Interview with Simon Collins

Simon Collins
Simon Collins
Dean of Fashion
Parsons The New School For Design
Parsons The New School For Design

The luxury industry took a hit for a while after the financial crisis, but it's booming now, posting record profits.
Simon Collins is the Dean of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design. He talks about various factors affecting the fashion industry during a conversation with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Manushi Gandhi. Synopsis: Parsons is one of the world’s leading institutes for art and design. It was founded in 1986 in New York, USA. Parsons comprises of the School of Art and Design History and Theory; School of Art, Media, and Technology; School of Constructed Environments; School of Design Strategies; and School of Fashion. Each of these has various departments and offers numerous degree programs. Parsons school also started in Paris in 1921. Many popular designers like Kay Unger, Tom Ford, Anna Sui, Donna Karan have passed out from here. Simon Collins oversees all areas of fashion studies at The New School. Mr. Collins has worked with some of the world’s leading brands like Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Fila, Zegna, and Marks and Spencer. He was appointed as the dean of Parsons’ School of Fashion in 2008. He went to Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design and Epsom School of Art and Design. Excerpts:

Do you feel that fashion is a very subjective term which differs from person to person?

The first thing an aspiring designer should have is a unique vision. If you don’t have something you want to say, something you’re dying to get out into the world, why bother? That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take input from other people when it makes sense, but you have to trust your vision as a young designer, and explore who you are and what you have to say. It might not be what other people would do – in fact, it shouldn’t be. If it were, it would’ve been done already. You can see it in the designers who’ve come from our program: Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and I’d also add Jenna Lyons, who’s the Creative Director at J. Crew. They’re all doing very different work, but they all are very true to their own vision.

What is the role of an institute in developing designing sense of the aspirants?

One of the biggest things you should learn in school is how to learn; how to keep asking questions, keep adding skills to your toolkit, and staying curious for the rest of your life. What we try to do here at Parsons The New School for Design is to teach out students to ask smart questions. We want to help them figure out what’s in them, and what they really want to do. Then, we give them a platform to execute that vision. It’s what we do here in New York, and it’s what we’ll be doing at our presences in Paris and Mumbai; teaching students how to create beautiful solutions.

Do you think fashion is an industry that is very sensitive to the fluctuations in the market?

Fashion is an industry like any other. Hard times hurt here, like anywhere else. Although it doesn’t always work out as you might expect. The luxury industry took a hit for a while after the financial crisis, but it’s booming now, posting record profits. At the same time, the past five years have seen a dramatic rise in fast fashion stores like Zara or Uniqlo, who offer high-fashion-influenced clothes at relatively low prices.

What is the importance of social media for students aspiring to be good designers?

Knowing your customer is one of the most important things for a brand. You have to have a sense of who the people are who wear your clothes, and the people who wear your clothes have to have a sense of who you are as a brand. The connection that social media offers is so, so valuable for this. It connects you to your customers and offers them a real-time look at you. It’s also a great place to have a little fun, and show your sense of humour. Really getting your head around this can make a big difference for a brand.

Students often face the problem of limited resources. What can be done regarding this matter?

A designer always has limited resources. Whether you’re a startup brand or one with product all over the globe and millions of dollars to use in production, fashion is always about learning to work within those constraints, and do the best work you possibly can.

Sustainability and business ethics are major issues for our industry at present. Do you feel there needs to be special courses for this?

We’re all aware of the challenges facing our planet. The fashion industry can be very resource-intensive: making some fabrics takes a lot of water, shipping clothes around the world takes a lot of fuel, and on and on. Here at Parsons, we encourage our students to use sustainable fabrics and production methods whenever possible. We’ve done projects like Recycled Runway, where our students made new clothes out of leftover fabrics and recycled materials; in our work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, we’ve imagined the future of orchestral clothing and incorporated sustainable techniques. It’s the subject of an entire course here, but, again, it’s something we want our students to always be considering. It’s not just good for the environment, its good business sense. A designer that’s 22 or 23 will be working in a very different world in 20 or 30 years, and the earlier they learn how to succeed in that environment, the better off they’ll be.

Fashion is what is being worn by celebs and models. Please present your views on this.

At its best, celebrities are “in fashion” because they like what a designer’s doing. That’s great. The thing to remember is that having someone wear your design, whether it’s Kanye West or Michele Obama, won’t make your career overnight. It’s an opportunity. You, as a designer and as a brand, have to be in a position to capitalize on it. Otherwise, it’s not worth anything to you.
Published on: 19/08/2013

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of