isabel simpson-kirsch based her entire graduate collection on lil b
Two summers ago, Isabel Simpson-Kirsch was sitting on a couch on the sidewalk with a group of beautiful boys, behind the Music Hall of Williamsburg, waiting for a free Flatbush Zombies show. The venue hit capacity before they reached North 6th Street...
Photography Arthur Stachurski. Ten-A-Key, Fall 2014.
Isabel's 2013 Parsons thesis collection Based, inspired by Lil B, was picked up by online retailer VFILES immediately and worn by pop princess Katy Perry. Her tie-dyed velvet bomber jackets, fishnet suede skirts, mesh crop tops and custom Timberland boots covered in Hindu-inspired digital prints of the Based God's face, became Internet lore. The young designer returned to her hometown of Nashville to show her second collection Ten-a-Key, this spring. An homage to Tennessee's early 90s rap scene. Collection highlights include green denim schoolgirl skirts hand-painted with Princess Loko and Tommy Wright III lyrics.
Keith Haring once wrote in a letter to a younger fan, "Whatever you want to do, the only secret is to believe in it and satisfy yourself. Don't do it for anyone else." Isabel achieved great success in the industry right out of school, and she did so entirely on her own terms. Now that it's been a year, we talked to Isabel about the senior thesis process, going against the grain, and why it's important to have trust in what you believe.
How did Parsons explain the importance of the senior thesis collection to you?
I'd wanted to go to Parsons since I was in 6th grade and had participated in Parsons programs since I was 15, so I felt I had a good understanding of what the senior thesis was all about before I'd even enrolled. I knew that if I even made it that far in the program, the thesis would be where I'd get to do whatever the fuck I wanted, but I'd still have to make sure it was really good! It's crazy, but it's the one thing you always have in the back of your mind throughout Parsons. It's constantly drilled into your brain. Everything that your teachers are teaching you is geared towards that end.
Why did you find Lil B a fruitful concept for such a high stakes statement about your identity as a designer?
I was coming off a really shitty year where Lil B's messages of positivity really helped me get through a lot. So at the end of that summer, I thought, "What's something I really care about, something I'm not going to get sick of after working on tirelessly for nine months straight? What's something that I can fuck with and actually believe in?" He doesn't give a fuck and just wants to spread love and happiness. That's so beautiful! That just drove me so much; if he can do this for other people, I can do this to try and express to him how much his love and creativity has affected me. I also hated school so much at that point, there was a little twinge of 'Fuck you, Parsons!' Your teachers have a lot to do with everything in art school, but especially Parsons fashion. You can get a teacher that will tell you every day, 'You shouldn't be a designer, you need to drop out or change your major now because you aren't going to make it.' Or you can get really invested instructors like some of the teachers I've had, like Max Wilson who always said, 'You're crazy but I love it, keep doing it.' Everything lined up so that the teachers I had were supportive of my energy and vision.
It seems like there might be a tendency among fashion students to produce overly cerebral collections in order to come across as "serious" designers. Were you ever made to feel unsure about the direction you'd taken?
When I would hear, 'Oh, this person's going to get into the show because they did this," I would just put my headphones in and keep working. I never played into the Parsons gossip. There was some weirdness from the administration, but my teachers just kept assuring me, 'Be yourself, Isabel. This is amazing.' And I had that attitude as well, honestly. Of my graduating class, most of us knew each other, or were at least familiar with each other's aesthetics by the end, so most people weren't even that surprised by my thesis because it's genuinely what I'm interested in. I've never been one of those designers who thinks that in order to be taken seriously you need to design in a certain way. I've always designed like this.
Why do you think there was such a response to Based?
Most people were just like, 'Damn, this girl went so hard for Lil B!' But it's because Lil B goes so hard for everyone else in terms of positivity and happiness. That's the message I wanted to help spread. And I had no idea it was going to blow up like it did; I didn't even think I'd make it into the fashion show based on what I was hearing from the administration. I didn't think any of this shit was going to happen, I just did it for Lil B, straight up.
What advice would you give to design students, or perhaps anyone looking to make their own way in the industry?
I sat in on a class at Parsons that my old professors Max and Caroline were teaching and watched those seniors scrambling over their theses. Caroline turned to me and said, "Tell them what they really need to know." I just replied, "It doesn't fucking matter," and she was just like, "Exactly everyone, listen to Isabel. It doesn't matter." Just do what you want, what you believe in. People just need to let loose and be themselves, get off that black, blue, grey tip, get away from that established Parsons aesthetic. I loved the teachers who were cool, those were the people I listened to and trusted. My motto is a quote from the Based God himself: "I don't think there is such a thing as failure as long as you're doing things you love."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Arthur Stachurski
Hair and make-up Jessica Arnholt