Megan Wilson goes back to school.
Your first time is always memorable but not always special. No matter what, every new experience is an opportunity for growing as an individual and learning something new. I was a whole mixed bag emotions for my first day of the PENSOLE program at Parsons – the above photo pretty much sums up how I was feeling that day and honestly, most of my first week. My biggest concern on day number one of PENSOLE was whether or not I would make it to class on time. My biggest hurdle when it comes to my professional skills is my ability to manage my time, or rather my ineptidude in this area. Thankfully I got up with plenty of time to get ready for my first day of school and rode the L-Train down to Union Square, just steps from Parsons.
I wore an Alexander Wang chambray and silk dress, my Burberry trench coat, lace tights and my Jordan V Wolf Grey’s – my first (but not last) sneaker pick up of my American relocation. Unfortunately, I was still breaking in the new kicks so my skinny ankle was cut up and I had to give them the bleach pen and band-aid treatment during lunch. The PENSOLE program is part of the greater summer intensive studies at Parsons, the largest college within the New School university. Orientation was held not in a campus building but in a Presbyterian church on Fifth Avenue close to the main Greenwich Village campus. It was kind of ominous and grand as though being a student at Parsons is truly like a new part of your history. It was exciting to see so many of my fellow summer students came from other countries and it really hit home what a prestigious and well-known institution Parsons is but also, how everyone really does want to be in New York. Who wouldn’t? As our campus advisors discussed things like student cards and campus life, I was scanning the aisles trying to guess who would be my twenty-two other classmates. Naturally, I went straight to the feet – but there wasn’t a whole lot of heat going on. I saw one person wearing a pair of Jordan Spiz’ikes – he ended up being my classmate and new friend. It was funny how once the fashion students left for the Midtown campus, a large chunk of the females were gone. Orientation was short and we had about two hours before our first class would begin at 1pm.
I used the time to look for the Michael Jordan book, “Driven from Within”. Brett Golliff wrote in his “Design Insight” column about how instrumental and insightful the book is for shoe designers and footwear fans. I went to Strand Books, an amazing bookstore on Broadway, and grabbed the MJ book (which includes information on the Jordan XI’s and Tinker Hatfield sketches) as well as “When the Game Was Ours” – the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson book. After necessary caffeineation (I’m already a regular at the local Starbucks), it was off to class.
My initial reaction upon arriving in class was, as I expected, that I was one of the older students – thank heavens I look young. Our instructor, D’Wayne Edwards, gave us his personal background as well as information on the course and some fun stories that can only be heard if you take the class. (I promised!) Listening to D’Wayne’s story of how he came from being a sneakerhead at McDonald’s in Inglewood, California to an entry-level designer at LA Gear straight out of high school without a degree in industrial design was inspiring for so many reasons. D’Wayne is proof that hard work pays off and that sometimes, a degree can’t teach you everything. My background in design is anything but traditional so hearing that the designer of the Air Jordan XXI, XXII, most of the Melo line and now our teacher and Nike consultant didn’t take the same path as many of my extremely talented classmates took was helpful and calming. As D’Wayne lectured to our class, some samples of his work was passed around class which was really neat as it’s like holding someone’s history in your hands. I was somewhat surprised when D’Wayne told us that we would only be using pencils and no colour or computers in our sketches, the emphasis would be on the basics and the full design process, more than just a pretty rendering. I’m sure some students are a bit upset that they can’t flex their design muscles but I’m relived that I’ll be building the foundation in my tactile skills before trying to get fancy.
After our introduction to the class, as well as to Sean Williams from Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, our “Solecial Studies” lecturer, and Pedro Sanchez, D’Wayne’s right hand man, it was our time to talk. Anyone who knows me in real life, can attest that no matter how much enthusiasm and general geekery over the field of sports and fashion is only a small indication of energy in real life. Whenever I’ve come to New York, I’ve felt like myself but better. The pulse in all five boroughs pushes me to be the best version of myself. I’m naturally chatty and my background in broadcasting has taught me how to talk and engage people, but in New York, it’s even more intense. Luckily, D’Wayne prescribes to the old adage of “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed” – I just hope I don’t end up muzzled for talking TOO much.
It was great to hear the background of my fellow PENSOLE classmates and what brought them to Parsons, only two are usual Parsons students and there are quite a few other international students. Most are industrial design students, using their summer break to study and excel. That takes tons of energy after a full semester, I’m sure. There are others who have backgrounds in similar industries like business and professional sports who are trying their hand at design and want to learn the process. I’m the only writer and stylist in the bunch. Almost everyone who introduced themselves wants to learn more about materials, construction and the design process. Who doesn’t want to make their sketches a reality? Somewhat surprisingly, networking was the other main skill PENSOLE students want to develop. Like any niche industry, athletic footwear is small when it comes down to it, especially when you focus on the designers rather than the marketing and public relations machines that it’s apart of as well. As someone who’s benefitted from networking as on Twitter and press events, I hope that I can help my fellow students get out there and really meet the people who could pay their bills.
After the first class, I felt inspired, motivated and a little less worried about my skill set. While I never want to be the kind of designer who gets work solely because I can talk someone into hiring me, I know I have to work with the skills I have and learn how to improve my weaker areas to become more well-rounded. Despite feeling a bit old and like the loud mouth nerd of the group, I already knew that the course was worth my time, money and that I would learn so much not only from D’Wayne and our speakers, but also my classmates. When you’ve spent so much time doing jobs that were not suited to your passion or that took away time from your creative process, going to school using money that you’ve paid yourself is truly liberating and exciting. I intended on making this a daily blog but life in New York City is hectic to say the least. By the end of the week I was burnt out trying to juggle school with freelance work, errands, socializing, homework and writing. I’m going to try to blog as often as possible but please stay patient and enjoy. If there’s anything specific about the program you want to know or any questions for me, feel free to leave a comment here or tweet me @shegotgame.
Main photo by Loni Schick. Other photos from my iPhone.
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