Season’s Greet-inks!


With the opening last night of FIT’s second annual holiday pop-up shop, I believe that the college has established a new tradition. And given that we are also celebrating FIT’s 70th anniversary this year, this is a particularly lovely and appropriate tradition to establish. It brings together students, staff, faculty—a great curricular challenge—and philanthropy, all in the spirit of the season.

The holiday pop-up shop—designed, fabricated, and installed by third-semester students in the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design (VPED) program—is a collaboration between FIT and The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s thrift shop. Last year, when we produced it for the first time, the shop raised an amazing $35,000 for the hospital in just five days.

The shop is located in the Pomerantz lobby and occupies no more than 600 square feet, but it is filled with a bounty of vintage luxury goodies from The Society Boutique. You’ll find many high-end designer labels on clothing, jewelry, handbags and other accessories as well as unique gift items—all at bargain prices.

Its stock (and bargains) notwithstanding, this pop-up shop is worth a visit, if only for the visuals. It is almost like performance art! The theme—Season’s Greet-inks—is a play on words on old-fashioned holiday tattoo images. And you can see them throughout—from the giant pin-up “girls” in Santa hats at the entrance to product hang-tags, shopping bags, and window displays. Temporary tattoos are on sale as well. The shop also features woodland animals—evoking a fantasy forest environment. A total of 36 VPED students submitted twelve proposals for themes to The Society Boutique team who chose Season’s Greet-inks. Once this theme was chosen, all of the students went to work to put the shop together.

The shop is staffed by FMM students in the Merchandising Society, which operates the college’s Style Shop.

As it happens, the curriculum for third semester VPED students focuses on retail and display, according to the program’s chair, Professor Craig Berger, and Professors Anne Kong and Mary Costantini, who all worked with these students throughout the process. So the pop-up shop project is a kind of hands-on culmination of their studies.

Seasons Greet-inks will be open to the public from Wednesday, December 10 through Saturday, December 13. Hours are 11am to 8pm, except on Saturday, when the shop will close at 7:30pm. All of of the proceeds will go to Memorial Sloan Kettering—so this is one time that I will join the retail choir and sing: Shop Till You Drop!

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Foreign Language Poetry Recitation Competition

The Foreign Language Poetry Recitation Competition celebrated its 25th anniversary here at FIT this year in two days of recitations in November. In a way, its longevity is a surprise—it is counter-intuitive. Who would expect, after all, that a college like FIT, whose entire raison d’etre is to promote career education, would so enthusiastically support an activity that really celebrates the principles of the liberal arts?

Winners and runners-up of the Foreign Language Poetry Recitation Competition.
Winners and runners-up of the Foreign Language Poetry Recitation Competition.

Still, here we are—25 years after Professor James Cascaito first inaugurated this competition—and we had, once again, a full house of students, faculty and friends cheering on our students who recited beautifully—in Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Perhaps its success really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to us. In its way, it is a testament to our remarkable and always surprising students as well as to Professor Cascaito that this competition took root here.

In fact, it expresses one of the core values and goals of an FIT education: to expand the learning experience across cultures and boundaries. And it reflects our commitment to the liberal arts—as well as to the global perspective that is a hallmark of the nation’s best institutions of higher education. In a very special way, it also honors the whole FIT community—which is made up of people from a multitude of religions, races, countries and cultures. What better tribute could be paid to this community than this effort to teach, understand and speak other languages—and to share an appreciation for the poetry of other cultures.

I have often said that this is one of my favorite FIT events. It is such a pleasure to listen to the recitations of our talented students. This year, they chose poems from ancient Chinese and Japanese masters, as well as from the 19th century French poet Paul Verlaine and the Latin American literary giant Jorge Luis Borges—among many others. The first place winners all come from our Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology. In Chinese, the winner was Daeyoung Foo (Fashion Merchandising Management); in French, Parinaz Heidari (Advertising Marketing Communications); in Italian, Sergio Falquez (Fashion Merchandising Management); in Japanese, Sara Vondruskova (Fashion Merchandising Management); in Spanish, Steven Simione (International Trade and Marketing).

I was only able to attend the first day of the competition so I had the opportunity to hear all of the finalists recite in the run-off. As far as I am concerned, each and every one of these students is a winner. By mastering another language, they opened their eyes, minds and hearts to another culture. By studying that culture’s poetry, they learned something of the power of its language to distill meaning and emotion. Finally, by entering this competition, they went beyond the classroom requirements and challenged themselves to seek true excellence. In the process, they expanded their horizons in a way that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. How wonderful that they were able to do that as an intrinsic part of their FIT career-focused education.

Listen to the winning recitations:

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New Film and Media Studies Program

It is always exciting when FIT launches a new program. Any new program, after all, offers our students new perspectives, new career direction, new opportunity. But it was particularly exciting this semester when FIT welcomed 25 students as charter members of its new Film and Media Studies program. Even though the program has just launched, students have been clamoring to get in since it was first advertised. Indeed, we were forced to turn away many dozens of excellent applicants because—at this stage—we could only accommodate one cohort of 25.

For so many of today’s young people, going into film—in any of its many guises—is as cool and luring as joining a rock band. And since film programs are offered at colleges and universities throughout the country, you might wonder why ours was so much in demand—even at the outset. And the answer, I think, is what makes FIT and its entire curriculum unique: it blends the practical with the theoretical, the hands-on with the academic. Housed in the School of Liberal Arts, it is an interdisciplinary program with the School of Art and Design—and as such, it offers an altogether new approach to the study of film.

From their first semester, students are introduced to filmmaking skills, such as lighting and visual storytelling while, at the same time, they are exposed to the analytic tools fundamental to the study of film. Over time, they will master the technical and production skills of live-action visual storytelling, both fiction and documentary, while studying film and media history, critical writing and the work of great directors. Programs at most other institutions cannot—or do not—offer a curriculum with both sides of the filmmaking craft, and both sides, of course, are essential. Indeed, many of our applicants made a point of telling us how important it was to them to have this dual exposure.

I am eager to watch this program grow. Each new academic year will bring more and more students, and as they graduate—either with an associate or a baccalaureate degree, or both—they will populate the expanding fields in which the moving image plays such a prominent role. Their opportunities are vast, ever-growing and ever-evolving, and I am sure that 10 years down the road, our cool FIT alums will be among the rock stars in the field.

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Remembering Oscar de la Renta

Couture Council Artistry of Fashion Award Luncheon, 2012

What can one possibly add to the abundance of tributes to Oscar de la Renta following his death last month? He was, as WWD declared on its front page, “an American master” and there was not a person who knew him—personally or professionally—who did not laud the elegance, sophistication and romantic beauty of his designs, his devotion to women, his vibrant charm, grace, dignity and joie de vivre. We were fortunate to know him and count him as a friend at FIT.

Over the years, he was a critic, a frequent guest lecturer, and to our great benefit, in 1986 he established the Francoise de la Renta Color Room to honor his late wife. His company consistently offered internships to our students. Indeed, this giant of the fashion industry has had an outsized influence on generations of FIT students. We were delighted to be able to award him an honorary degree in 2002. Ten years later, the Couture Council honored him with its Artistry of Fashion award. I last saw him in September at the 2014 Couture Council luncheon in which we honored his good friend Carolina Herrera, and although he was, by then, more visibly frail, he was as elegant as ever—as full of fun and kindness and laughter as ever.

We will miss his great talent and good heart as we remember the man who was a privilege and pleasure to know.

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Why Midterms Matter (The Elections, That Is)

For many of us in the academic world—and especially students—the word “midterm” inevitably means exams. But there is another kind of midterm approaching—one that is terribly important, and yet one I fear that many of us might just miss. It is, of course, the national midterm election—that period between presidential elections when many congressional and local seats are on the line. Historically, these elections seem to put the nation to sleep.

This year certainly doesn’t bode well. Polls tell us that the country is thoroughly disgusted with Washington, and our distaste for a dysfunctional congress has spilled over into our attitudes toward local races. Governor? Judges? Local council or school board members? Few seem to care.

The other day, there was an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by the writer Ann Patchett in which she mulled over her close call with apathy as the primaries for the midterm elections approached. This is a woman who takes pride in voting in all elections. But this time out, she didn’t seem to much care and decided that it would be enough to vote in the midterms. However, at the last minute, she realized that some state Supreme Court justices whom she admired just might lose their seats. It was her “eureka” moment. “Just when I thought it was safe to nap through a little local primary election, I was reminded that enjoying democracy meant getting off the sofa,” she wrote.

It is a bit frightening to me that so well-informed and ardent a voter as Ann Patchett almost gave it up. Our country is not especially well-informed—I think we know that from endless surveys conducted over the years. (One survey of 1000 Americans found that 44 percent could not define the Bill of Rights, 73 percent did not know why we had engaged in the Cold War, and more than a third couldn’t identify in which century the American Revolution took place.) Yet as we know, a well-functioning democracy requires a well-informed population.

I’d like to think that because FIT is an academic community that this particular population is better informed—and will show up at the voting booth. I recognize that politics are not high on the agenda for students across the nation this year—including those at FIT. Yet every day, when I walk into the Marvin Feldman lobby and see the almost empty newspaper stand near the elevator—the one that dispenses free copies of The New York Times—I am encouraged. Maybe I’m looking at it with rose-colored glasses, but I take that almost-empty stand to mean that our students are engaging in some kind of conversation about the world around them.

Surely, the problems we face today could not be more disturbing or compelling. Climate change? Terrorism? Immigration reform? Abortion? The fate of Guantanamo or Jerusalem? Minimum wages? Teacher evaluations? What books your child reads in school? Whoever occupies a particular congressional seat or a state assembly seat or a local judgeship can, and likely will, vote on issues like these—issues that will affect you— indeed, all of us directly. So…yes…these tiresome, boring midterm elections are important. Critically important. As Ann Patchett wrote: “Voting is like brickwork—the trick is to keep at it every election season, laying brick after brick…if you miss one, the whole thing starts to slide.” It is also both the quid pro quo and the privilege of democracy.

Midterms fall this year on Tuesday, November 4th. Vote!

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