by Kristen Bateman
Just last year, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum named Behnaz Sarafpour as the recipient of its prestigious National Design Award in the category of fashion. As a Parsons grad, it was no big surprise that she won – with her innovative textiles, feminine cuts and careful consideration of materials. Prior to launching her own line in 2001, she worked with other Parsons alumni such as Narciso Rodriguez and Isaac Mizrahi. Below, we talk to Behnaz about her school days, collaboration and the future of fashion.
Kristen Bateman: What initially brought you to Parsons?
Behnaz Sarafpour: I came to go to summer school with a friend who was modeling in New York at the time.
KB: What advice do you have for current students on making the best of their time at Parsons?
BS: Learn as much as possible, look around you, take advantage of all the resources of the school and the city.
KB: Can you talk about how working with other Parsons alumni like Narciso Rodriguez and Isaac Mizrahi before you launched your own line influenced your work?
BS: I have learned something different from each person I worked with. I worked for Narciso when I was still in school and working on my portfolio. He was an amazing illustrator and I learned a lot from watching him draw. From Isaac, I learned a lot about putting a runway show together, and how to tell a story with the line up.
KB: What’s the secret to finding your own aesthetic as a fashion designer?
BS: A lot of soul searching and thinking before you present. Today, branding has become more important that ever before. You are expected to be very clear about what you stand for.
KB: You’ve collaborated with huge companies such as Earnest Sewn, Lancome, Target and more. What advice do you have for designer collaboration? In collaborations like these, how much freedom do you have?
BS: The freedom is something you negotiate in your contract before you take the work. Its important for a designer to ok with the product they lend their name to. Although the contracts can be very lucrative, you have to feel it’s worth it for you in the long run.
KB: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from creating your own line?
BS: Talent can take you very far, but not as far as you can go with a great business mind behind you.
KB: What inspires you?
BS: I look at everything I can. There aren’t enough hours in the day to look at as many things as I would like.
KB: What was your first fashion show like?
BS: It was a presentation at Gavin Brown’s art gallery on the west side. It was very small and there was a DJ. I always preferred showing in that kind of setting to traditional runway formats.
KB: Your Spring ’13 collection was completely produced in NYC, and you also tend to work a lot with organic materials. Do you think there’s a future for organic, made-in-USA fashion at a high-end level?
BS: I have always produced most of my work in NYC, because of the convenience and speed that you can have by working with locals. I really do just a little organics, not as much as I would like. At the moment there are not too many organic fabrics that are fine enough to work in a luxury designer collection. I hope more fabric mills will get into developing organics in a serious way.
KB: How much do you still use Parsons as a resource?
BS: Parsons is the first place I call when I need to hire someone creative.