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  • Rachel Fenderson ’18

  • Fashion Studies (MA)

    From a young age, Rachel Fenderson had a passion for fashion and design. That passion would eventually lead her to excel in those industries while raising public awareness of timely issues related to representation and culture.

    Rachel Fenderson
    AAS Fashion Design ’08, MA Fashion Studies ’18

    Fenderson took her first steps into the world of fashion in 2007, when she began pursuing an AAS degree in fashion design at Parsons’ New York campus. Through her coursework, she became keenly aware of the lack of diversity and underrepresentation of BIPOC creatives in fashion. Soon after, Fenderson and her sister Marshea founded an innovative luxury clothing company, Pepper Jacques, aimed at making the apparel industry more inclusive. The brand was conceived to offer women of all shapes and sizes an array of sophisticated pieces. 

    With a thriving brand and an established place in fashion, Fenderson took her career in a new direction by pursuing an MA degree in fashion studies at Parsons Paris. The move enabled her to source new outlets for Pepper Jacques while pursuing her growing interest in designers written out of the fashion canon. For a course titled Fashion History and Mediation, Fenderson wrote an essay about Elizabeth Keckley, Ann Lowe, Arthur McGee, and Jay Jaxon—designers of the Black diaspora who had founded successful businesses during the Jim Crow era.  

    Fenderson took note of the lack of information and documentation on these designers—especially Jay Jaxon, the first American and African American to helm the French haute couture house Jean-Louis Scherrer. Encouraged by Emilie Hammen, the faculty member who taught Fashion History and Mediation, Fenderson decided to dedicate her master’s thesis to Jaxon, a choice that would transform her career. “At that moment, I was overjoyed to take on the challenge of pursuing the historical preservation of Jay Jaxon’s fashion contributions,” explains Fenderson. Seeing Jaxon—a designer from Queens, New York, where Fenderson herself was from—completely changed her perspective and creative aspirations. “I thought if he could make it in the industry, then I could, too. That is why representation is so crucial.”

    For her research, Fenderson traveled to Los Angeles to interview Lloyd Hardy, Jaxon’s life partner, who gave her Jaxon’s portfolio and several garments reflecting the designer’s fashion mastery. Fenderson’s thesis was only the beginning of her exploration of Jaxon’s life and career. After completing her degree, Fenderson began organizing exhibitions on the designer, first at the American Center for Art and Culture in Paris and later at the Queens Public Library and Queens Historical Society in New York.  

    Fenderson credits her time at Parsons Paris with preparing her for the complex curatorial process. “I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience that is unmatched and cannot be quantified,” she says. “I applied these experiences and what I learned from my scholarly research throughout the creation of my exhibitions. I even went back to my old notes and academic readings to help me plan and think about how to best execute the historical display.” Fenderson cites Stephanie Nadalo’s History of Collections and Museums course as a particularly helpful source of critical insights into the role played by the setting and public agenda of an exhibition. She has also found that the digital skills and broader design abilities she acquired in her AAS program have helped her create exhibition materials and graphics.     

    Fenderson’s extensive research and legacy preservation have made her not just an important source on Jay Jaxon, but a leading authority. Her work on the designer has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times, and WWD. She is currently expanding her research into a book, a documentary, and a traveling exhibition that traces the trajectory of Jaxon’s career. The scope of Fenderson’s research and writing has expanded to cover the larger historical issue of erasure in the fashion archive. 

    While Fenderson’s curatorial career is taking off, she is simultaneously building her business. She says the education she received at Parsons Paris has played a critical role in both endeavors. “Pursuing my master’s degree at Parsons Paris allowed me to check a few boxes off my ‘dreams to reality’ list,” explains Fenderson. “While I was researching Jay Jaxon, I was actively pursuing vendors to retail eyewear from my Stella IIII Collection in Paris. I was and still am hardcore about the research I perform to protect the legacy of Jay Jaxon, and I apply those same techniques of discipline for my brand, Pepper Jacques. For me, there are no limits.”

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