Sunday, January 6, 2013

Continuous Pattern Repeat Tutorial

For my students, here's a quick reminder of how to make a continuous or seamless pattern repeat in Photoshop:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My interview with the Free Press

There was an article in yesterday's New School Free Press about the controversial new curriculum in Parsons fashion program. A reporter reached out to me a few weeks back and asked if I would be interviewed, and of course I was happy to contribute.

I'll publish my thoughts on the article down the road, but first - with the permission of the Free Press reporters and their editor - I would like to publish excerpts from my interview.

New School Free Press: How do you feel about recent curriculum changes and the curriculum in general?

Michael: My understanding is that the curriculum had to change because of accreditation issues. Not only did the total number of credit hours need to be reduced, but also Parsons Fashion BFA students were working way too many hours for the number of credits they received. The workload was too intense, and some of it had to be cut. Fair enough.

The problem as I see it is that the administration decided to not only change the quantity of the work, but also the qualities – that is, the character - of the work. So, aside from the cuts made for accreditation issues, even more of the class time that had been devoted to teaching fundamental skills was cut in order to make room for "play" and "creative experimentation."

For example, to make room for play in the class that used to be called Studio Methods, students have been told that they must learn to sew on their own time by watching YouTube videos or instructional DVDs. Can you imagine? I read on that Parsons/The New School is the third most expensive school in the nation, and we're telling our fashion students to go off and learn to sew on their own time? What are they paying for? To learn to play?

As I said to the head of my department, the only thing more ridiculous than a bunch of middle-aged instructors like myself teaching today's 19 and 20 year olds about the importance of play is the administration's belief that parents will continue to pay good money for this dubious service. Especially in this job market.

The administration has also provided non-credit sewing workshops, too, but these have their own issues. For example, one of my students who didn't know how to sew told me that her class met on Mondays and the workshops were on Saturdays, so she was idle for five days and left trying to cram all her work into two days. If they'd just taught her to sew in class, she would have had all week to practice and prepare. Instead they played.

But more damning, to my mind - these workshops seem fundamentally dishonest in terms of the accreditation issue. If one of the problems was that our students were working too hard for the number of credits they received, then the administration's solution was to categorize some of the necessary instruction as "workshops," state that they're optional, and just give the students no credit whatsoever.

Keep in mind: learning to sew is not in fact optional. Setting aside their careers for a moment, each student has to learn to sew in order to create her senior thesis and graduate. So, the students are working just as hard as before; but now they're doing all this work on their own time, because these are workshops, not classes. How is this better for the student? Meanwhile, the administration has ostensibly complied with the accrediting body.

NSFP: Do you know if the curriculum is actually modeled after Central Saint Martin's curriculum?

M: I don't know enough to say whether or not this new curriculum is modeled on Central Saint Martins' curriculum. I hope not.

CSM’s approach is typical of the British fashion design schools that are in trouble with industry professionals and former students because their graduates often lack the practical skills necessary to actually create a garment. The Guardian did an article on this a few years back.* The British students are apparently told that "other people will manufacture the designs they come up with."


This is exactly what the former co-director of the BFA program told us. Like our Dean, he’s a product of the same approach that the British fashion industry has found so disappointing. And when he was challenged at a faculty meeting about the lack of instruction in fundamental skills, he replied that it didn't matter because, "I'm training the future leaders of the fashion industry."

Of course, mathematically, this can't be anything close to true. There are only so many leadership positions in our industry, and the people in those positions don't politely step aside every spring to make room for someone new. Meanwhile, there's a new crop of Parsons grads every year. If we’ve given each of them the impression that they’re a future leader of the industry, then we’ve sold them a bill of goods.

And even those who are destined to one day arrive at the top have to start quite a bit nearer the bottom. And they won't advance very far up the ladder if they lack the skills needed to make a garment. Alexander McQueen was the perfect example. He started as an apprentice on Savile Row at 16. And it was there that he learned the tailoring skills he used for the rest of his career. He didn't learn them at CSM.

NSFP: To what extent does the curriculum affect you as a professor?

M: The digital design curriculum has been eviscerated. My class is now considered half a class. We play and experiment in class, we give less homework, and I don’t even assign a final grade. I’m partnered with a drawing instructor, and the students get one averaged grade that, unless they get an ‘A’ or an ‘F’, tells them very little about their ability to either draw or use the computer.

But, really, it doesn't much matter how it affects me as a professor. I like teaching, I love my students, and thanks to both The New School and my union, ACT-UAW (Local 7902), I'm well-compensated for my time. And if ever that's not the case, I can go do something else.

The controversy surrounding the new curriculum has affected my life far more than the curriculum itself. Unpleasant meetings, unkind emails and so forth. But, again, these don't matter much in the context of a long and happy career.

For the students, on the other hand, this is it. This is their education. They only get to have this experience once, and it's a shame - I mean it's truly shameful - that so many of them find it so disappointing.

NSFP: Do you strictly adhere to the curriculum or do you create your own?

M: In the digital design department, all instructors of any given course share a syllabus. So while I always try to give my students a little bit extra, I don't deviate much. But last semester I actually had one sophomore section - the entire class - ask me if I could please disregard the syllabus and instead focus on the skills they'd need to have successful careers. Our students are savvy. They talk to the older students who learned under the previous curriculum, and they know that this new curriculum doesn't meet their needs.

And the students have tried to let the administration know. They started a Facebook group, they've shown up at faculty meetings. Still, the administration has steadfastly denied that there's a significant problem.

But now the administration has the results of the students' anonymous course evaluations for last semester, which was the first semester under the new curriculum. It's all in writing, so it's no longer deniable, and from what I've seen, it's brutal. My students were as kind and generous to me as always, but their assessment of the merits of the course I teach were almost uniformly negative. Which is a shame, because I teach – or used to teach - skills that most of them will use every day. I've seen the evaluations of four or five of my colleagues and they tell the exact same story.

It's one thing for the administration to dismiss the concerns of the faculty. We are, after all, employees. But the concerns of the students are another matter. If they're not happy, Parsons is out of business. So, I assume it won't be long now before the administration admits that this New Coke curriculum was a colossal mistake and they bring back Coke Classic.

NSFP: How do you feel about the relationship between Parsons Fashion and The New School as a whole?

M: The problems we’re having with The New School administration aren’t limited to just Parsons or the Parsons' fashion program. Ask the Fine Arts faculty - or what's left of them. Ask the Foundation faculty. Ask the Drama faculty.

But setting that aside, Parsons' fashion department has grown exponentially since I first started teaching here more than eleven years ago. I credit my former boss, Tim Gunn. First for instituting the changes that led directly to Barney's buying the senior thesis collection of Jack and Lazaro of Proenza Schouler. I think that really changed everyone's idea of what was possible. It paved the way for Vena Cava, Jason Wu, Cushnie et Ochs and on and on. And second, of course, for being his kind and considerate self on Project Runway.

The New School doesn't have anywhere near the endowment of other, equally prestigious schools, and it’s my impression that they’ve come to rely on the money that Parsons' fashion department's growth has generated. In fact, the administration recently reminded us that in these economic times, student retention is a high priority.

Whether or not this sudden and dramatic increase in the number of fashion students is a good thing for the students themselves seems to be less of a concern. I remember one very talented and hard-working former student whose gorgeous and innovative student work was displayed at Saks, but when she graduated, she couldn't find a job.

She ended up taking an unpaid internship at a company I won’t name. (But shame on you, Diane Von F. Your husband’s a billionaire, for crying out loud.) This is a graduate of, again, the third most expensive school in the nation, and I'm told that she got a $20 per diem. Which may have covered her subway fare and lunch as long as she wasn't too hungry. And this young woman has real talent and drive. Not all of our students do. (She has since found a better gig.)

So, expanding the program and focusing on student retention may be good for The New School, but I don't think we're doing anyone else any favors by retaining students who can't even handle our dumbed-down curriculum and are, frankly, unlikely to ever build a career in the industry. Their employers won't put up with them not doing their work or even showing up for work, of course. They'll just hire someone who will. In my opinion, we're profiting from the gullibility of these students and their parents.

Tim Gunn used to say, "We can't want it more than they do." But it's clear that some students don't know what they want. That’s not a criticism - I went through a similar period while I was in college. But in the meantime, The New School does indeed want it more than they do. The New School is perfectly willing to take their money.

NSFP: Do you think Parsons lives up to its name and reputation?

M: Sadly, no. Or only to the extent that our name and reputation have been sullied enough that there's now less to live up to. It's like the Guardian article I mentioned. British fashion companies were aware of what was happening – or not happening – in the British schools, and American companies are rapidly becoming aware of what’s going on at Parsons.

Students being told to learn to sew on their own time? Told that learning the history of the industry they hope to transform is no longer required? Drawing self-portraits instead of flat sketches? It's outrageous. There should be fighting in the street.

NSFP: To what extent is Parsons preparing students for the modern and rapidly evolving world of fashion?

M: You’re right that the world of fashion is rapidly evolving. Unfortunately, this administration is like the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey. Certain they know best, convinced of their own good intentions, and completely unaware of the extent of their folly and the repercussions for those beneath them.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The most influential artist you've never heard of? The fascinating story of the woman behind Apple's GUI.

Graphical interface pioneer Susan Kare; photo by R.J. Muna
"Kare earned a commission from an Arkansas museum to sculpt a razorback hog out of steel. That was the project she was tackling in her garage in Palo Alto when she got a call from a high-school friend named Andy Hertzfeld, who was the lead software architect for the Macintosh operating system, offering her a job."

PloS Blogs ("Diverse Perspectives on Science and Medicine", which I love, but which is unlikely to be cited here again) has a great article on Susan Kare, "the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face."

Before Susan Kare:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jason Wu at the helm of Dior? WWD says it's possible.

Photo: Alessandro Garofalo /
WWD has the story, but they also have a pay wall, so the following is via

"A source tells (WWD) that while it’s possible that talks will resume between Jacobs and Dior, LVMH president Bernard Arnault is refocusing his search on finding a designer 'whether young or mature — with a strong affinity and respect for the brand’s glamorous DNA, and a vision for taking it forward in the post-Galliano era.'

The reported candidates? Alexander Wang, Jason Wu and Raf Simons.

Of the three, Raf Simons seems like the obvious choice. I love what Alexander Wang does with his collections, but to me he seems completely wrong for Dior.

And Jason? I can't be objective about Jason because of course I taught him everything he knows, he owes it all to me, etc. But take a look at his Spring 2012 collection, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hedi Slimane in the New York Times.

Credit: Pierre Verdy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
When Dior showed the very troubled John Galliano the door, and there was so much speculation about who would replace him, I thought Hedi Slimane was the obvious choice. But unfortunately for those of us who pine for the good old days, Hedi is happily making photographs in L.A.

The Times has an article about Hedi, whom we still consider the greatest menswear designer of - at least - our era, here. And a gallery of images, here.

I don't intend to turn this space into one of those "what I wore today" style blogs. But in honor of Hedi, and for your viewing pleasure, I thought I'd share some photos of the first of my three pairs of Dior Homme jeans which I wore almost every day for 6 years or more. When they became too fragile, I replaced them with a nearly identical pair.

Just to be clear, these were dark, unwashed denim when I bought them. All signs of wear are a result of actual wear, not someone fiddling with them in some factory.
No exterior logo or label. Nothing embossed on the minimalist silver buttons. The only instance of "Dior" is debossed into the black leather interior tag.

The only "visible" logo is the millimeter-high "CD" on the tiny silver bar on the belt loop. Signature stitch detail extending from the side seam to the midpoint of the pocket. Orange stitch near center back holds the interior label in place.

Detail of the wear on the right knee (stitched back together by my tailor) and inside of right leg.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Christian Dior, Willi Smith, Donna Karan, Michael Kors and the G.I. Bill at Parsons: Images from the Kellen Archives.

Photographer: Benedict J. Fernandez, Designer: Joseph del Gaudio
As I mentioned a week agoI recently spent a blissful afternoon at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Design Archives, paging through programs for Fashion Benefit Shows from throughout Parsons' history. One result of that afternoon is the only complete list of Parsons Designers of the Year, from 1967 through 2011, here.

I also came across a wealth of truly wonderful images from Parsons' history while poring over the programs. Wendy Scheir, Jenny Swadosh and the rest of the team at the Kellen Archives were kind enough to scan some of these images so that I could share them with you here. I hope you'll enjoy them every bit as much as I have.

The 1940's

It's hard to imagine nowadays, when the vast majority of my students are young women from relatively privileged backgrounds, but a good number of Parsons students in the post-war years were veterans of WWII, studying on the G.I. Bill. This is a ticket for the Spring Dance at the Plaza, May 14th, 1948. Note the price: "Admission, including supper and tips" at the Plaza was $5.50!

The program cover for the 24th Annual Fashion Show, May 5th, 1948:

The inside cover. Note: "(O)f the students in the Costume Design Department at Parsons, nearly half are young men, many of them war veterans."

In the program above, "a plea" was made to clothing companies "to take a more active interest in the further development of young American talent for this field of design."

An article from a 1949 issue of Look makes it clear that Parsons' plea did not go unheeded, and shows that Parsons' alum had a major impact on fashion decades before Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford. An image from the article was reproduced in the program for the Parsons Fashion Critics Awards Benefit, April 30th, 1996:
Designer: Janet Levy
The 1950's

"Christian Dior, famous designer and visitor at Parsons School of Design, praises gown inspired by his 1951 collection and designed by 3rd year student George Yazbek. The gown, modeled by 2nd year student, Alda Balestretti, is an all pleated pale blue organdy plaid that flows like a thin stream from the petalled bodice."
Credit details unknown.
The 1960's

I love this invitation to the Parsons Annual Dinner & Fashion Show, May 12th, 1967:
Photographer: Benedict J. Fernandez, Designer: Joseph del Gaudio
The 1970's

And this page from program for a student and alumni fashion show featuring Willi Smith, April 27th, 1972. Note the illustration credit:
Illustrator: Michaele Vollbracht, Designer: Cipe Pineles Burtin
The 1980's

A charming photo of Donna Karan "upon first sight of her premiere collection featured in windows at Bergdorf Goodman" in 1985. From the program for Parsons Fashion Critics Awards Benefit show, May 6th, 1997. Ms. Karan was awarded the 1996 Fashion Critics Award that year:
Photographers: Arlene Collins and Matthew Septimus, Designer: Elizabeth Irwin, Creative Director: Janet Levy
The 1990's

That's Michael Kors, of course, back in 1996. (It's amazing, isn't it? He hasn't aged a bit.) In those days, Designer Critics like Mr. Kors and Ms. Karan guided students through the design process in Parsons' Advanced Design Studio classes. What a privilege that must have been.

The curriculum at Parsons has changed quite a bit since then, in ways both good and bad. But perhaps the active involvement of Designer Critics is one baby that shouldn't have been tossed with the bath water. As the program from the 1948 Fashion Show said, "by their expert counsel... they can do much to expand the accomplishments that have so distinguished American dress designers in recent years."
Photographers: Arlene Collins and Matthew Septimus, Designer: Elizabeth Irwin, Creative Director: Janet Levy
All images: Courtesy of Kellen Design Archives, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York.

Thanks to Wendy Scheir, Jenny Swadosh and the entire team at Parsons’ Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Design Archives Kellen Archives!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dear World: For the first time in decades, a list of every single Parsons Designer of the Year. (You're Welcome.)

I have reason to believe that at this moment I am the only person on the planet who could name every single Designer of the Year that Parsons School of Fashion has ever had.

The reason I’m fairly certain is that I searched online and came up with nada. And then I asked everyone at Parsons whom I thought might have a list, and no one did. So I was forced to do something that I’m told a blogger should never, ever do. That is to say, actual research.

The fabulous Fiona Dieffenbacher, our program director, beloved by all who know her, suggested that I contact the equally fabulous Wendy Scheir at Parsons’ Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Design Archives. Wendy didn't have a list either, of course, but she did know where I should look if I wanted to compile one.

Wendy and her team are extraordinary. When I showed up for my appointment last Friday, they had the 3 file boxes I would need ready and waiting for me. I spent the next few hours blissfully paging through the programs for every Parsons Fashion Benefit Show going back to 1967, which was, it seems, the first year a Designer of the Year was chosen.

I’ll have some wonderful images from the archives to share later this week, thanks to Wendy and her team. But now, without further ado -

World, I give you every single Designer of the Year in the history of Parsons School of Fashion:

2011 David Ferron (women’s), T Young Hwang (men’s), Serena Chang (children’s)

2010 Niloufar Mozafari (women’s), 
Dylan Taverner (men’s), Susan Kay (children’s)

2009 Julia Blum, Robert Fitzsimmons (women’s - a tie, not a team), Edward Lorenz Tan (men’s), Anika Gupta (boys) and Azumi Nishizawa (girls).

2008 Stephanie Suberville (women’s), Aiden Yoo (men’s), Nayeon Lee (children’s)

2007 Michelle Ochs, Boaz Eli (women’s - a tie, not a team), Soo Mok (men’s), Katie Tague (children’s) (2007 was the first year awards were given for each category.)

2006 Brandon Sun and Bijan Kazem (a team, not a tie.)

2005 Jennifer Breeden

2004 Natalia Allen

2003 Eri Mikami

2002 Lazaro Hernandez & Jack McCollough (a team, not a tie.)

2001 Kyoung Lim Kim & Esmerelda Panayotarou (a team? a tie? I'm not certain.)

2000 Tamar Magnes

1999 Marie Havens

1998 Ted Kim

1997 Jana Matheson Ingle

1996 Soo Jin Lee

1995 Doo Ri Chung

1994 Gina Napolitano

1993 Marina Shokhen

1992 Alfredo Cabrera (new friend and colleague)

1991 Robert Best

1990 Danny Gee (old friend and colleague)

1989 Dorene Benedetto

1988 Gary Markle

1987 Alex Fung & Kristin Caskey (a tie, not a team)

1986 Barbara Lill

1985 Geoffrey Gertz (dear friend and colleague)

1984 Marc Jacobs

1983 David Pfendler

1982 Peter Speliopoulos

1981 Cynthia Steffe

1980 Robert Sullivan

1979 – apparently, none awarded

1978 Michele Bartnett Woodford

1977 Frances M. Plonka

1976 Michelle  Hollingsworth

1975 Izabel Lam

1974 Donna Manchester

1973 Rosemary Brantley

1972 – apparently, none awarded

1971 Sidsel Taubo Alpert

1970 Bosha Johnson

1969 William J. Robinson

1968 Sandford Alan Slepak

1967 Francesca M. Vitiello

(Please note: Those names in bold are former students of mine. And yes, I take full credit.)

Jean-Claude Ellena in the Wall Street Journal.

The Jean-Claude Ellena section of my cologne shelf.
"For me, elegance is defined by discretion—not invading the space of your neighbor."
- Jean-Claude Ellena

The WSJ article is interesting, but if you only have time for one article about a "nose," please read this article about Ellena from the New Yorker back in March, 2005, shortly after he was named Hermès’s first in-house perfumer.