The Office of Alumni and Faculty Relations recently welcomed husband-and-wife design team Babi Ahluwalia (TDM ’99) and Sachin Ahluwalia (Fashion Design ’96) to FIT’s Faces & Places in Fashion lecture. Babi and Sachin Ahluwalia, who met at FIT sixteen years ago, spoke about launching their eponymous contemporary womenswear label, Sachin +Babi, and their luxury home furnishings brand, Ankasa. Elizabeth Uss (AMC ’98), Senior Producer and Reporter at Videofashion News, interviewed the Ahluwalias about their trade, their experience and their perspective on the business. Watch these alumni engage in a lively discussion!
What would you say is the most important thing you learned while you were at school here?
“What better to learn design and to apply it ten blocks up? You go to school, you finish your papers, your portfolio, your sketch, your presentation. And then you pound the pavement and find internships. I think it is the application of technical design and utilizing it right away, and all things available, the resources.”
“From a creative aspect, being at FIT, being in the city, being six blocks away from the Fashion District was an invaluable experience for me. FIT is not like other campuses around the world. You’re not isolated from the real world. The students, the professors that I had, my first internship with my fourth semetser mentor. I think every aspect lent itself to where I am today. I was very fortuante to have been here at the time that I was because it gave me all the necessary tools and pushed me toward the path that I chose.”
Erica DeMane, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’77
With spring just around the corner, farmers’ markets throughout the city are sprouting with vibrant colors and luring crowds of people eager for all things fresh! On any given day, one can find Erica DeMane (FBM ’77), respected chef and food writer, weaving through the markets with a shop-local mindset and a mental catalogue of the freshest seasonal ingredients.
We asked DeMane, who specializes in Southern Italian cooking, to share some in-season ingredients for a fresh springtime dish. DeMane was happy to talk to us about her favorite local market, her love for fashion and cooking, and offered her wonderful recipe for Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil.
How has the Union Square Greenmarket evolved since your college days?
The Union Square Greenmarket, which began in 1976, with a few worn out hippies selling crates of wilted organic greens and potatoes, was a dreary establishment. When I graduated from FIT in 1977, I moved to University Place and 13th Street, a block from Union Square. I’ve watched the park blossom over the years and it’s now home to the gorgeous food market. I stroll over from my West Village apartment and come home with a ton of stuff and let it spill out onto my counter, thinking about all the great dishes I could create. What a beautiful, inspiring place.
As the author of The Flavors of Southern Italy, Pasta Improvvisata, and Williams-Sonoma Pasta, have you held any cooking demos at the market?
In 1999, I had my first cookbook signing and food demo at the Union Square market–my little booth stacked high with my new book Pasta Improvvisata, and decorated with huge sunflowers and goofy bouquets of string beans, arugula, and tall bunches of basil. This was July, high summer, and the colors and abundance at the market, with me dishing out my orecchietti with zucchini and fresh sage, was thrilling. I remember Geoffrey Beene, the clothing designer, stopping by to sample my dish and purchase one of my books (he was also famous for being a great cook). I’ve since done many Greenmarket signings and food demos there, in all seasons, and even worked on their Greenmarket cookbook.
What should we look out for at the market?
It’s now spring and the market will just be getting into gear. I know the progression of vegetables so well by now that I anticipate their appearance in the stalls weeks before they arrive. First to show are fiddle head ferns, not something that excites me much since I find their taste reminiscent of lawn clippings. But then come ramps, little, wild, locally foraged leeks that are so intense in flavor and so great in salads and fish dishes. A few weeks later is when the market really comes alive, with piles of local asparagus, wild watercress, chives, freshly dug spring garlic with skinny stalks that haven’t even formed cloves yet, and the first of the local strawberries with their perfumey aroma that has at times brought me to tears.
Do you have a favorite farmer?
I always buy local and in season because the flavor and quality are superb. I also want to support my local farmers. I very much like Migliorelli farms since they grow a lot of Italian vegetables such as broccoli rabe, the crazy long zucca lungha zucchini variety with its tendrils that are used by Southern Italians in soups and pasta, and all sorts of eggplants in amazing colors like violet with white stripes, or the huge round, bright purple Sicilian type.
You still have a great love for fashion from your days at FIT. Woud you say there’s a relationship between fashion and cooking?
For me there is a huge connection between fashion and cooking. The technique must be there in both, but the final product must be magical in all aspects. Creation in the kitchen can be sweaty and messy, but when I present a finished recipe that looks so effortless and gorgeous, I’m proud of the entire process. I place a lot of importance on presentation, color and composition in my dishes–very much like my fashion choices, which have always been very bold and distinct.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I’m actually quite shy but since I act flashy and bold, hardly anyone understands this about me. I still wear rather wacky outfits, a lot of red, stripes. Clothes and cooking both have a lot of power. Both are great covers for timidity.
What’s a perfect springtime dish that incorporates seasonal produce?
Spring garlic, one of my most exciting discoveries at Union Square about 15 years ago, is great this time of year. I smash a few of them up and let them steep in good olive oil for a few hours. It’s great brushed over grilled bread, but it’s also an excellent way to add a fancy hit of flavor to a spring soup. I came up with Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil. Try it out and enjoy on a sunny, breezy Spring day!
Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 skinny stalks spring garlic
2 lightly packed cups skinny, spiky-leafed wild-type arugula, stemmed
5 baby leeks, chopped, including some of the tender green part
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
5 scrapings of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups homemade or high-quality prepared chicken broth (or use a homemade vegetable stock if you prefer)
Pour about ¾ cup of good olive oil into a small bowl. Chop up the garlic, the entire thing (you’ll probably have garlic with very small underdeveloped bulbs and a tender stalk). Then flatten the garlic pieces with a smack from the side of your knife. Place the garlic in the olive oil, and let it sit to develop flavor for about an hour or so. Strain the oil into a clean bowl, and set aside.
Set up a medium-size pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add the arugula, and blanch it for a minute. Pull it from the water into an ice bath (or into a strainer and run cold water over it). This will set its bright green color. Drain well.
Now, in a large soup pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, and sauté until softened, without letting them brown. Add the potatoes, and season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Sauté a few more minutes just to coat the potatoes with flavor. Add the broth. Bring this to a boil, turn the heat down a notch, and then continue cooking at a lively bubble, uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Add the arugula, and let it wilt into the liquid for about 2 or 3 minutes.
Purée the soup in a food processor, and return it to the pot. Taste for a good balance of flavor. You should have a mellowness from the leeks and potato with a slight bitterness from the arugula. The soup shouldn’t be super thick, so add a little more broth or water to thin it if needed. Adjust the seasoning.
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup gently, and ladle it into bowls. Give each bowl a generous drizzle of the spring garlic oil.
You’ve led a successful career working at Goldman Sachs, Ralph Lauren, and now at Tiffany & Co. as Merchandising Manager. What stirred your interest in working in the international market?
When I was an undergrad studying Finance and International Studies at the University of Connecticut, I studied abroad in Australia, which is really what stirred my interest in the international market.
You took your interest to the next level pursuing graduate studies at FIT. Why did you choose the Global Fashion Management program?
Being one of the most reputable institutions in the industry, FIT offered the perfect program for my career development. The Global Fashion Management program is the only business program of its kind geared towards developing global fashion executives. It was a full-time program that also allowed me to balance my full-time job, so I was able to implement what I was learning at FIT directly in my work.
What did you value most about the program?
The two-week seminars abroad each semester really left the most impact. The Global Fashion Management program collaborated with Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong and Institut Français de la Mode in Paris to provide first hand international exposure to the industry. The experience I gained in Europe and Asia was a crucial component to this program.
How has the program helped you advance in your job?
The international aspect of the program and the holistic view of the industry has directly helped me excel at my job. I have seen what it takes for successful brands to stay competitive and progress in this fast-paced global economy. I gained a strong understanding of the expression ‘Glocalization’ and believe international companies must evolve to instill brand consistency globally while adapting locally. The cultural knowledge I gained and the contacts I made around the world through the Global Fashion Management program will continue to help me throughout my career.
Last month, we were thrilled to hear that the New York City Economic Development Corporation selected you as one of the winners for the inaugural Fashion Fellows program! Tell us what the mentorship program entails.
The NYC Fashion Fellows program was developed as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Fashion.NYC.2020 initiative to preserve New York City’s fashion industry. The year-long program is packed with seminars, workshops, networking opportunities and one-on-one mentoring. I feel fortunate to work for a great company and look forward to complementing my knowledge with this opportunity to learn from some of the most successful leaders in the industry.
Who will be your mentor in the program?
My mentor is Karen Giberson, President of the Accessories Council. She is absolutely lovely and has a wealth of experience and wisdom I hope to benefit from.
While the fellowship helps empower promising individuals like you, it also sets out to strengthen the fashion industry in New York City. Is this type of community building initiative something you are passionate about?
Absolutely. We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, providing endless opportunities to give back. The Fashion Fellows program is a joint initiative of the NYEDC and the 92Y so community building will naturally play a big role in this program, which I’m proud to participate in.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Take advantage of all New York City has to offer. Build a strong network of contacts. Never stop learning. Through my journey, I have found the continuous pairing of experience and education to be the foundation for building exceptional leaders.
Global Fashion Management is a three-semester graduate program which focuses on the business of the apparel and related industries. Partnering with institutions in Paris and Hong Kong, the program’s objective is to prepare mid-level managers for executives positions. To read more about the program, please go to: http://fitnyc.edu/2865.asp.
Among all of the amazing quotes I’ve heard and read over the years from inspirational people who are at the peak of their careers, the most important quote came to me at last night’s Black Student Union (BSU) panel with alumni and special guests. In honor of Black History month, BSU hosted the 4th annual Panel event, an interactive discussion with panelists who have made it their goals in life to become entrepreneurs and turn their ideas of design, art, and fashion into something that can be received by the masses.
The panel featured Ken Borochov (Fashion Design ’04), designer of the accessories/adornment line Mordekai; Kimberly Goldson, creator of the line Kimberly Goldson (FMM ’01); Rob Norman (Advertising Design ’94) a professor here at FIT and owner of two clothing lines; Princess Jenkins, owner of the Brownstone; and Bo Williams, Partner in Hildene Leveraged Finance. All of these people spoke on what it takes to start a business, the hardships that will occur, the trials they went through in the process of trying to relay their vision and ideas to investors and customers, and an abundance of other things within the realm of entrepreneurship; but the few words that stuck out for me was the quote from Bo Williams, “The 6 S’s to Success”.
The S’s are composed of: Script, Swag, Study, Strikes, Stamina, and Start, all relating to the process of being in management and marketing.
Script is basically your pitch and how well you can convey your ideas in a concise manner to your investors and customers.
Swag is all about your confidence and self-esteem when you’re pitching an idea and whether or not you are timid or take charge.
Study encompasses the knowledge you hold about your business plan down to the minute details and the knowledge of your intended field.
Strike and any businessman or woman knows that no success is obtainable without your fair share of downfalls. The only question is will you able to recover and keep on striving toward your goal and that is where the “S” of Stamina comes into play. And after all of that comes the most important part:
Start, which basically means are you able to be involved and get the business of the ground.
The entire panel offered up great advice, from Princess on the act of locating your target customer and following the “80/20” rule, Ken on building relationships and networking, Rob on “thinking big, and acting big”, to Kimberly on engaging in social media. The 6 S’s, though, are what all the panelists followed in order to be where they are today.
As a student, hearing from alumni and other special guests last night was amazing. As I go out into NY for internships and interviews, I will remember to be proactive and modest but most importantly keep in mind those key S words: Script, Swag, Study, Strikes, Stamina, and Start, and success is guaranteed.
Congratulations on winning third place in the “Scared Stiff” contest for the new Mama film! Tell us a bit about the contest and what this achievement means to you. Last month, DeviantART and Guillermo del Toro and filmmakers Andy and Barbara Muschietti hosted a contest called “Scared Stiff” where, in the spirit of their new movie, MAMA, artists had to recreate their childhood nightmares. Hundreds of entries were submitted and the DA staff chose 25, which would then be judged personally by del Toro and the Muschiettis.
I was very excited about entering the contest because Guillermo del Toro is one of my top favorite directors and just having the opportunity of him looking at my artwork would make my day. But actually having my piece seen and picked by him is something I never expected! When I graduated from college in 2011, it was months before I started making any kind of money off my work. This achievement helped revitalize me and gave me some much needed confidence to keep doing what I love.
Your illustration, The Owl Princess and Her Night Terrors, is a vibrant depiction of a young girl and otherworldly creatures looming over. What scary childhood memory inspired your piece? When I was a kid, I spent most of my time alone in my room playing with a combination of toys. I loved making up stories and characters, and I had weird tastes, so I’d have my Godzillas wage war against my Barbies or have my Polly Pockets fight off dinosaurs. At night my imagination still ran wild, and seeing these shapes scattered across the floor in the dark would creep me out a little. I would be too afraid to walk across the floor in the dark at night, thinking maybe one would come alive and bite me, or the real thing were under my bed.
Are you a big fan of thriller films or Guillermo del Toro? I appreciate horror and thriller movies a lot. I like supernatural movies no matter how cheesy they can be. But I’m an even bigger fan of del Toro’s movies! Watching them is pure eye candy and the stories aren’t conventional, so you’re not sure what to expect. His work has best been described as fairytales for adults, and that’s what I am aiming for in my own work.
Did you find your style, subject matter or themes you usually use in your work fit with the film? I didn’t get to see MAMA until after the contest deadline so I was just doing my own thing. Then I got to see the movie and noticed the reoccurring images of moths, and a lot of nature imagery. But in MAMA the supernatural entity was like a guardian, while in my piece they are tormentors. In Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and others, a lot of his monsters are scary but have good intentions or act like us, where in my pieces the scary monsters aren’t normally nice.
What were some of your favorite courses at FIT? Book Illustration I and II by Eric Velasquez are definitely at the top of the list. I really enjoyed illustrating narratives and stories and creating bodies of work that were pure me. Eric also helped me focus my portfolio into consistent work and his advice pushed me onto the path I wanted to take, even if my portfolio was full of birds and folky monsters at the time.
I also enjoyed William Low’s Digital Painting course. every week he would start the class off with an hour demo, visually showing us what to do. Then he would go around to each of us in case we needed personal work. At the time I was somewhat clueless about working in Photoshop, and his way of teaching made it less intimidating. Other favorites were Pre-Columbian Art, Essence of Comic Art, Art in NYC, and the Scifi/Fantasy course.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? I want to start a Kickstarter to fund and publish my first children’s book. I had the idea my senior year to make a richly drawn alphabet book of endangered species of animals. I wouldn’t stick with the usual species like tigers or pandas; in this one I would raise awareness about lesser known and beautifully strange species like The Kakapo or Urial.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students? I found that, during my first three years, I would draw what my teachers expected of me, and in the end my portfolio looked like it was done by 5 different people and a lot of it was boring. It was just so basic and the subject matter didn’t thrill me. Then my last year I took more chances, conceptualized more and included things I loved into every piece, and the work began to stand out and become my own.
Also, don’t wait for a job to come to you. Start producing your own work and start selling it out of college. I began selling prints through Etsy and a majority of my early income came through that.
What did you study while you were at FIT? What year did you graduate? Fashion Design, womenswear. December 2010.
What do you think you learned at FIT that has benefitted you the most in the real world? Sewing class. I didn’t know how to sew when I arrived at FIT. I actually got a tip from a senior who told me to stuff cotton under the sewing machine pedal.
How much preparation went into creating your entire brand? Last November, I began working on the legal aspects, which took six weeks. I worked on the logo, changed the name of the brand. I wanted everything to be just right.
Do you think it’s important for every design student to understand the business aspect and for the business students to understand the design aspect? Yes, I had to teach myself. My friends and husband helped me on the business side. Students should definitely do at least one business class or network with other students who do know about business.
When did your underwear brand, Ken Wroy, launch? The online store is up, and it will be sold in stores in both the USA and France.
Why did you decide to design men’s underwear? Because I genuinely believe men should wear fun underwear and I was always interested and always using prints and patterns. I also noticed a hole in that part of the industry. Underwear is the first thing you wear and it’s the last thing you take off – give it the attention it deserves!
Many brands, including Ken Wroy and retailers are looking to F-Commerce, the selling of products on Facebook pages. What made you decide to use this modern approach of selling your product? The prospect to buy. The customer is confused when they see brand’s blogs with products but no way to purchase them. This way it allows the customer to directly purchase the item.
Your brand has really unique packaging. Is that a key element of the brand? Packaging is a huge element. It’s really for women because it’s easy to give it as a gift, but also represents how men’s accessories, like socks or wallets, are sold.
Are digital prints a large part of your design concept as well? Yes, it’s about the spirit of New York. Just like there are three types of men, there are three types of underwear prints. Suave, trendy, and bold.
Where do you see your brand in a few years? New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, as well as exploring Mexico, India and France. I’d like to potentially brand more products.
You made a big leap from Paris for New York City to launch your career in fashion. Why did you choose to study at FIT and tell us about the transition. I chose FIT because I wanted to follow specific courses in patternmaking and drawing. The advantage of having tailored courses like those offered at FIT was important to me as I already had the business background from previous studies. I was engulfed by NYC from the minute I stepped out of the cab from JFK. The speed, the lights, the people , the noises . I was able to adapt to the pace and found most of my inspiration for my designs through my daily experiences.
Did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer? At first I was in the Marketing Department at Celine (LVMH Group) in Paris and after my studies, I was off to work for l’Oreal in Miami for Biotherm. As a result of the numerous compliments that I received on my clothes that I designed for fun, I decided to launch my own brand and become a fashion designer.
And now you find yourself celebrating the opening of your first store in Manhattan’s Upper East Side! How does it feel to own your own space? It’s like having a baby. It’s very personal and you take every decision to heart, from the choice of the lights, to the furniture and the paint. It is the accomplishment of several years of perseverance with ups and downs. I never had a doubt that this was going to be a very difficult and long road.
What’s a typical day like? I spend my day between the showroom on Central Park South and the store at 153 East 70th. It’s a mix between the creative team, marketing and sales teams. I keep a very close and attentive eye on the artistic side of my business.
How do you balance the design and business aspects of your brand? I handle the design and my husband and partner handles the entire business side. We regularly sit down and brainstorm ideas, projects and any issue that might come up.
What plans do you have for the store? We plan on expanding to Tribeca.
What are your thoughts on store locations and neighborhoods in the city? Store location is prime. Base yourself on where your clients are.
Describe the client you design for. She’s a working woman that likes to show off a strict and casual side at the same time. She likes to show off her features and feels comfortable about herself.
In addition to designing and operating your new store, you also host a TV show that takes you around the world. Tell us about it and how your travels influence your design. I’m the host of New York, New York/Paris, Paris, a lifestyle show that presents all the new, upcoming and hidden places of cities such as LA, Miami, New York City, Paris, Hong Kong, Milan, London, and many other cities. It was a concept I came up with five years ago, and it has now turned into a weekly show. This year, I will be traveling to Dubai, Tokyo, Aspen, and will cover Fashion Week in New York and Paris. My travels are definitely my source of inspiration in my designs.
Where can we catch New York, New York/Paris, Paris? The show is carried by the June Network and is aired in Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco), in Canada, and on board all Air France flights worldwide.
What advice would give others hoping to open a store? Learn from your mistakes. Never give up and persist!
153 East 70th St (Corner of Lexington Ave)
New York, NY 10021
Contemporary sweater and belt designer is looking for an Independent Sales Rep to market and sell her new high quality edgy yet sophisticated collection to the appropriate boutiques and department stores. Candidate should have at least 1 to 2 years of prior experience in the field. The ability to present collections directly to buyers is priority. This job relies heavily on knowledge of the industry, excellent communication, and persuasive closing skills.
Originally, I came to FIT to pursue an FMM career because I knew the opportunities here would be limitless. I knew that participating in clubs like BSU and BRAG would be a great way to add to my college experience and gain access to those opportunities. Last week, BRAG welcomed FMM alumna Kimberly Goldson as our guest speaker. I was ecstatic to meet the Project Runway finalist and to hear how she used her classes from FIT to hone in on her designing abilities. The transition she made after her time here made me realize all the job possibilities I could venture into with an FMM degree.
Like me, Kimberly studied Fashion Merchandising Management while at FIT, but had dreams of learning how to sew to eventually launch her own line. With the creativity and ideas for designs but no technical know-how, Kimberly registered for electives, such as beginning sketching classes, which allowed her to express her ideas on paper. I immediately was able to relate to her because that was my exact mindset entering the school.
I initially wanted to attend FIT to study Fashion Design; however, I didn’t have the skill set to sew an entire garment, but I couldn’t give up on my dream of having a career in the fashion industry. It was amazing to hear Kimberly’s story and I realized how my studies would be the foundation for starting my business one day. I realized that by learning the fashion business as well as the design aspect, I can be more innovative. In Kimberly’s words, down the road, “I ultimately just want to march to the beat of my own drum.”
While speaking to us, she displayed some of her recent designs, including a pair of her famous trousers in grey with a bow detail on the waist, which could either be pulled through to one side or worn as a prominent bow. She also showed pieces from her debut spring 2012 collection which featured a boat-shaped neckline aquamarine knee length dress, with a pleated peplum attachment with beaded detail. That dress is also sold exclusively on Zappos.com and was worn by Condola Rashad, Phylicia Rashad’s daughter, on ABC’s The Chew. Kimberly also designed Condola a black dress with a full embroideredlace skirt over it, which she wore to the remake premiere of the 1989 classic film Steel Magnolias.
From a student’s perspective, listening to Kimberly’s story of merging FMM and Fashion Design was truly inspiring. When I graduate from FIT, I never want to become a person that stays average, and by trying my hand at design, I can have more opportunities to expand my degree into different areas of fashion, and achieve my dream of being an independent designer. Kimberly was able to successfully use her time at FIT to merge her FMM degree into fashion design, and her story inspires me to do the same.
We registered, we checked in, we learned, we voted! With our smartphones charged and itineraries plotted out, we hit Go Brooklyn Art to meet alumni who were taking part in this weekend-long open studios event. It was a great opportunity to support those working in the arts and to hear about their work–what inspires it, how it’s produced, why it’s important. What made it especially great was playing a role, along with members of the community, in voting for artists to be nominated for a chance to be included in a group exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. At the end of the day, there was a total of 147,000 studio visits to 1,708 artists and 9,457 nominations! From textile art to photography, it was amazing to zigzag across Brooklyn and explore the inspiring work of alumni. Here are some photos from our weekend:
Cynthia Alberto (Textile/Surface Design ’02) and Carolina Sukaj (Textile/Surface Design ’11) ofWeaving Hand
Carla Reyes (Fine Arts ’99; Restoration ’02)
Tenement, the photo studio of FIT alums Mike Falco (AMC ’11), Jolene Lupo (Photography ’09) and Richard Solinger (Photography ’09)