Because an education is never finished, we spoke with Simon Collins–former Dean of Parsons School of Design–to talk fashion, fads, and the ever-present role of technology in business today. See what he has to say below.
Launchmetrics: Globally, is there an emerging market you think we [as a fashion community] should be paying more attention to?
SC: We are all very well aware of the Chinese market—there are a great number of cities there with more than 10 million people in them.
There are also cities in the US—places like Dallas and Chicago with people passionate about fashion that aren’t being fully served. The fashion market needs to expand to meet their needs; we [as an industry] think we’ve matured, but we haven’t.
Launchmetrics: Menswear is a booming market, no? What was the most exciting thing about the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men’s?
SC: I think menswear is really, really hard and this is said as a person who has spent most of his career as a menswear designer. I’m a big fan of Siki Im as a designer, but that’s a specific niche market. I’m also interested in ideas that extend much wider. A good example is Thom Browne pushing the shorter trouser…now every major menswear retailer is selling trousers that aren’t 3-inches too long. I find that exciting! To me, the two most important things for the future of fashion are sustainability and technology, so I’m always looking for how they are reflected.
Launchmetrics: Speaking of technology, has the digital age shifted your personal way of thinking/working?
SC: Yes, of course. Via the smartphone, I now know everything I need to know immediately, which is quite useful. Today, I can prove points more effectively than ever. Now, I can look things up, show examples—in essence, I can make my points more compelling. I can back up my arguments more effectively, as opposed to relying on persuasion.
Technology hasn’t shifted the core of what I or any other creative person does. In fact, coming up with an original idea can be harder today because there is such an influx of information.
Launchmetrics: This influx of information you speak of—so much of it can be found on the Internet that some prospective students may feel the need to forego training at a college-level. Is formal education still important in today’s technological age?
SC: Yes, it is. But there are many brilliant creatives that didn’t go to college. Formal training definitely helps and studying is not just about the coursework; it’s about learning from the people in those classrooms with you. You can learn a lot from sitting at a computer, but it’s tough to take the place of an on-site education. What’s special about a school like Parson’s is that it’s located in New York City and that’s where you [as a young designer] want to be!
Launchmetrics: As the Dean of Parsons School of Fashion for several years, in what ways did technology shift the way in which students designed or thought about how they would launch their careers as young designers from the time you started onward?
SC: In 2008 when I started at Parsons, all fashion students were required to use Parson’s Paper and to use gouache paint to create a specific number of croquis for each project. By the time I left, they could design on the iPad, drape on the form, make video presentations or propose entirely new ways of working.
Launchmetrics: As someone who’s advised many students, you also act as a creative advisor for many successful businesses. What makes for a good business model today?
SC: First things first, I only work for companies where I like their attitude. I don’t work with companies that are too confident and not willing to embrace the idea of learning something.
Smart companies will embrace design thinking. I say design thinking in the sense that it’s not just drawing nice pictures. It’s about designing everything you’re doing—designing your spreadsheets, the way you’re messaging, your office layout.
Launchmetrics: I like that idea of design thinking. Have you informed students or businesses to entwine technology into this idea?
SC: Yes, unequivocally! In all areas: production, creativity, distribution, marketing, promotion, social, etc. But remember, technology is just a tool, not the answer. Just like a hammer is a tool. Some think that if they do a beautiful presentation, then that’s all they need to do. But if the idea sucks, it will continue to suck no matter how beautifully presented it is.
Launchmetrics: We’ve seen designers like Dolce & Gabbana create gold Motorola Razr phones in the early 2000s, and Lagerfeld design an iPhone case in the shape of the iconic Chanel No. 5 bottle. Would you say that fashion can’t survive without embracing tech to some extent? Or do you think such designers are merely commentating and capitalizing on the changing times?
SC: Lagerfeld wanted to design [the Chanel No.5 bottle iPhone case], so why not? It’s hard to imagine any industry surviving without technology these days.