By and  on April 30, 2007

NEW YORK — And the envelope, please....The next Parsons The New School for Design Designer of the Year is on deck. Here, WWD's top three picks.

Keep an eye on these young designers: Carly Cushnie, Boaz Eli and Michelle Ochs. The three, all members of Parsons The New School for Design's class of 2007, are strong contenders for its Designer of the Year award, to be announced today at noon. The winner could follow in the footsteps of past honorees Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi or even Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the Proenza Schouler duo whose recent rapid ascent is now the stuff of legend among Parsons students.

Last Tuesday, WWD sat in as the class' eight finalists presented their senior theses — each a collection of at least six finished looks — to a panel of industry professionals including Bergdorf Goodman's Linda Fargo and Bill Blass' Michael Vollbracht. (Though not a judge, Saks Fifth Avenue's Michael Fink attended part of the program.) Ochs, Eli and Cushnie each made a distinctive, highly polished pitch that exhibited creativity and innovation without seeming indifferent to commercial realities.

For the year-long design process, each student was mentored by two professors; students were responsible for the execution of their collections from A to Z. They could outsource leather, fur, pleating, beading and knits, but sourcing everything from fabrics to factories was up to them. So, too, was securing financing. Producing these collections is extremely expensive, even though some students acquire donations of materials and labor. For example, Eli and Cushnie had embroideries done gratis by Shameeza; Cushnie also received some fabric from Oscar de la Renta, for whom she interned. She says she gave her parents an original estimate of between $5,000 and $10,000, "but eventually, I stopped keeping track." Eli's collection cost about $10,000. Ochs, meanwhile, used mink donated by the Hong Kong Fur Federation for a coat she must return after her show. Despite the freebie, she says she spent about $25,000 on her collection.

With no budget cap, those students whose families are able to shell out such substantial cash seem to have a clear advantage. (WWD will take a look at the financial challenges design students face at a later date.) Nevertheless, the excellent work featured here is more than well-executed — it flaunts talent, sophistication and confidence. In fact, items from each lineup look as if they could settle right into the designer selling floor, which, despite its challenges and saturation of merchandise, is where this trio of hopefuls aims to land. To that end, the three collections in tandem display an almost peculiar lack of whimsy, even if Eli's feels a bit younger that the other two.

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