A Semester in New York City

Having recently completed my junior year in fashion design, I can say with certainty that it was one of the best years of my life.  After returning from a fall semester abroad in Florence,Italy during which I grew both academically and personally, I spent my winter break with family and friends, excitedly anticipating a spring semester in New York City.  Although even Europe could not prepare me for such a busy metropolitan city, after spending four months studying, working, and exploring, I feel knowledgeable and in tune with New York; as with Florence, I know that I have grown immensely academically, personally, and in my knowledge of other cultures and lifestyles.

Known to many nationally and internationally as the center of American fashion, New York was an excellent city in which to develop academically during my spring semester.  Not long after I arrived, I was able to experience the inner-workings of a professional fashion show by volunteering as a dresser for my instructor’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week show.  A diverse gathering of creative and business professionals in the fashion industry, volunteering at Fashion Week allowed me to participate in an industry event I had followed and respected for many years.  From an informational meeting at my instructor’s showroom to arriving almost three hours before the show to help set up, I was able to see first-hand the excitement, dedication, frustration, and split-second decisions that come together in producing a professional fashion show and how the satisfaction gained from displaying one’s creative views is worth every difficulty along the way.

In addition to my experience behind-the-scenes at New York Fashion Week, I was fortunate to assist in the preparation for, and garment production after, Paris Fashion Week while interning for Chado Ralph Rucci.  As the first American couture atelier since Mainbocher in the 1940s, my Chado internship was one of the highlights of my New York experience.  In addition to the long hours spent in Chado’s Soho studio helping to complete intricate details for actual runway samples, I gained invaluable knowledge from talented industry professionals on how to check and trace patterns, how to cut and cost fabric efficiently, and how to execute couture finishing and detail techniques used both at Chado and across the industry.  Although my internship required a significant time commitment during periods when any extra hours for schoolwork would have been a blessing, experiencing design from conception to production and the day-to-day life of an atelier was a unique opportunity few have, and one that I am very grateful to have had.  Actually, I am just as grateful for my busy schedule this past semester as for my internship, itself, because I learned how to juggle academic and professional commitments; as with my semester in Florence, I was faced with unconventional time constraints that I learned to work around in order to meet deadlines and criteria.  Both personally and academically, I continued to work on curbing detail-oriented, perfectionist tendencies in order to complete tasks before deadlines.

Although not on the Kent Campus, this past semester was just as busy, if not more so, than any other semester in fashion design, filled with problems to solve, multiple deadlines to meet, and a senior collection to design before the end of the year.  While projects were sometimes made more difficult from a lack of communication between Kent and New York, I am thankful to have spent my junior spring semester at Kent’s studio space on West 39th St. because, in addition to being taught by professionals currently in the fashion industry, I learned more about problem-solving in difficult situations, I learned methods of stylizing my drawings, I furthered my understanding of production by making line sheets for drawing projects, and I continued learning about how to target different consumer markets in creating and pricing my designs.

However, my learning experiences in New York were not exclusively academic; although a large part of my time was spent at my internship and on school assignments I made sure to take time to explore the city, whether alone or in a group, for my personal benefit.  Made easier by the fact that my apartment lease allowed me to stay a week after classes ended, I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art several times and saw two costume exhibits, I explored the shops and streets of Soho, Greenwich Village, and the Lower East Side, I visited Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s, I traveled to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, I visited the Central Park Zoo, I saw the Yankees play the Cleveland Indians, I attended the international Armory Show of art, I spent a day at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I explored the American Museum of Natural History, and I thoroughly enjoyed the day I spent by myself at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum before walking home down Madison Ave.  As well, I made sure to enjoy the theatrical offerings ofNew Yorkby attending a taping of the Colbert Report and performances by ABT II, the Paul Taylor Dance Company II, and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth.  From these cultural experiences, I grew closer to my classmates, engaged in self-education, and even found inspiration for future design projects.  While my academic work furthered my education in fashion design, exploring the city allowed me to experience diversity and cultural events not found in Kent in addition, and introduced me to life as a true New Yorker.

Although I experienced many different cultures during my time in New York, from the middle-eastern owners of the corner store to the Polish women hand-finishing garments at Chado, perhaps the culture I learned the most about was that of New York, itself.  Having only visited New York once before for three days during my freshman year at Kent, I prepared myself to feel as mesmerized and overwhelmed by the city as I had on my first visit; I felt like I had fallen into a black hole, only to be spit out on the other end with memories of where I had been, specifically, but with a feeling of uncertainty and confusion about the city as a whole.  Fortunately, however, as I learned upon arriving in the city, three days is not nearly enough time to understand New York as a whole, the identities of each neighborhood which make up a diverse and culturally rich city, and the rhythm of everyday life as a citizen.  Once I had settled into my apartment and was able to explore the city while going to school, at my internship, out alone, or with friends, I discovered the nuances of different sections, I saw the ability of people from all races and classes to find their place in the diverse fabric of the city, and I was able to relate to a city that had before seemed unrelatable to m­­e.  E.B. White perhaps defines the city best in this quote from Here is New York (1948):

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer…”

Discovered unexpectedly, as is New York’s custom, towards the end of my stay on a subway advertising banner, this quote describes both beautifully and realistically what makes New York desirable by so many and why I cannot wait to return.

Although this past semester required much determination, dedication, and hard work, living as a fashion design student in New York City is an experience I will always cherish and one that will definitely help me after graduation, when I will likely return to the city to work.  In addition to traveling abroad, which is a completely different experience itself, I would highly recommend studying or living in New York City because whether art, business, or medicine,New York will open your mind and change your life.

By Helen Monsarrat

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One thought on “A Semester in New York City

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