Looking to break into a new career in the fashion world, Parsons Summer Intensive Studies student Liam Ellmann shares his personal experience as a designer, from his creative influences, involvement in the program, and advice for others looking to pursue a similar path.
1. What was it that made you decide on the Parsons Summer Intensive Studies Fashion program?
I decided on Parsons Summer Intensive studies in Fashion when I knew I wanted to switch careers. Before this, I had studied Neuroscience and had been working at a hospital for about a year. I knew the job was leaving me drained. I had no outlet to be creative and no balance in my life. I tried a few things - UX design, Animation, Coding - in the end, I latched onto Fashion. I had also studied theater in school and there is something very celebratory and performative that both the theater and fashion worlds share.
I had been interested in fashion since I was young, often tearfully rejecting the pre-school outfit my parents had laid out for me because I wanted to wear things my way. I’ve always been very headstrong about what I thought looked good and how I wanted to present myself.
I knew I needed a more formalized education to get into the fashion industry and decided on Parsons because I admire a lot of the alumni that I had stumbled upon on social media. As you see their posts, you pick up tidbits of their curated selves. There was a stylist and designer who I follow, Jake Levy, who has been doing a lot of wonderful creative things for a long time—EVEN THOUGH HE’S SO YOUNG—and I somehow discovered that he had gone to Parsons.
I also have been thinking about moving to New York for a long time and being in the city for this program was a good trial run.
2. What valuable insights are you able to take away from your time in the course?
Everything was valuable because I learned something about myself each time. If I succeeded, that was great, but if I failed, that was equally great. The more at-bats I took, the better I would become. Even when I tend to approach things in a different way, that doesn’t discourage me.
I was inspired by my classmates and they were a great resource that I leaned on. I met a lot of really cool people during the program. I’m actually going to visit a classmate in Toronto because she is putting together a fashion show with local talent and artists. I’m really excited to see what’s going on over there.
3. What are some of your professional endeavors and personal hobbies, and how do they contribute to reaching your overall goals?
I think of myself as an entrepreneur. I work in retail as a merchandiser at Nordstrom. I spend a lot of time on the internet, particularly YouTube. I enjoy sewing as a hobby, and I’m trying to get into embroidery. I like looking through fashion magazines, and I like listening to audiobooks—I’m currently taking an audible class on the life of the Ancient Israelis.
I think the greater breadth of interests I have, the more adaptable I am as a designer. I do believe you take in information and your brain likes to chew on it and then suddenly or slowly, churn it back out into your thoughts and ultimately into your work.
Eventually I want to begin creating and selling my garments and accessories. Making one-offs/couture has a lot of appeal to me at the moment. I think it leaves me with adaptability and I can scale depending on others’ interest in my work.
4. What are you hoping to do with the skills you’re learning in this program and how do you think this course will further your goals?
I hope to pick something up everyday, whether it’s learning about invisible zippers or properly marking things like seam allowance—these were pretty alien to me before. It’s a lot to absorb but it’s also exciting and playful.
Learning something new takes a lot of trial and error. Throughout school I have adopted this mentality that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of from failure. If I get incrementally better each time, I will be happy with the way things turn out. I’m doing this for me, and I don’t care about it being ‘good’—not yet. When pressure is kept low, I can bring out a more creative side. I learn to riff off of these mistakes, and it often leads me into wild places where I myself don’t know exactly what the thought process was to get there.
Without any understanding of how to make clothing, I wouldn’t know where to begin in doing something a little more cutting-edge. I think the class was exactly what I needed. I had done a few designs from patterns, but my professor really wanted me to make my own patterns and not let things limit my end result. I really value him for teaching me this. It was this very purposeful, active mentality, where now I know that when I’ve got an idea, I can bring it to life.
5. What advice can you give to another student in the fashion industry thinking of pursuing education for this field?
Draw inspiration from everything in life, but try not to look over your shoulder and think about how everyone’s work is much better than yours. By doing this, you aren’t respecting your way of processing the world or embracing your way of doing things. I try not to fall into that trap, otherwise I don’t think I’m being true to myself. This can bring in a lot of pressure and anxiety that could find its way into what you’re working on, and you risk sabotaging your own ideas before they are fully formed.
I think if you’re at Parsons, you are an interested, curious person. Let that guide you. Some things you will notice just by being in close proximity with your classmates. When that happens, take a walk and sit outside and draw in some new inspiration to marry with an earlier idea of yours.
6. Who are you inspired by? Who are some designers you like?
I love the cult designers, older Margiela stuff and weird cyphers. I also love everything about what Iris Van Herpen is doing with 3D printers. I think she’s boldly exploring what comes next, at least manufacturing-wise. I would love to do something strange and bold. I really would love to incorporate 3D printing in my own work.
I also feel that what Hayao Miyazaki creates is awe-inspiring. I think he’s the ultimate and should be respected across any creative industry. He’s so specific and sharp and able to create these lush fantasies, which I admire. He also isolates himself while he works long hours, and keeps rivalries with other animators in his creative nucleus--either as mentors or former students. There’s no real bad blood going on but he bounces ideas off of them. He is habitual about everything he does and there is something so romantic about that. I myself work in little moments of clarity or small sessions after a lot of thought, so I admire and emulate just how tirelessly he works on his projects, hour after hour, really only stopping for lunch and to pick up trash every evening at a local park. He lives in a disciplined but balanced way.
From all of the designers and artists that I admire, I just want to absorb and create from the exposure to their work.
Written by Casey O'Connell.