There were 250 students in the BFA fashion design class of 2022 at the New School Parsons School of Design. Having reviewed all of their portfolios online and some of them in person, it occurs to me that while a post World War II mentality is still operative in the world at large—it certainly appears to be one of the factors involved in the war on Ukraine—these students seem little interested in geopolitics. Rather, they are keen cartographers of the nebulous realms of their psyches and documenters of their personal origin stories. There’s a lot of naval-gazing and empathetic exploration of trauma and disorder among the students. Shuqing Hu, for example, created a collection around a serial killer that tries to understand what factors might have contributed to the subject’s actions.
This inwardness is sometimes expressed through spirituality. The minimal collections of Francis Bohlke and James Kaniefski seem to be informed both by the “Catholic imagination,” a subject taken up by the 2018 Costume Institute exhibition, and by a more Puritan-ish aesthetic. Other students introduced elements from Eastern beliefs like Buddhism and Korean Shamanism. The Chinese philosophy of Yijing provided the framework of Haizu Zhang’s collection, which considered the body in relationship to different elements in nature.
In a dysfunctional world, protection can be necessary, and it was the focus of Taku Yhim’s superlative collection, which referenced Samurai traditions and iconography. Yhim got deep into materiality, even “cooking” fabrics to get the desired effects. Speaking of cooking (which is a subject more and more referenced in relation to fashion), Jiayi Shao imagined her lineup as a Fashion Omakase. Not only did the garments—a “wonton set” and “pan shirt” for example—have culinary references, but she used cabbage, turmeric, and beets to dye materials. Ana Cano was also thinking about fashion in a context beyond the atelier. She worked with artisans in the Boyacá region of her native Colombia to produce the traditional textiles she used in her ruana-themed designs.
Closer to home in a literal way was Xinyu Zheng’s collection, which was inspired by windowscapes she observed and anthropomorphized. Zihan Dara Sun transformed the shape of her comfort object, a plastic doll called Po, into exaggerated and playful silhouettes. While Sun built a fantasy around a physical object, the Web offers another kind of escape. Reading the students’ thesis statements, it’s clear that they see the divide between in-person and digital becoming blurrier.