Interviewing Parsons Peers and Alums, Derek Lam and Jenna Lyons
As the murmur of excited students and eager alumni quieted, and the lights died down at auditorium on the corner of 40thand Fashion Avenue, the reality that two successful Parsons alumni, Derek Lam and Jenna Lyons, were going to be heard at the bi-annual Alumni Interviews, finally began to sink in. Students, fashion industry specialists, press and staff gathered on a Friday night to hear two old friends speak about what they believe makes one successful in this crazy, yet wonderful, industry of fashion. Both Derek and Jenna are graduates of the class of 1990, and both have made significant names for themselves.
Derek Lam began his eponymous and globally recognized brand eight years ago after working for Michael Kors and then abroad in Hong Kong. Jenna Lyons has worked her way from the bottom of the food chain at J. Crew to the very top, and is now at the helm of their creative team as Creative Director and J.Crew President.
The discussion, led by Parson’s own Dean of Fashion, Simon Collins, focused on what current students could do to land their dream jobs and how Parsons helped Derek and Jenna shine amid the powerful throngs of the competitive business. The atmosphere was playful and fun, given that the two were lifelong friends and comrades (she boasting the consistency of runway tickets to his shows, and he praising her as an inspiration attributed to her undying love of fashion). Both had much advice to give to aspiring fashion students, peppered with endearing and relatable anecdotes about their time at Parsons. In fact, Jenna even admitted that upon entering the Parsons building she was hit with a wave of anxiety because it brought back so many memories of sweatpants worn four days in a row, struggling to finish projects, and worrying about how she would pay her rent on time.
Jenna looked back fondly at meeting Derek, who she called Parsons’ Golden Child. “I’ll never forget the day that Derek walked into class with his perfect pair of chinos and a chic custom-made leather jacket. And I was a train wreck… I learned so much here in New York City.” Derek rolled his eyes, retorting with “Was it custom-made?” She pointed and smiled at his perfect outfit consisting of a crisp button up, perfectly placed tie, and laid-back cardigan.
The two stressed how important internships are. Derek’s biggest opportunity came while interning at Michael Kors; upon graduation Kors himself offered Lam a position with the company. Jenna’s internship at Donna Karan Collection, although lucrative and promising, made her realize that her role in fashion was to be a part of a creative process , designing clothing for women who can afford it. Hence, her eventual start as a knitwear designer at J.Crew three months after graduation.
Perhaps the most important take away from Friday night was hearing about the transformation of Derek and Jenna from the all-too-familiar position as inquisitive students and job-seekers into two confident individuals leading their respective companies, and manifesting their design visions based on the same lessons we are currently learning. Jenna stressed getting one’s foot in the door with an entry level position if it means happiness in the long run, while Derek plead the case for projecting what one wants in broader terms, because despite the competitive nature of the industry, the community is actually very supportive. ”Sometimes we get nervous about our design and making it unique, but it’s not about being lazy… it’s about being thoughtful.” says Derek. “I didn’t know what I wanted and I still don’t. There are so many facets to this industry.” Both also stressed the seriously powerful reputation Parsons has in the fashion world – Jenna says that she will immediately jump a candidate to the interview process simply based on the fact that they are a Parsons student or graduate, while Derek always knows that the Parsons student is not “gonna flake.” The two left us with their own advice for when you “hit a dry spot”, as Simon put it. Jenna says she goes back to her team at the beginning of every season, in order to feed off the ideas that another person might have – “always go back to teamwork… I can’t do it without them” – while Derek, ever so true to his temperament, emphasizes to “go back to the beginning and to simplicity whenever you are lost.” Thank you, Derek and Jenna, for seriously showing that hard work and passion pays off.
–Julia Stengel, AAS Fashion Marketing
Check out press coverage on Style.com here: Derek Lam’s Plan B?
Related Posts by Fashion Publishing.