“The Heart of the Matter is Free Education.”
Caroline Simonelli, Fashion Designer
How many people do you know who delight in the idea of working or vacationing in Beirut?
My dear pal Caroline Simonelli, fashion designer and fashion educator extraordinaire, has just returned from her third trip and has every intention of spending as much time in Lebanon as her duties as Professor in the BFA Program at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan will allow.
All because Caroline and one of her very talented former students Sara Hermez had a dream. They envisioned reinventing the way in which fashion design is taught, and offering a free education to young Middle Eastern men and women of talent, who could not otherwise afford such an opportunity.
Students of promise and courage were culled from Palestinian Refugee Camps, from N.G.O.s and Churches. Fabric was donated by Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenburg. Funding was donated by Sara’s generous and proud parents, Samir and Velma Hermez, so that space and supplies could be procured, and Caroline hopped a plane to Beirut to lend a professorial and experienced hand to help get the show on the road.
The pilot program was designed to be in Beirut, Sara’s home and the birthplace of Caroline’s parents and ancestors. The vision of Sara and Caroline was to find talent, provide free education, then sell their designs to fund further programs, so that the knowledge, the experience, the giftedness and the good will could be passed on to successive groups of deserving students.
Parson’s, a prestigious part of The New School University – called the Harvard of Art and Design by those in the artworld – was so excited by this innovative concept that they’ve gotten on board to help the fledgling school get funding and accreditation… and best of all, to make it the shot heard round the world. The success of the Beirut pilot program could inspire similar efforts elsewhere.
“When you saw the brilliance of the designs, the innovative teaching style and the spirit of love and good will that was generated,” said Prof. Yvonne Watson, Director of Academic Affairs at Parson’s, “you knew you were in the presence of something very big and wonderful.”
If you’d like to know more or see the results of the latest Beirut class, click here. Every garment in the show sold within an evening…but the real achievement is the sense of hope for the future that was at the heart of this grand design.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012