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The Graduates

Fresh out of Parsons, designers Natalia, Ashleigh, Colette, and Ian have the ambition—and what’s left of summer—to make sure theirs are the names on the label someday.


A few years ago, Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys, saw the thesis collection of two sweet-faced Parsons seniors named Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez. It was called Proenza Schouler, and she bought it on the spot, forever raising the stakes for the city’s students of fashion.

Now, when seniors tell Tim Gunn, the director of the Parsons fashion program, that they’re considering a summer in Europe or some lazy days at the beach, he tells them no. “They’ve got to get out there and brand themselves now,” he says. “The industry likes its talent fresh. You’re like a new car, and they want to still be able to smell the vinyl.”

Curious about the shiny examples in the 2004 Parsons lot, we tracked four of its most promising new graduates in these critical months. Whether they’re trying to sell Mormon wedding gowns or zippered leather bumsters, they all want the same thing: fame. On their terms.

Colette Komm, 22
Muse: Rachel Thurston, Designer's Church Friend  

Colette Komm
The Latter-Day Saint

Most of the wall space in Colette Komm’s tiny Upper West Side studio is obstructed by wedding gowns. She designed three of them to the chaste specs—high necks, long sleeves—of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, of which she is a devoted member. All of Komm’s dresses are handmade and exquisite and crafty: stiff meringue peaks, neatly trimmed layers, covered buttons, and pleated bustles.

They were her thesis and earned her a degree, with a Gold Thimble award, in May. They were also a chance to show her classmates, with whom she didn’t exactly click, what she’s all about. “The most important thing about me is my faith,” says the 23-year-old. It’s always bothered her that women on MTV dress “like whores,” and she was similarly unimpressed by a lot of what she saw at Parsons. “In fashion school, everyone wants to show skin. I was taught to dress modestly.”

And so, wedding dresses. Since graduation, there’s already been a visit from Mindy Woon, head bridal buyer at Bergdorf Goodman—who suggested the gowns could retail for $4,000 to $10,000. It’s a great prospect, if only Komm were interested in committing to bridal. “This,” she says somberly, fingering a chiffon petal dress, “has got to go on Nicole Kidman for the Oscars.”

Komm would need an investment of $70,000 to start her own couture company. Her second choice is a job at Carolina Herrera, her favorite New York house. On a steamy August day, she landed an interview with Herrera’s design director, Hervé Pierre. He gave her lots of advice, charmed her like crazy. But still, no job. “I’ve never wanted to kill someone before,” she confesses, “but walking home I was like, Dang it! I wish that someone there would magically disappear.”

Natalia Allen, 21
Muse: Stacie Papanikolas, Model  

Natalia Allen
The Futurist

Basically, I’m my own company,” says Natalia Allen, who’s already fully incorporated and rushing between assorted jobs that involve elaborate non-disclosure agreements, closed-door midtown meetings, and cryptic “business trips” to the West Coast. “A lot of the stuff I work on is inventions that don’t exist,” she explains from her office in a Murray Hill townhouse.

What she will say is this: Right now, she’s working as a design and technology consultant and about to become the creative director for a “high-end performance and technology” apparel company.

Allen has a beachy Afro and dresses simply: dark solid colors, flip-flops. After she smiles, she’ll switch immediately back to serious. Though she shared the Designer of the Year mantle with sweetly traditional Ashleigh Verrier in May, Allen’s aesthetic is futuristic and linear. In her thesis collection, the merger of tech, sports, and fashion took the shape of layers upon layers of razor-cut swimsuits and shiny stirruped leggings—not unlike recent collections by Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga, except that Allen accessorized with digital surfboards. Now what she really wants is a backer.

When Allen is late to meet me one morning, she calls ahead, speaking vaguely of a development meeting with a big midwestern chain.

She calls a week later. “I have a backer,” she says calmly. So can we expect WiFi-rigged anoraks and digital trousers for fall? “It’s idealistic,” she says, “perfect synergy. We will be moving forward.”

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