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When Solange Met Shanel

Meet the Parsons grad who designed the musician's look for the school's 2018 gala

There was a host of big winners at Parsons’ blowout gala in New York on Monday night. Headliner Solange was honored as a pioneering creative force; Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzarri and Farfetch founder José Neves both took home accolades (and offered up scholarship programs for the school); promising graduates Claudia Poh and Amy Yu Chen, Gal Yakobovitch, Sydney Loew, and William Stautberg were given awards for Social Innovation, Fashion and Technology, Future Textiles, and Creative Systems, respectively; and, of course, there was Parsons, who raised $2.26 million in scholarship funding. But no one’s prize was quite like that of Shanel Campbell, a recent Parsons MFA grad and current Parsons faculty member who, after being handpicked by Solange, dressed the star for the event.

“It was insane!” said Campbell between dinner courses. “A lot of people pull my pieces, but for me, Solange is the person. She’s the person who formed my artistry, who pushed me to be a Black woman who’s not afraid to be weird, not afraid to be creative and artistic. It’s like, if you met your idol. That’s what just happened to me.”

The emerging designer, who is hoping to stage her first solo runway show in September, caught Solange’s eye with her graduate collection, which, as Campbell told it, “was about my dad and how he did construction to put himself through law school. So it was a combination of suiting and industrial materials.” More significantly, the outing, she explained, touched upon “Black women and the Black experience and strong women. That’s why I used industrial materials.”

With that in mind, the chaps, utilitarian bandeaux top, and at once armor-like and feminine sleeves that Solange picked were fitting. While on stage, the mastermind behind 2016’s A Seat at the Table (the videos for which featured looks by a multitude of up-and-coming designers) touched upon the strong Black women who inspired her. She named Missy Elliot, Erykah Badu (both of whom sent video messages of congratulations), and Grace Jones as figures who taught her that “avant-garde was not just reserved for the women society told me it was reserved for,” and that fashion is a form of artistic- and self-expression. She also shared a tale of being ridiculed as a child in Texas for wearing flood pants, a style she picked up after a brief trip to New York. “I went back to Houston Texas, straight feelin’ myself, walkin’ into school with a little shoulder lean, head high, and them hatin’ ass kids dragged me from one hallway to the next and they asked if it was floodin’ because my pants were so high-water. And I learned then and there that I had to figure out a way in life to maintain and preserve my sense of pride when I felt good about what I did or what I represented…but the beauty that came from that was that I learned to use fashion and design and sculpture and art as a way to communicate when words could not translate the emotions and intentions I had inside—how to speak while remaining quiet…I thank you to the women I mentioned for giving me that courage.” Naturally, she finished by applauding the Parsons talents, calling out “students like Shanel Campbell, who I’m wearing tonight, who are truly continuing to shape and mold the way that we see the world.”

Her words were empowered and empowering, and Campbell, wearing a black skirt and bulletproof vest by one of her own students, Jonathan Lee, who dealt with racial stereotypes in his graduate collection, could be seen beaming as Solange addressed the crowd. Also beaming last night? The one and only Dapper Dan when Solange bid a cool $27,000 on a styling appointment and custom Gucci bomber jacket by the legend. It was a powerful evening filled with even more powerful messages. Winners all around.

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