By  on February 4, 2010

NEW YORK — When Donna Karan takes to the stage at Parsons The New School for Design tonight, chances are she will discuss the increasing need for students to look beyond design and consider broader issues in their fashion careers.

Tonight’s event serves to mark the September launch of Parsons’ Master of Fine Arts program in Fashion Design and Society, which Karan initiated, and the Master’s Degree in Fashion Studies. Both serve to offer students new approaches to the field that are interdisciplinary to help them better understand the new global marketplace.

“These new degree programs represent our school’s commitment to provide talented fashion students with the professional training and contextual understanding they need in order to excel today and in the future,”said Parsons dean Joel Towers.

The studio-based M.F.A. in Fashion Design and Society aims to develop the next generation of industry leaders, and the two-year program will incorporate such areas as photography, film, critical theory and research. The program is based in the School of Fashion at Parsons but will interface with others departments at Parsons and The New School to give students an ability to learn about other disciplines as well.

“Today, it is not enough for designers to possess strong design talent,” said Karan, a Parsons alum. “In order to succeed, you need a singular creative vision as well as a strong understanding of the economic, social, technological and cultural issues that influence fashion. The M.F.A. in Fashion Design and Society program was established to give young designers these advanced skills — no school is better positioned than Parsons to provide this holistic approach to design education.”

Shelley Fox, the Donna Karan Professor of Fashion at Parsons, concurred: “It’s really important to have design students placed within that spectrum to think in different ways, not just about the making of clothes but also about why you are making them.

“There is a necessity of having to think about the bigger picture, to be broad, to have the confidence and understanding that it’s important to do more than just design a dress.”

As a result of a gift from Diane von Furstenberg, Parsons is establishing a scholarship program for this M.F.A. The scholarship was created withadditional support from the estates of Parsons alumni Richard Obus and Stephen W. Mason.

“Parsons’ new M.F.A. in Fashion Design and Society will offer talented young designers a multifaceted perspective on the industry that is essential to compete in today’s challenging environment,” von Furstenberg said.

“As a long-standing supporter of young talent, I funded this scholarship so that designers, no matter what their means, could benefit from this program,” she added.

The M.A. in Fashion Studies, meanwhile, takes a more theoretical, academic approach, targeting future scholars who seek to study fashion as an analysis of object, image, identity, history and culture. It is based at Parsons’ School of Art and Design History and Theory.

“We see a growing interest in fashion studies as something key to identities in a wide sense,” said Heike Jenss, the director of the M.A. in Fashion Studies. “It takes a broader dimension in light of globalization.”

To mark the new programs, Parsons is presenting “Workwear,” an exhibit at the school’s Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, from Feb. 8 to March 5. The show explores the legacy of workwear, including a video installation of Karan’s seven easy pieces, a new film by fashion label Bouddicca and a boilersuit by London’s Norton & Sons tailors.

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