Category Archives: Good to Know

SPIKE LEE VISITS FIT TO DISCUSS DO THE RIGHT THING

Director Spike Lee visited FIT recently for an interview following a screening of his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. A frigid February night proved the perfect time to watch a movie that takes place on a scorching-hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Lee said he was inspired to write the script in part because “I noticed that in New York, when it gets above 95 degrees, people lose their minds.”

spikelee

One student said she was impressed with Lee’s stylish UGGs. (He wore them to stay warm in the stadium during the Super Bowl). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, holds the microphone.

The college’s Black Student Union organized the event as part of Black History Month (“the shortest month of the year,” Lee wryly noted). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, greeted a packed house in the Haft Auditorium with the observation, “Black history is everybody’s history in America.”

From a show of hands, a sizable portion of the packed house in the Haft Auditorium had never seen the movie, which has held up beautifully over 25 years. The characters’ artfully crafted hairstyles, eyewear, and Day-Glo-colored outfits (for which Lee credited his costume designer, Ruth Carter) were redolent of the 80s. Still, some current students came similarly attired—and looked pretty chic.

At the climax of the film, a riot erupts. After the screening, one audience member asked whether Lee intended to stir up trouble. Lee answered, unequivocally, no. “That was a criticism of the film—that it was going to incite riots. There was a fear that you’d see the movie and run out and start smashing things. I don’t think Chuck D [of the band Public Enemy] who wrote the song ‘Fight the Power’ for me [it opens the film] was talking about taking up arms. It was more like mental stuff.”

Toward the end of the night, Lee invited students in the audience to talk about the obstacles they faced as they trained for creative careers. Many described their parents’ objections. “My father went to Harvard and my mother went to Columbia, and there’s no way they’ll pay my tuition to study fashion,” a student said. Lee counseled everyone to stick with it. “Parents,” he said, “kill more dreams than anybody.”

Lee revealed that the “Love and hate” speech given by the character Radio Raheem (above) was inspired by a scene in Charles Laughton’s 1955 suspense classic “Night of the Hunter”:

The manager of films for FIT’s student association also helped organize the event.

AUTHOR FRAN LEBOWITZ DISSES HALSTON, STRAIGHT PEOPLE, AND MEN IN SHORTS

The author, satirist, and professional talker Fran Lebowitz visited FIT last Friday. She submitted, if that’s the right word, to an on-stage interview with Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, as part of a symposium, “A Queer History of Fashion,” which complemented the museum’s show of the same name.

An early moment in the exchange was fraught. Steele asked why Lebowitz refused to lend one of her suits for the show. Everyone leaned forward. Was some personal revelation forthcoming?

Nope. “I didn’t lend you one because I couldn’t live for six months without one of my suits,” Lebowitz said, referring to the length of the exhibition. “I don’t have enough [of them].”

Her career began in the early ’70s at Interview magazine, with Andy Warhol. As a denizen of his demimonde, she met many fashion designers, including Halston. “Halston was not someone I was very interested in,” Lebowitz said. “He was kind of a hick, actually. But he had huge parties, which are always good. His clothes were plastic. They were Ultrasuede, which is polyester, which is plastic.”

Steele asked how Lebowitz ended up on the Best-Dressed list. “People vote for you,” she said. “I’d rather be the mayor.”

Lebowitz has a famously bad case of writer’s block, though she’s quite relaxed—and quotable—in conversation. Steele said one question that kept coming up while preparing the show was why there are so many gay designers.

“Is that even a question?” Lebowitz said. “A better question is, ‘Why are there straight designers?’ Why are there straight men at fashion shows? Can’t something be done about that?”

Later she said that perhaps the correlation had to do with the fact that straight men “could have other jobs. There were few jobs where you could be gay.”

Steele asked if Lebowitz had a fashion bête noire. “To me, shorts,” she said. “I really do not want to see adult men wearing shorts. Ever. They’re suburban. When I see a grown man wearing shorts, I think, ‘You’re going to a cookout.” Baseball caps also draw her ire.

Asked to explain the appeal of leather, Lebowitz replied, “Sex. That’s the appeal. It’s durable. It lasts longer than sex. Which is why, at a certain age, you should give it up. It’s actually sad, at a certain age. It makes me sad. For them, not me.”

For the record, Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard make her suits, but she doesn’t go to London to be fitted. “I’m an Anglophobe,” she admitted. “They have a dress form of me, for sizing. It lives in London, so I don’t have to.” She has very particular tastes. Fabric, for example: “I could spend my entire life choosing fabrics.”  And, “I always ask for light-colored buttons,” a style somewhat against the grain. She’s also demanding about fit. She said, “At the point that a suit no longer fits, you should not go out.”

CHINESE POET VISITS FIT, MAKES METAPHOR OUT OF OYSTERS

The Chinese poet Wang Jiaxin came to FIT yesterday to read from his work and discuss the pleasures of versifying, and of translating and reading poets from around the world. Wang has been called “one of the most important contemporary poets in China,” but Hue is happy to note that he looks almost like a regular guy.

He gave talks and readings, and described what it was like growing up during the Cultural Revolution. In the ’80s he was the editor of a prestigious literary magazine in China, but after the Tiananmen Square tragedy he was relieved of that post (the university had allowed some students to participate in the protest).

Wang said to “pay attention to details” because “poets never give you anything directly.” He described the pleasure of reading Emily Dickinson—“I like her much more than [Walt] Whitman,” he said. He described Dickinson’s poems as “the fruit of longing…very deep.” He read a poem about her, and also this one, which Hue liked a lot:

OYSTERS

Party’s over. On the seaside dining table
a few oysters left,
large, unopened.

Heading back in the car, someone says
“The ones you can’t open
Taste best.”
No one laughs,
no one considers what it means.
At night the surf sounds heaviest.
Through dark pine woods
our car weaves onward.

(Translated from the Chinese by Diana Shi and George O’Connell.)

Hue suspects there’s a metaphor there, and is going to leave it in its shell.

Watch a video of Wang reading at Berkeley with poet Robert Hass here.

Wang was invited to FIT by Jean Amato, an associate professor of English and Speech and a specialist in literature of China and the Chinese diaspora. Wang’s visit was sponsored by the department.

HOW TO CONVINCE STRANGERS TO GIVE YOU MONEY

Hue loves it when FIT alumni follow their dreams. So does Kickstarter, the “crowdfunding” website that helps entrepreneurs gather seed money for their artistic projects.

Amy Lombard, Photography ’12, succeeded in her Kickstarter effort to publish a book of photos of Ikea showrooms, complete with customers who look like they live there.

On August 5, FIT’s Office of Alumni and Faculty Relations put on Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life, a panel discussion of three alumni who have launched successful Kickstarter projects, plus Nicole He, Kickstarter’s Art, Fashion and Photography Project Specialist, and Sass Brown, Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design.

Here is their best advice. (Or you can watch the video of the presentation.)

1. Start by surfing Kickstarter.com and backing lots of interesting-sounding projects. Even $1 will get you email updates about each project. Not only will you learn what makes a compelling pitch, but you’ll also learn to avoid common pitfalls.

2. You’ll need to choose little prizes for each donation level. The most popular giveaway will be your actual product, but think of desirable tie-in products and other offers that help funders feel like insiders. For a $20 donation, Heather Huey, an FIT Millinery alumna whose photo book project was funded, offered a shoutout on her collaborator’s popular Tumblr page.

3. You’ll have to choose a length of time for achieving your funding goal (if you fall short, you get nada!). He (we mean Nicole, not some mysterious as-yet-unmentioned man) recommends 30 days. Less isn’t enough time to build momentum; more and the momentum flags.

Stefan Loble, Entrepreneurship, raised almost ten times what he planned to for his line of easy-care pants. For him, Kickstarter was a way to take pre-orders and get paid before he went into production.

4. There will be delays. Keep your backers in the loop with regular updates.

5. Make a video to promote your project. But don’t worry if it’s amateurish. He thinks some of the most compelling videos have been just a guy mumbling into a camera.

6. Get critical feedback on your page before launching. Not just from friends – from people who will tell you what they really think.

7. Be ready. Have a prototype done. Convince would-be funders that all you need is money. (There are failures out there. Beware the doom that came to The Doom That Came to Atlantic City!)

8. If your project does get funded, be ready to go into production!

WHY IS THE NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES LOGO SO ABSTRACT?

In Hue’s summer issue (coming out very soon!), John Malozzi, Advertising Design ’96, explained how he, along with his colleagues at FutureBrand, developed American Airlines’ new logo and brand identity. Hue is excited about the new logo, a beakish abstraction penetrating a diagonal line.

American Airlines’ new logo.

But why is it a good logo? Hue turned to Malozzi’s favorite FIT teacher, Eli Kince, associate professor of Communication Design, to talk about American’s logos over the years. Here’s what he said.

“Fine artists were the original graphic designers. They used to call them commercial artists. When logos first came out, they were literal imagery of products that appeared on buildings and on packaging. American’s first logos were examples of commercial art.

American Airlines’ early, quite literal, logos.

“By 1968, the AA logo had equity. It takes time to build familiarity like this, to convince people to believe in and trust your company. When they get familiar with your logo,  you can make it simpler and more abstract. In Massimo Vignelli’s successful 1968 logo, the ‘AA’ was structurally sound, monolithic, beautiful. The blocky shape of the ‘A’s communicated solidity, dependability, safety, and security. Graphically, we see triangles as dangerous, round shapes as warm and fuzzy, blocks as secure. Of course, people want to fly on a solid airline.

The highly recognizable 1968 American Airlines logo by Massimo Vignelli.

“In the computer age, consumers are ready for even more abstraction in logo design. A modern logo isn’t a combination of colors, it’s a combination of energy. You use color and lines to create vibrations. It’s like a relationship between people: after we get to know each other, the energy of who we are begins to show up. After a while we don’t even see each other, and we know each other by energy or spirit. The abstractness of the eagle form coming out of this vertical line, it says direction, it says this airline is going against the grain.”