That class opened my eyes to what I do at work today [at Chandelier Creative]."

"I’ve blocked it all out!" laughed Mendes. "I guess the biggest decision I had to make happened my second year in college. I was faced with a big life decision--I had to choose between school or acting. I don’t want to say this because I don’t want kids to drop out of school, but I pursued acting. My favorite class was art history."

"My favorite memory as a student was directing a production of Grease, because I was obsessed with '50s American fashion," said Joanna Coles, splendidissima in Lanvin. "I directed it, but my treat to myself was that I got to be a back-up singer. We wore fabulous dresses we bought in Camden market. [But] as a student, I was sadly un-dedicated. I studied American literature, and I spent all my time reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald, which actually, in retrospect, was terribly useful for what I do now." Coles' favorite novel of all time? "The Sun Also Rises."

"My very good friend Tracy Reese went to school with me, and we used to stay up and do our homework, and then we’d go to school the next day," recalled Jacobs. "I mean, we’d be up all night, and I’ll never forget that. Those are my favorite times." But for the Parsons students, this gala takes that honor.

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