5 Top Designers Share Their Best Career Advice

For students, graduates, and industry insiders alike, the annual Parsons Fashion Show is a momentous event each May. The presentation isn't only a chance for the immensely talented graduating class to showcase their collections to its loved ones and peers, it's a huge career opportunity, as it's helped to launch the careers of some of New York's biggest designers. Today's most noteworthy Parsons alumni include Reed Krakoff, Marc Jacobs, Prabal Gurung, and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, who met while studying at Parsons, and whose entire senior collection was purchased by Barneys New York following their thesis presentation. We spoke to a number of designers who were on hand to celebrate the Parsons graduating class — many of whom are Parsons grads themselves — who gave us their best career advice and lessons they've learned while building their own brands.

Prabal Gurung:

What's the best career advice you would give to a recent graduate?

I would say patience. Patience is the biggest virtue. And often, in the day and age we are living, you see all the great things happening to people. People always tell me, "Oh your success was overnight!" And I've paid more than ten years of dues, you know? So, I think patience and being aware of the delusion of grandeur.

Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler:

What advice would give to someone who wants to start his or her own brand?

I think if you have a vision and you really have an idea that feels individual and feels like no one else is doing it, then go for it, if that's really what you want to do. At the same time, there's a lot of other things that come along — it's not just all fun and fashion. It's business, it's creating a business. It's a lot of work.

Were there any bumps in the road that you didn't think you'd be able to come back from?

When the recession came along, that was pretty terrifying. And that year we had a really non-commercial show collection, I remember. I think we showed all jumpsuits or something… so we were terrified.

Lisa Mayock of Vena Cava:

What's the best career advice you would give to a recent graduate?

I would tell them to meet with as many people as they can and get advice. Even if it's your mom's friend's aunt who used to work at a department store — just any way you can get it, get advice from someone who has been in the industry. It's so enlightening to speak to people of different generations, that are in different parts of the industry and see what their perspectives are. You can always ignore whatever parts of it you feel like don't make sense for you, but it was so valuable just to speak to people and make those contacts.

What guidance would you give a young person who is looking to start his or her own brand?

I think it is really important to realize what your brand is. It's not about just making interesting designs, or doing really pretty illustrations. I think people who are looking to hire someone really want to see that he or she has an understanding of brands — like, big picture. Personally, the most important thing I look for when I'm hiring a designer is that they have a very specific point of view, and they have their own "thing," and they understand the way that relates to everything: whether it's the way they package their portfolio, what paper they are using, or how they format their resume.

Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs of Cushnie et Ochs:

What's the best career advice you would give to a recent graduate?

Carly: It's important, especially if you're going into a field that's specific, really spend as much time as you can interning and learning from other people. You don't even realize how much you are learning sometimes, even when you're just sitting around or running errands and doing things like that. Also, keep those contacts that you have and really nurturing relationships. Because, you know, these people can be really helpful to you later on.

Were there any bumps in the road while starting your brand that you didn't think you'd be able to come back from?

Carly: Yeah, there are always bumps in the road but there's never a point where you just totally give up. It's your brand; it's your baby. But you always end up keep going because it's something that you love.

Michelle: Also, there's always a solution. Sometimes it doesn't feel like it in that moment where it goes wrong, but there always is a solution.

Lela Rose:

What advice would give to someone who wants to start his or her own brand?

Have passion and don't take "no" for an answer. And if you don't have passion, don't do it. Because it's too difficult, and if you take "no" for an answer you will never get anywhere.

For young women who are just starting out in the workforce, do you have any workplace advice for them?

Always be professional, no matter how relaxed and kind of cool the atmosphere is. Always be professional, cause if you're not, you are not going to make it very far. People notice that very early on.

Photo Credit: Matteo Prandoni/BFAnyc.com

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