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Parsons School of Design fashion critic direction audio recordings

Identifier: PC-07-02-01


A collection of approximately thirty discrete audio recordings documenting designer critic sessions in the Fashion Design Department of Parsons School of Design. Designer critics include Parsons School of Design alumni, such as Adri, Jeffrey Banks, Donald Brooks, Louis Dell'Olio, Isaac Mizrahi, Charlotte Neuville, and Tracy Reese, as well as frequent visitors Stan Herman and Gloria Sachs and longtime faculty members Frank Rizzo and Marie Essex.

The recordings were made during the fall semesters of 1994 and 1995, averaging eighteen minutes in duration each, resulting in a total of over eight hours of audio.


  • 1990 - 1999
  • Majority of material found within 1994 - 1995



15 1/4 inch Audio Cassette (08:13:38 duration)

Scope and Contents

The audio recordings comprising this collection were created over the course of two consecutive fall semesters at Parsons School of Design. The recordings consist of established fashion designers -- many Parsons School of Design alumni -- introducing themselves to groups of Fashion Design seniors and proposing projects, known as "concepts," to the students as part of Parsons' “Critic Direction” program. The students then ask questions about the projects in order to select the "designer critic" with whom they would like to work. In addition to designers and students, Fashion Design Department Chair Frank Rizzo and professor Marie Essex can be heard in the recordings, often in the role of moderator. It is likely that the sessions occurred in the former Parsons Fashion Education Center, located at 560 Seventh Avenue in New York's Garment District.

Designer critic introductions vary depending on the approach of the designer. Some critics provide extensive biographical information, while others immediately start to describe their concept or theme for the year's project. Some concepts are open-ended, while others restrict students to designing for specific seasons, color palettes, apparel categories (e.g., evening wear, menswear), and/or creating new designs inspired by earlier fashion designers' work. Some critics focus on technical advice, such as how to create certain silhouettes, or how certain fabrics can be used. Others explain what sets their projects apart and why students might benefit from working with them. Many of the recordings include question and answer sessions in which students and professors ask the designer critics to elaborate on their ideas, or seek general career and design advice.

The designer critic program created an opportunity for students to learn from and create garments under the guidance of successful fashion designers. Students worked with these designers to conceptualize, design, and produce an outfit throughout the semester. The culmination of the program was a fashion runway show featuring the students' work, with the work available for sale at the event. With three exceptions, each recording has been matched to a collection identified in the printed fashion show programs (available in the New School Archives).The recordings indicate that designer critics worked with students throughout all phases of the design process (e.g., looking at design sketches, fabric choices, and the construction process). It is unclear from the recordings how often the designer critics and their group of students actually met. However, it is evident that some of the recordings were made on the same day in the same classroom, giving the impression that designer critic presentations often happened in quick succession over the course of several days or a week. Not every designer critic who participated in the program is captured in a recording.

Recordings are an average of eighteen minutes in duration, with some lasting no more than five minutes and others spanning a half hour. The microphone or the recorder placement appears to have been next to the designer critic. Student voices are often faint or inaudible, although the microphone does pick up student conversations during a few critic sessions. None of the students are identified by name. Sound quality is inconsistent between recordings. Some are clear, while others exhibit considerable static. No audio clean up has been performed on these recordings, nor have transcripts been commissioned.

Language of Materials

All recordings are in English, except for the Véronique Nichanian critic session, which is in English and in French.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Researchers must use digital access copies. Access to audiocassettes is restricted for reasons of preservation.

Use Restrictions

To publish all or part of any recording from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Historical Note

The Fashion Design Department (now, School of Fashion) of Parsons School of Design supported an annual program in which student designers were matched with established fashion designers to produce designs for the annual fashion show, held in May. Documentation exists indicating that this program dates back to the late 1940s. The established designers were referred to as "visiting critics" or "designer critics." Each designer critic selected one student to receive an award at the fashion show in the designer's name, e.g. "the Donald Brooks Award." In 1994, it appears that the department leadership altered the arrangement to allow students to select the designer critic with whom they would like to work.

Frank Rizzo, whose voice can be heard in a number of recordings, served as chair of the Fashion Design Department from 1982 until 1996. He began attending Parsons School of Design in 1955 after military service during the Korean War, during which he studied textile design in Japan. He graduated from the Fashion Design Department in 1958. After a decade of professional designing at labels such as Jablow, Hannah Troy, and Ceil Chapman, Rizzo founded his own boutique in Midtown Manhattan in 1960. In 1966, Rizzo returned to Parsons as a member of the Fashion Design Department, and in 1982 was promoted to chairman following the retirement of Ann Keagy. Rizzo died in 2016.

Marie Essex, who can also be heard in the recordings, began teaching at Parsons in 1970, and became Chair of the Fashion Design Department following Frank Rizzo's retirement. A 1958 graduate of Parsons School of Design and New York University through the schools' affiliation, Essex also studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She worked as a professional fashion illustrator before becoming a full-time faculty member. Essex died in 2001.

Organization and Arrangement

Recordings are organized by year and within each year are arranged alphabetically by critic.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The immediate source of acquisition is presently unknown.

Existence and Location of Copies

All recordings comprising this collection have been converted to digital audio files (29 files in total) for researcher access. No transcriptions have been made.

Related Materials

The Parsons School of Design Fashion Design Department records (pre-2008 accessions) (PC.02.02.01) contain programs and other materials documenting the annual fashion show, which were employed in the identification of these recordings. Additionally, "Award Boards" from the 1996 fashion show, representing the culmination of the Fall 1995 critic sessions, are also in this record group. Award Boards for the 1995 fashion show have not been located.

Guide to the Parsons School of Design fashion critic direction audio recordings
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
January 22, 2015
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