Growing up, Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Kylie Rose Carroll struggled to understand what a career in the arts might look like. She was passionate and talented, but how could she turn that passion into a viable career?
Her mother would ask her, “What, you’re just going to be a starving artist?”
Carroll took time off from graduating from high school in 2015 to enrolling in college and worked at Nordstrom. Here she realized how her love for clothes – especially handbags – could be turned into a career in art and design.
A 2021 graduate of the Fashion Design + Merchandising department of the VCU School of the Arts, Carroll is currently pursuing her master’s degree at Parsons Paris in the Fashion Design and the Arts program.
“While fashion can be a very commercial industry, I’m more interested in its creative side, which doesn’t exist too far outside of the art world,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I love the program I’m currently doing at Parsons Paris, Fashion Design and the Arts. This encourages us to work in-between, on the narrow line where art and design meet. This is where I am happiest, in these intermediate spaces.
This year, as part of the program’s brand collaboration project, graduate fashion students at Parsons were tasked with reinterpreting styles from the Versace archives. Carroll found herself at Versace’s headquarters in Milan, Italy, where she presented her original designs to one of fashion’s most iconic and recognizable names – Donatella Versace.
What was it like sharing her updated Versace designs with the famous fashionista? Carroll opened up about her artistry, her experience working with Versace, and how VCUarts helped her hone her skills as an up-and-coming fashion designer.
Can you tell us about your project for Versace?
We worked on the project for four months. [It began] with a trip to Italy to visit the archives, the factory and the headquarters of Versace, where we received the [assignment] brief from Donatella herself. The project culminated in an exhibition at the American Center for Art and Culture. Six students were chosen to accompany their work to Milan to present it to Donatella.
The brief we received from Donatella Versace and the design team was to design a look inspired by a pairing of two Versace archive looks, one created by Gianni Versace and the other by Donatella. I received a look from the fall/winter 1994 collection and one from the fall/winter 2012 collection – the common link between the two being their materiality. These were two interpretations of the iconic metallic mesh fabric that Gianni is credited with developing.
What was your artistic approach for this project?
From the start, I really prioritized research for this project, and I didn’t feel able to properly fill in the [assignment] without a comprehensive understanding of the brand. After conducting extensive research on the brand, including its DNA and history, I decided to focus on researching ancient Greece [by studying] ancient art, artifacts and mythology. Inspired by an iconic photograph by Richard Avedon from the 1994 collection as well as the way Versace depicts women as goddesses and warriors, I chose the goddess of war, Athena, as my muse when designing my looks.
I also approached the project as an opportunity to learn as many new skills as possible. I love to learn, which I always hope to do, no matter where I am in my career. I focused on developing my own material, so I learned a traditional method of assembling chain mail by hand. In over 90 hours, I combined over 5,660 rings to form the chainmail skirt.
I combined this with 3D printed parts derived from a scan of the ancient Athena Parthenos statue in Pergamon, which I manipulated and digitally modified to create the skirt elements before printing. I also pushed myself to learn new wet leather techniques for the bags and bra top I developed. I really wanted to prioritize accessories for this look, as they are such a huge part of my design practice.
What was it like introducing Donatella Versace?
Presenting to Donatella has been by far the most significant honor and surreal experience of my career as a fashion designer so far. A year ago, I never would have thought I would have the opportunity to collaborate with a brand like Versace, let alone meet Donatella. And even at the start of the project, I could never have imagined having the unprecedented opportunity to present my work to him and receive personalized feedback.
The whole time I was in front of her, explaining work that I couldn’t be more proud of, felt like a dream. She couldn’t have been more humble, genuine or eager to see and discuss our [student] work. And for her to respond so positively to my work – hearing her exclaim “wow” when I walked into the room next to my work was the icing on the cake.
How would you describe your artistic talent?
I am a women’s clothing and accessories designer specializing in leather work. Women and the female body inspire me constantly. I use my work to question and challenge the norms imposed on all body types while [also] tell the story of my own experiences that shaped my identity as a woman. Craftsmanship and innovative solutions are key pillars of my work and incorporate less traditional materials such as metal, 3D printed plastic and wet molded leather. A lot of my work also exists in the space between accessories, clothing and jewelry, and the space between fashion and sculpture.
How did your time at VCUarts prepare you for a career as a fashion designer?
The Fashion Design + Merchandising department of VCUarts gave me a solid foundation to enter the industry. This is a very technical program, which provided me with a solid skill set and an understanding of the finer details of the industry. I firmly believe that you have to learn the rules before you break them, and I think the solid technical foundation – including a comprehensive understanding of pattern making, garment construction and collection planning – that I have learned at VCUarts is what allows me to flourish now at Parsons Paris. [Also] …I miss Richmond! Paris is the most amazing city I know, but I often miss Richmond and its unique character.
What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?
I am about to start my second and final year of my MFA…I will be focusing on my graduate dissertation collection during my final two semesters while [working] as an apprentice with an incredible leather goods maker, Robert Mercier, who made works for Schiaparelli, Loewe, Balmain and Jean Paul Gaultier.
It will be an opportunity for me to learn from someone who is the best in the world at his job. After presenting my graduation collection next May, I hope to stay in Europe or the UK as I see myself integrating into the industry there, particularly in Paris. The company I would dream of creating for would be Schiaparelli, and I hope to find a job in leather goods or accessory design.
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