Fearless Parsons Pupils Learn From the Best: Never Mind Industry Turmoil! Be Creative! Avoid Embarrassing Clothes!

The actress Eva Mendes arrived at Parsons the New School for Design 2009 Fashion Benefit at Cipriani Wall Street on Wednesday, April 29, in one of Calvin Klein‘s charcoal, minimalist dresses from the fall 2009 collection. Someone in the crowd had yelled out that they liked it. And Ms. Mendes, brushing a strand of hair away from her face and producing a playful wink over her left shoulder, said, “Thanks! I made it myself.”

Ms. Mendes had come to support her dear friend, Calvin Klein women’s wear designer Francisco Costa, who was receiving an award that evening from the design school along with CK CEO Tom Murry and New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn.

“He’s not only a very kind soul, which is very important to me, but he’s also very good at what he does. He always makes me feel like I’m wearing a piece of sculpture. Like this,” said Ms. Mendes, tugging at the side of her dress to show off the unusual texture and shape. “It’s so feminine but it’s also such a great little piece of architecture.” (Ms. Mendes will be wearing one of Mr. Costa’s creations to the Met Costume Gala on Monday, May 4.)

Ms. Mendes said she never had an interest in attending design school herself. In fact, she said she dropped out of college to pursue acting. “I just don’t like saying that because I don’t like other kids to get encouraged by that,” she said. “It just worked out for me, but stay in school, kids!”

Mr. Costa was optimistic when the Daily Transom asked him to offer some advice to design students coming out of school this spring into a fashion industry plagued by folding fashion labels and poor sales

“I hope they’ll be better than me!” he joked.  “My advice is very basic—it’s being creative in the best sense. That’s the greatest part about being a designer or being in a creative field because you can really manage the situation a little more freely, in a more fun way. We have an advantage because we’re working in a creative business and designers have antennas on, they’re connected to how people live and what they wear. My advice is just to keep that going.”

The designer was coy when asked whom else he may be dressing in addition to Ms. Mendes come Monday. “We have a couple of people,” he said.

Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo was also not too worried for today’s young talent. “I might worry if my dream is to be a huge finance guy right now, but the world always needs beauty and creativity,” she told the Daily Transom.

Parsons fashion dean Simon Collins said that his graduating students may actually have an advantage graduating at a time like this.

“I find them incredibly optimistic,” he said. “They are smarter than ever and they know they have to be. They’ve seen which companies are falling and which are staying stronger, so they’re trying to understand what keeps them strong and they’re trying to adapt that themselves.”

Phat Farm’s Russell Simmons, who arrived with his girlfriend, model Julie Henderson, also seemed to have some helpful advice.

“A level of fearlessness is the most important thing for people so bent on achieving that next thing. You have to enjoy the process,” said Mr. Simmons.

The rap mogul did not attend design school, but he said that so many of his executives have that he didn’t really need to. Still, the Daily Transom wondered if Mr. Simmons made any clothing when he was just starting out that he would be embarrassed to show now.

“I actually make embarrassing clothes every season,” he said. “Especially in my new Argyle collection. I’m reviewing it now and we’ve edited some of it. I saw some stuff when the samples came back and I was embarrassed that I made it. We had these puffy vests but they’re made out of a seersucker. They’re very light, but I think we just used the wrong fabrics.”

Nearby, all the attention seemed to be turning on an odd foursome that had arrived minutes before the actual dinner and fashion show was about to begin: the socialite Olivia Palermo, Gossip Girl actress Amanda Setton, and Marc Jacobs and his boyfriend, Lorenzo Martone. And even as it was time for everyone to take their seats, the masses of flashing bulbs and eager onlookers hoping to meet Mr. Jacobs seemed to put fashion students, faculty and guests into a giddy mood. 

Fearless Parsons Pupils Learn From the Best: Never Mind Industry Turmoil! Be Creative! Avoid Embarrassing Clothes!