Everyone spoke the language of creativity in my family. At least, that’s how it was growing up. My father designed furniture. My mother was a freelance fashion illustrator. I developed opinions about what I was going to wear from a young age. As a matter of fact, I learned how to illustrate mink fur at the age of seven.
As a child, I was entranced by the fashion of the period: petticoats, matching handbags, that sort of thing. The time and place was New York City in the 1950s. Glamour and elegance were everywhere you looked.
There is a scene in the AMC series Mad Men where Don Draper disembarks from a plane in Los Angeles, and is blindsided by the sun and signature vivid colors that one only sees in Southern California. I had something identical happen to me when my mother took my sister and me on our first trip out West. I thought we had landed in Oz! My mom actually got so into the Pacific Coast spirit that she ended up buying us Hawaiian muumuus for Christmas one year. That’s just the kind of person she was.
My parents both encouraged me to express myself freely. My mother and I bonded over a shared love of fashion. My mom remained creative all of her life until age 103. Late in life, she embraced a deep love of watercolor painting. She always understood who I was going to be.
Rigor was not in my nature as a kid. I was an expressive painter. I was obsessed with clothes as a means of expression. I became intensely focused on technique and skill as they applied to the fine art of figure drawing. What ArtCenter taught me was a discipline that I didn’t have yet.
I was never particularly interested in taking fashion illustration classes at the College. I think I may have taken one during my entire academic tenure there. I knew the fashion industry inside and out. What I wanted was to take painting and figure drawing classes.
My mentor was legendary painter and life drawing teacher Harry Carmean. My counselors kept telling me that I didn’t need to take these classes. Me being me, I didn’t always listen. Nevertheless, I came to understand the thing that made ArtCenter students stand out was discipline.
Near the end of my time at ArtCenter, I almost ran out of money. I became restless, uncertain of where I was going to land. I knew people in the fashion world, but did I know the right people?.
What I ended up discovering was that I had a hidden design talent that could be put to use in the world of advertising. This is really what put me on the path to becoming an Art Director. In this new context, I had no personal attachment to the work. My investment was purely professional. I liked that.
Fashion is a cutthroat world. You have to be built for it. Think about it. The industry as a whole might have five seasons a year where a major manufacturer is putting product out into the world. It’s not a field that leaves a lot of room for deliberation or complex, thoughtful planning.
Professorially speaking, I was first hired by ArtCenter to teach a class on costume design in its new Entertainment Design department. It was around this time that I got to know Karen Hofmann. Karen asked me if I would be interested in teaching a sewing class. I said, “of course.” We moved into the official space for what is now ArtCenter’s sewing lab nearly eight years ago, and we’re still there today.
My mother taught me the importance of reinventing yourself every six to eight years. She taught me to anticipate the waves of change nipping at your heels, and to be able to stay one step ahead of those who would then get swallowed up by the wave. I never forgot that piece of wisdom.
Navigating the fashion industry – learning how to work with corporate executives, writing proposals, etc. – that was my trial by fire. ArtCenter supplied the discipline. As a creative, you need both of those things.
Justine Limpus Parish
BFA 73 ILLU
Full-Time Faculty, ArtCenter Product Design
Fashion Department Chair, Academy of Art University (1983 – 1990)