Whether or not their dramatic poses and lurid landscapes set your heart afire, classic romance novel covers are arresting works of technical expertise. The scene on this page was painted by Leslie Pellegrino Peck, Illustration ’87, who created more than 700 romance covers over two decades. Often, the artist was better paid than the writer, because a “sleepworthy” cover—as in, “Would you want to sleep with that guy?”—sold the book.
All of Peck’s covers are closely based on black-and-white photographs. In fact, she got her start while assisting a photographer who specialized in shooting for illustrators in publishing—not just romance novels but science fiction and Westerns, too. Art directors for books wandered into the studio all the time; one agreed to let her illustrate an upcoming novel on spec. The result, an image of a nubile couple waist-deep in a moonlit lake, became the cover of The Rialto Affair, published in 1989. From there, assignments flooded in, for the gamut of romance publishers from Avon Books to Zebra/Pinnacle, and, of course, Harlequin.
For each cover, she would style a shoot for a dramatically lit, windblown photo, based not on the novel itself but on a one-page description of the characters and the setting (“I’m sure the authors would be horrified,” she admits). When painting, she kept within the genre’s rigid conventions; outside considerations such as historical accuracy, consistency with the plot, and the laws of physics were summarily ignored.
A few years ago, when the publishing industry’s coffers began to shrink, lush oil paintings were cast aside in favor of inexpensive photos (a glass of wine, a rose, an unmade bed), and digital watercolor effects were used to make a photographed scene look painterly. The genre is still publishing’s juggernaut though, racking up more than $1.3 billion in sales each year, giving it the largest share of the U.S. consumer market, according to a 2012 report.
Peck moved on, but she remembers her “romantic” career fondly.
This Alumni Spotlight originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Hue magazine.
The Militant Modernist
A Q&A with alumnus Michael Kors, Fashion Design, a designer who needs no introduction
By Alex Joseph
Have you ever wished that one day you would answer the phone and hear a nicesounding lady say, “Hi, would you like to speak to Michael Kors?” Don’t hate me, but this happened to me the other day. The staggeringly successful sportswear designer, former Project Runway judge, and FIT alumnus recently endowed a $1 million scholarship for a Fashion Design student. He took some time to tell Hue about his plans for the lucky recipient, Michelle Obama’s style, and the future of fashion. Kors grew up on Long Island and came to FIT in the late ’70s to study fashion design. Soon after arriving, he got a job at the upscale boutique Lothar’s, where he began designing and selling his first collection. He was discovered by a Bergdorf Goodman buyer, and launched his namesake line there in 1981. Over the years, he’s dressed numerous celebrities and won awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America for women’s wear in 1999 and menswear in 2003, and in 2010, a lifetime achievement award. The brand has grown to encompass a diffusion line, KORS (footwear and jeans). It was through his appearances on Project Runway, however, that his larger-than-life personality became generally known, particularly for his quips: Once, he described a contestant’s gown as “Mad Max rigatoni.” In our interview, he said, “I don’t know where I got those from,” and the wisecracking persona was nowhere in evidence. He was, instead, thoughtful and perceptive, an articulate businessman in charge of a flourishing career.
Hue: What’s it like to see your designs on Michelle Obama—in the official White House portrait, no less? MK: I’ve met her numerous times, though we’ve never had an official “fashion repartee.” What’s interesting to me is that, in my lifetime, other than Jackie Kennedy, first ladies were always more formal and buttoned-up. Mostly they disdained fashion. Mrs. Obama demonstrates how you can be smart and interested in fashion while keeping your hectic schedule. Traditionally, the first lady would wear a suit or something colorful for the White House portrait. I never thought we’d see a first lady in black matte jersey!
Who else wears your designs well?
We have a huge range of clients of all ages and sizes. We also dress celebrities. Blake Lively, Jennifer Hudson, Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain—these women are all full of confidence. They want to walk in a room and be the person you look at. I think of myself as the framer; the woman is the picture.
Sounds like something Chanel would say.
Well, like Chanel, I think about how clothes work in real life. Of course, celebrities—like Angelina Jolie, who’s been a client for years—have a heightened real life. But again, I think it’s really that confidence that’s the connective thread. Also the idea that good fashion doesn’t have an expiration date. The dress Michelle wore to the last inaugural reception was four years old.
Do you have a muse?
I have my mix of muses, just like women have different moods. It’s not one woman; it’s a cast of characters, like an Almodóvar or Fellini film. My mom has always been a bellwether. She likes simplicity, understatement, a laid-back look. My grandmother, on the other hand, was over the top. She loved beads and glamour. They’re two sides to one coin. I do a blend.
Last fall, you endowed a $1 million FIT scholarship. The student recipient gets a full ride, plus an internship at your firm. What’s the most important thing you have to tell them?
Two things. One, they have to know the customer. They have to spend time watching people shop. But they also need to have a curiosity about what’s going on, past and present. Pop culture, film, music, TV, travel…. Even if you can’t afford to travel, in today’s world, you can sit in traffic and on a bus and go to Bali on your phone. You can’t be bottled up. You can’t say, “I’ve seen it all.” Fashion is the big picture. We tell the story of what’s happening in the world, so we have to know that story.
Over the years we’ve noticed that a lot of designers on Project Runway have vision, but limited technical skills. How important are they in today’s global fashion world?
There’s no set way of doing things. I’ve been sketching since I was 4 or 5, but I am a disastrous sewer. I like to work fast. Sewing is like baking, and sketching is an impromptu stew. I am not a baker. You do need to know how clothes are made—the finishing, the fit. But I think more of the skills needed today are, Can you talk to the press? Do you know who the customer is? When you meet that customer, can you talk to them? Can you strike a balance between art and commerce?
What’s different about young designers today from when you started out?
In a word, the internet. It changed everything about fashion. I used to go to the FIT library and look at 1935 issues of Vogue. That’s not the same as putting Poiret into Google. Today, there’s a lot more sampling of styles. Back then, you could start quietly. For my first fashion show, we only had one TV show—Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN. Today, you can graduate from school, put a collection together, and suddenly there are a million blogs with all these opinions being thrown at you. Then, if you didn’t live in a big city, you didn’t have a chance, but now anyone can watch a show live stream from Manitoba. So you can get that attention very quickly, but you haven’t learned how to sustain things. You’re finding your way, but doing it very publicly. There’s more opportunity today than when I started because of a greater curiosity about new designers. But it’s much harder to work when the spotlight is blaring at you with such a high intensity.
What’s the future of fashion?
We never thought fashion would be so global. Once, I had to learn about the customer in Texas; now, it’s Singapore. We’ll never go back to Kay Thompson in Funny Face saying, “Think pink!” and everyone’s suddenly wearing pink. We’ll definitely see more democracy of fashion, which began in the ’70s. More and more, individuals will dress for their own individual styles, their own group. And the rest of it—who knows? We’ll see where the world takes us, and that’s where fashion will go.
This interview originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Hue magazine.
To kick off New York Fashion Week, we’re celebrating the amazing work of FIT’s Fashion Design 2013 graduates at our second annual “Emerging Designer Showcase”! The reception will take place at the Gotham Ballroom at the InterContinental New York Times Square on September 4, 2013 from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm. RSVP is required.
RECENT GRADUATES are encouraged to take part in this exciting opportunity to present their designs in the swanky lobby of the InterContinental Hotel in front of fellow alumni and guests.
Even when he was a student at FIT, Patrick Greene (Advertising and Marketing Communications ’11) had great leadership qualities and a flare for the publishing world. He went from Editor in Chief of FIT’s student newspaper, W27, to a senior internship at ELLE, which landed him a full-time job at the magazine before graduating. He then went on to work at Details and most recently joined Playboy, where he is the Luxury Director for the magazine’s advertising. All this, by the age of 25. We talked to this young alumnus about his thriving start in the magazine industry, some goosebump-inducing ads, and a few of his favorite things.
Tell us about how you started out in the magazine industry.
The magazine publishing industry is very small and incestuous. After interning and then working full-time at ELLE for six months the magazine was purchased by Hearst. The shake up was rough for a lot of people, but I stuck around through the transition and eventually one of my bosses left ELLE for Details. About a month later, she asked if I wanted to join her at her new publication; I said yes.
How was it different working with a male audience? Details was such a huge learning curve. Selling a women’s book is nothing like selling a men’s book. If you’re a big brand like ELLE or Vogue, people want and need to run with you month after month. At Details it took a lot of re-educating the clients on what men have to offer and why speaking to them through advertising is necessary.
How did the opportunity at Playboy come about?
After about three months at Details my publisher, Kevin Martinez, pulled me aside and told me that I had much bigger things in my future. He went out of his way to help groom me for the role I’m in now. Playboy reached out to me via a recruiter back in February after seeing my success with the fashion and luxury list at Details. After many meetings with key players and a lot of back-and-forth, I finally made the jump to Playboy, an iconic American brand.
What does the job entail?
As Luxury Director, I’m responsible for all of the fashion, grooming, watch and luxury auto advertising that runs in the book, online and via social media.
You must be extremely busy! What’s a typical day like?
I know it’s cliché, but there isn’t really a typical day. For instance, my third day on the job I was on a plane to Las Vegas for a tradeshow. A lot of my time is divided between attending client events/activations, going on sales calls, and constantly emailing, emailing, emailing.
What’s the upside of the bustle and “emailing, emailing, emailing”?
There’s a giant payoff. Like the rush you get when you break an account that you’ve been working on for a long time. Nothing like it.
Any client acquisition that was particularly memorable?
My favorite win to date has to be breaking the John Varvatos fashion account for September. The head of marketing for Varvatos is known in the industry to be a no-nonsense kind of lady, so I came prepared with the heavy artillery–my publisher and editorial director. You could actually sense the moment during the meeting when she was convinced Playboy was the right fit for their brand. The excitement in the air was palpable.
Talk a bit about the kinds of ads that run in Playboy.
A lot of our advertisers have a little more freedom with their creative by running with us as opposed to other books. They can get away with more. For instance, Jaguar ran an ad last Fall with copy that read, “Have you ever had a Piloerection?” which is the scientific term for goosebumps, something you get from driving a Jaguar.
Interesting how the copy adapts to the publication…
Yes! Our readers are definitely a different demographic and genuinely uninhibited. It’s always an exciting day at the Playboy offices.
On to the more personal. What’s your favorite item on your desk?
I have a small collection of owls all around my desk, so each one reminds me of the family member or friend who gifted it to me. I’ve always had this odd fascination with them. In certain cultures the owl symbolizes wisdom, perspective and intuition. All things I try to embody.
Favorite spot in New York City?
The promenade in Brooklyn Heights and the waterfront in DUMBO. I live nearby, and I make it a point to go there instead of schlepping into the city on the weekend.
What’s the last song you downloaded?
“The Stockholm Syndrome” by CLMD vs. Kish feat. Froder. I’m a little obsessed with EDM currently.
Most treasured possession?
This little glass and metal rose that my late grandmother always kept on her nightstand.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Network. More than anything it’s all about the people you know. Yes, classes and education is important, but 90% of what you learn will be on the job. The people who get you that job matter the most, so make sure to create genuine, meaningful relationships.
With new media platforms playing a vital role in getting creative work off the ground, we were pleased to bring together a dynamic panel for “Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life” at FIT this week. The lively discussion included excellent tips from Nicole He, who’s the Art, Fashion & Photography Project Specialist at Kickstarter and insight from Sass Brown, who’s Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design. We were also thrilled to hear from FIT alumni Amy Lombard (Photography ’12), Heather Huey (Millinery ’04), and Stefan Loble (Entrepreneurship ’10), who shared incredible success stories launching their creative projects on Kickstarter. Watch this inspiring discussion and learn how you can bring your creative project to life!
Take a closer look at the creative projects our alumni launched!
Business Class Valerie Michael-éfe Entrepreneurship ’13, Fashion Design ’11
You’re in the first graduating class of FIT’s Entrepreneurship program. What was your favorite course? In our sixth semester, we worked in groups to create a business plan—financials, marketing, everything. Everyone in my group had a design background, so we learned a lot. For example, a profitable business can be ruined by cash-flow problems. Also, how do you get customers? That’s the big hurdle.
What’s the secret? The secret is to know your art, and have the experience to prove it.
You seem pretty confident. Do you have a business background? My mother was a serial entrepreneur in Nigeria, where I’m from. Now she owns a poultry farm, but she once had a baking business, and I was her accountant. After a few years, I told her I wanted to start my own fashion business. But in Nigeria, no one in the business environment will listen to you unless you have a degree.
What got you interested in fashion? My mother was a fashion designer, too. She made women’s wear—head wraps, tops, wrappers in wax-resist fabrics. In Africa, we like a lot of colors, prints, and details. For the best things you wear there, men and women, the tops are always lace. That’s why I love lace.
So will you make evening wear? No, luxury outerwear and rainwear. I’m getting together specially made Italian fabrics that I’ve researched during my internship at Brioni, the high-end Italian company. Some are layered and treated to make them waterproof.
What have you learned at Brioni? I work with the retail planner and analyst. They plan what goes into each store and constantly analyze data to know what is happening in sales across the U.S. It’s a lot of numbers work and Excel. Before this, I didn’t know how to analyze data to learn how much profit you’re making.
Is this your best internship? I learned something important at all of them. For Michael Kors, I did technical design. At Zegna, I learned how important inventory is. I did publicity for Irina Shabayeva, the season six Project Runway winner. With Zac Posen, I did patternmaking. He was a nice guy, very quiet.
And soon you’ll have an atelier of your own. What’s your aesthetic? For the 2011 student fashion show, I made overalls with shorts and a hood, and glitter and lace, and I won a critic’s award. I want my clothes to be art. I don’t care if they’re wearable. I want people to look at them and say, “How did she do that?”
Michael-éfe wears a jacket from her collection, OSO-EFE (it means “rain” in Isoko, a language spoken in Nigeria). See the line at osoefe.com.
This Alumni Spotlight originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Hue magazine.
Illusions of reality photographed in IKEA showrooms, men’s pants that go from the board meeting to the hiking adventure, a high fashion milliner as muse in a photo love story–these are the kinds of projects that reflect the tremendous talent, creativity and ambition of FIT alumni.
We are so excited to hear from the creators themselves: Amy Lombard (photographer), Stefan Loble (menswear designer), and Heather Huey (milliner) will be on campus to talk about their ridiculously cool and hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns. The panel discussion will also include helpful tips from Nicole He, Kickstarter’s Art, Fashion & Photography Project Specialist and insight from Sass Brown, Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design.
This talk is sure to inspire designers, artists, entrepreneurs, community organizers, and just about anyone passionate about an idea! Get inspired with us and register below!
Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life
August 5, 2013
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Fashion Institute of Technology
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
New York, New York
At the age of 22, Louis Mairone (Menswear ’08) launched Dominic Louis, a label inspired by androgyny, rock ’n roll, and New York City. Mairone’s handcrafted garments blur identity lines and, with the abundance of fur and leather, have an edgy nomadic feel to them. Hear what Mairone had to say about bringing his collection to life–from lugging a suitcase with samples through the NYC subway to creating custom designs for rock legends like Trent Reznor.
I chose FIT because: All I wanted in the world was to move to New York City and work in fashion. So FIT was the first step in that direction.
FIT gem: Professor Gresia. He taught Menswear Tailoring and brought such a real old world feeling to the work. It felt very authentic. He is one of those last real garmentos. Being that my family is from Italy, I saw so much charm in him, his accent and disposition. He referred to me as “Luigi”.
The story behind Dominic Louis: I had been an assistant designer for a company that ended up closing its doors. I was lost. I decided to make clothes of my own and see what happened. I filled up a rolling luggage with the samples and carted my collection up and down subway rails visiting local retailers in the heat of summer. OAK NYC signed on to carry the Dominic Louis Fall 2010 collection. It was the beginning. I was 22 with a suitcase full of dreams.
Aesthetic: Raw like the end of the world, modern like the beginning of time, where art meets fashion and fashion breeds art.
Favorite textile to work with: Skin
Clients: Trent Reznor and Lenny Kravtitz. True rock legends who embody my aesthetic.
Inspiration: This moment in time and how it influences the blueprint which is already in place.
Typical day: Insanity. We work out of a shared studio space on 36th and 8th. We’re doing design concepting and pattern making for the new collection, updating web data, fitting muslins, sourcing, and doing custom work for clients all out of the same space. It’s really kind of a one stop shop for us.
Most treasured possession: Family
Exciting plans: I am currently enrolled in the Designer Entrepreneurs program hosted by FIT and will be presenting my plan at the end of the summer. We’re planning a sales tour for the collection to spread international awareness. We’re always working on some sort of collaborative effort… something very special coming for SS14.
Last word: If you’re in this for the right reasons, it will end up working out. So many people will tell you “no”. You have to tell yourself “yes”.
At FIT’s commencement exercises for the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology and the School of Liberal Arts, Fern Mallis, the creator of New York City’s Fashion Week, offered new grads her “Top Ten” tips for job interviewing. Check them out here and share your own!
10. Penmanship. Before they completely eliminate cursive handwriting in schools, try your hand at writing a thank you note. A handwritten one, preferably legible. On a nice card stock, with a clever stamp on the envelope. It goes a lot further than an email.
9. Google. Use it and learn something about the person you are meeting with. I can’t tell you how many times a candidate has sat across my desk and asked me, “So what is your job all about? And how did you get here?” Also, get there early. Soak up the energy — or lack of it. Sit in the reception area and watch everyone coming and going, feel the vibe. Can you imagine yourself fitting in? If you come rushed and hassled you’ll never know.
8. Dress appropriately. OK, that’s wide open to interpretation. I realize at some companies, hoodies are the official outfit. But know that you can never take back a first impression. As yes, as superficial as it sounds, we are judged on what we wear and how we look, especially in a job interview. And make sure you have a good dry cleaner, and we always notice the shoes.
7. Gum. NEVER EVER in public. I don’t want to hear “It’s for my breath.” That’s what Altoids are for. This one is so not negotiable.
6. Grooming. First, manicures. There are 7 million fabulous nail polish colors out there. Pick one, any one. But make sure it covers your entire nail, and isn’t chipped and peeling. It’s one of the first things I notice, and often it’s the only thing I see. And that goes for the guys. You too should have nice manicured clean nails, preferably without color. And second, hair. Do you have good shampoo and a blow dryer? You’d be shocked at how many people I’ve interviewed over the years, and all I could think is, I wish they’d washed their hair, or combed it or brushed it.
5. Resumes. I know this is a chance to be creative, as you all are, and you want jobs in a creative industry. But make sure people over 40 who need to read these can. Pick clean clear typefaces — this isn’t your design thesis. Make it concise and honest. No one expects several pages of past work history. But pick the things you’re most proud of. And add a smart, interesting explanation of what you’d like to do. And check the spelling 100 times.
4. Listen and think before you speak. Don’t be thinking of what you want to say next at the expense of listening and hearing what is being said to you. And make sure your phone is turned off, along with the vibrate function.
3. Smile and make eye contact. Be engaging. I know you may be nervous, but keep your head up and make eye contact. I remember when you could actually flirt with someone in an elevator. Now it’s impossible. Everyone’s head is down, checking their emails.
2. Handshake. Make sure you have a firm and connected one. Your handshake communicates for you. When I meet someone with a limp fishy slidey handshake, I’ve immediately lost interest.
1. Be nice. I don’t care how smart pretty or handsome you are, I want to work with people I like, nice people. You are all competing with lots of talented students and professionals. What can make the difference? It’s the person, the personality you want in your office every day. As Tom Ford said at the 92Y, only hire people you would want to have dinner with.
Since graduating from FIT in 1978, Professor Miriam Russo (now Miriam Enders) and I have kept in touch for what is now 35 years. We used to periodically write letters, then email, and now we’re friends on Facebook! I was thrilled to get a friend request from Professor Russo, who’s 91 (yes, 91!), and so happy to interact with her on social media. I regularly post my artwork on Facebook and even now, she continues to motivate and praise me. She recently gave my ink/watercolor “New Orleans” a whopping “A+!” in the comments section. I laughed out loud it was so delightful! Professor Russo, always supportive of my endless endeavours, is still grading me most upliftingly.
I recently visited New York City and we had the most delightful lunch. We exchanged many fun memories from our years at FIT. It’s been 35 years since I graduated from FIT, and I am incredibly grateful to have Professor Russo in my life.
Soon we will meet up again and browse through the Whitney Museum for an afternoon.
Sibylle Pfaffenbichler started out with drawing workshops at the Art Students League in New York City, received a BFA summa cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York, and took advanced art studies at the Long Island University. The famous textile designer Vera hired her out of college to design scarves in free-spirited watercolor paintings, her first artistic professional endeavour. Pfaffenbichler eventually chose the path of fine art and has worked as an independent artist ever since. She now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and works out of a big studio in an old textile mill.