Last month, FIT helped kick off Fashion Week at Lincoln Center with our annual Couture Council luncheon. We had the pleasure of honoring Carolina Herrera who drew a house full of admirers, including the crème de la crème of the fashion world. Spirits were high, thanks in part to Seth Meyers, whose repartee as emcee kept everyone laughing–and in part, of course, to the warmth everyone present felt for Carolina. It was all in a good cause: the luncheon raised almost $900,000 for The Museum at FIT.
As a college, FIT does a good deal to promote the goals of sustainability. But in the end, those lofty goals will go nowhere if we do not make them personal and take individual responsibility for putting them into practice: recycle our trash, consume mindfully, turn out the lights and so on. This week, FIT is joining a host of other colleges and universities for seven days of “green” activities–designed to raise our collective consciousness–called “No Impact Week.”
Sponsored and organized by the FIT Sustainability Council, it has already generated great buy-in from our entire community: students, faculty and staff–and this does not surprise me given our record on sustainability. Over the course of the week, opportunities to improve the quality of our lives will be offered in many different ways: field trips–to a recycling plant one day to see what happens to our waste and to Coney Island Beach another day to observe marine wildlife; safe biking lessons; a green market on our breezeway with local farmers selling fresh produce; a “weave-a-thon” using salvaged yarns and textiles ; lessons in LEED and a potluck vegetarian dinner–among many others.
I don’t know if any of us will ever be able to match the “achievements” of Colin Beavan, the man behind “No Impact Week,” who, with his wife, children and dog, famously lived a zero-impact life in the middle of New York City for a year. They used no paper goods, no electricity, no carbon-fueled transportation; they ate only local organically grown foods, etc. and he lived to write about it. The experiment became the subject of a popular book and documentary. I don’t know how many of us want to go that far in our attempt to heal the planet. But certainly we owe it to ourselves and to our community to try–if even with small steps–to do as much as we can to lower our impact on the environment.
One day last month, I was going through the pages of Womens Wear Daily and saw an article entitled Dog Days of Summer: Designers Discuss Their Canine Companions. There was Rocky, a Norfolk terrier owned by Georgina Chapman; LouLou, a Maltese belonging to FIT alum Reem Acra; and Gaspar, a toy poodle in the arms of Carolina Herrera. Sitting at my side was Bebe, my bichon frisé, wondering–just as I was–why he had not been included.
Of course, I am not a designer, but FIT is the wellspring of designers who are featured in WWD every day! And I think of Bebe as one of FIT’s most popular and important ambassadors. After all, he welcomes members of the FIT community and industry insiders whenever I host an event in my home. Every time we go for a walk–be it right here on campus or on the surrounding streets in Chelsea–he is greeted with a smile, and often by name. Indeed, I sometimes forget myself and think that the approaching person is smiling at me …but no…the smile is directed at Bebe. Invariably, too, there will be conversation, but again, not with me: with Himself! So since WWD did not think to include Bebe in its article, I have decided to blog about him today, using WWD’s Q & A format and some of its questions.
Dog’s favorite summer activity: chasing geese by the lake in the country and running without his bad-weather boots
His biggest guilty pleasure: eating doggy ice cream and duck treats
His greatest talent: teaching me how to speak and understand “dog”
What he still needs to work on: telling the truth about how many treats he has eaten and controlling his princely attitude and “king of the jungle” self-image
His favorite place on campus: my office desk
His favorite summer outfit: none–and especially not boots.
Now boots or no boots, Bebe can’t live on the FIT campus and escape from the demands of fashion. He positively struts in his cashmere or shearling coats or his Burberry plaid-lined raincoat, all of which complement his snowy white fur. And I am proud to say that he is frequently a featured presence in FIT’s annual pet runway show. He is a very special member of the family and a source of joy and amusement. So I confess that if Bebe has a somewhat privileged and regal air about him, it is because he has no idea he is a dog, and no-one has dared to tell him!
With the U.S. Open so much in the air right now, my mind doesn’t turn to Flushing Meadows, but rather right here to 27th Street where, for years, we have been turning out championship tennis teams. That may be surprising to many people who don’t automatically link FIT with tennis or soccer or any sport, for that matter. But the fact is we have 15 teams that compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association which is made up of about 600 two-year colleges across the country. And last year alone, four of our teams placed in the top ten nationally–with the women’s tennis team coming in second two years in a row.
The strength of the FIT athletics and recreation program has been years in the making with a dedicated director and coaches patiently developing teams that meet our students’ needs. But our students are natural competitors. They arrive at FIT filled with career ambitions, and the athletes among them apply that same fierce competitive zeal on the playing fields.
The upshot is that every year we have a roster of winning teams at both the regional and national level. Last year we had two regional team championships: women’s cross country and women’s volleyball. Both of them placed in the top ten nationally, along with the women’s half marathon and, as I mentioned, women’s tennis.
It may sound as if we have no men’s teams–but we do: men compete in cross country, half marathon, outdoor track, swimming, tennis and so on. And over the years, many of our men’s teams also placed high or the men themselves received All-American honors. It didn’t happen last year, but I am rooting for them for the coming year.
As an educator, it is important to me that our athletes find the right balance between their scholastic and athletic lives. And every year, they make me proud. Among the most prestigious athletic awards college athletes can win are those that recognize their academic achievements as well. Last year, eight of our teams won national all-academic team recognition, including men’s tennis (with a group 3.39 GPA), women’s swimming (group 3.44) and the women’s half marathon team (3.80)–which placed first in the country. Thirteen of our students–with GPA’s ranging from 3.6 to 3.9–were individually recognized as well.
And while I am bragging, I might as well point out that our teams, all called the FIT Tigers, wear the best-looking, sharpest, COOLEST uniforms in the country. This is the Fashion Institute of Technology after all.
Whenever we start a new academic year, I count my blessings. Living as we do in a world incessantly ablaze, it is gratifying to return to FIT and to focus anew on the business and challenges of my “work-a-day” life. Fortunately for me, and I believe for everyone at FIT, the work we do is the best and most fulfilling in the world: it is the work of education…the work of opportunity.
This happens to be a special year in the life of the college. It is our 70th anniversary. In 1944, FIT greeted its first students: 100 men and women who wished to pursue careers in the garment industry. They were beneficiaries of visionaries–bold, idealistic, risk-taking individuals who understood that even though their industry was then thriving, its future was not assured. They were tailors, manufacturers, labor leaders and educators who believed that education was the key to the future. For years they fruitlessly pedaled their appeal to the city fathers for an institution such as ours. When the state funded new technical schools for every industry except its largest–apparel–our founders put up their own money and struck their own deals to open our doors.
That is the spirit that continues to thrive here. Our resilience and remarkable growth over these 70 years provide a record of determined risk-taking, a record of idealism and accomplishment. This year 2300 new students arrived, offering new energy, new talent and new ideas–students eager to seize the day and ensure, once again, the future our founders envisioned.
That is why–no matter what is happening outside our doors–I am always so pleased to welcome our faculty, administrators, staff and students to another academic year. I feel privileged to be part of a community that creates opportunity for the next generation and the pathway to the future. I cannot help but wonder if our founders would recognize their industry as it has evolved over these 70 years–but I believe they would surely recognize their own DNA in the college that they created and be very very proud.