Why did you choose FIT?
It was my dream. Ever since I was a young girl, I envisioned myself walking down Fashion Avenue, through the glamorous doors of FIT. I was completely in love with fashion and knew FIT would give me the best education and connections in the industry.
What drew you to study Fashion Merchandising Management?
I have always exceled in art and business. I decided to major in FMM because it was the perfect combination of both. FMM allowed me to tap into my creative side while learning the business fundamentals needed to succeed in every industry.
Looking back, what was most valuable to you at FIT?
The specialized classes at FIT are one-of-a-kind. Students are able to focus on specific topics within the industry, which prepare you for the real world and keep your passion alive. All of my friends who attended other universities were impressed by the amount of group projects and fashion brands I created within class; FIT made hard work and learning fun.
Tell us the story behind Karma for a Cure.
I was inspired by my father’s battle with cancer to create a lifestyle brand that was fashion-forward and philanthropic. “Every design tells a story, every story supports a cause.” Each product in my collection is a piece of art; it has a deeper meaning than what meets the eye. Karma for a Cure meshes fashion and philanthropy on a daily basis, and creates awareness for over 13 causes.
We recently met at Henri Bendel, where you were invited to sell your products. How did that opportunity come about?
I went to Henri Bendel’s “open-see” in October. This event is held twice a year and allows designers from around the world to showcase their collection to HB buyers for a chance to be featured in their flagship store. I was chosen out of 1200 designers, on the spot, to feature my new “Healing Halo” Hair Collection during a Trunk Show at their 5th Avenue location. I would have never known this open-see existed, had I not found out years ago through my studies at FIT.
What are your thoughts on social media? Any platforms in particular that have significantly helped in branding?
Social media allows brands to be exposed to thousands of potential customers on a daily basis. Specifically, Instragram has helped me gain my client base through the use of product photos and relevant hashtags. Instagram gives customers a behind-the-scenes view of the brand and allows open communication between the brand team and the customer.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
There are so many things I love about my work: designing, helping others (charities), following my inner passion, and being my own boss. I can work 24 hours straight for 7 days and it still doesn’t feel like work. When you find the right fit for yourself, it’s like the perfect relationship; it’s passionate and rewarding.
What does it mean to you to be able to use your creativity as a way to give back?
It honestly means the world. I have the opportunity to do what I love and make a difference in the lives of others. It’s very rewarding and motivates me every day to keep learning, growing and creating.
What is your favorite item in your workspace?
My vision board. A personal collage of my goals and vision for the future that keeps me motivated, focused and happy!
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Follow your passions now. You don’t want to be the person to look back and say “what if”. Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams. Most of all, believe in yourself…YOU can make anything happen if you have a dream, a plan, and major work ethic.
I love to collaborate! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.karmaforacure.com for more information.
We were thrilled to welcome alumni to a private tour of the Museum at FIT’s newest exhibition, Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s. The tour was led by Patricia Mears (MA `92), Deputy Director of The Museum at FIT, along with co-curator and leading menswear historian Bruce Boyers. Guests took great joy in returning to campus and hearing fantastic insight from the curators themselves. Following the tour, alumni mingled at the reception at Moda Espresso Bar. If you are interested in attending an upcoming alumni event, be sure to sign up here.
Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s celebrates the most innovative and beautifully designed clothing made in the 20th century. This is the first exhibition to concurrently examine both men’s and women’s fashion of the 1930s, specifically objects made by the era’s finest dressmakers and men’s clothiers. Haute couture and bespoke tailoring are equally represented by the approximately 80 ensembles and 30 accessories that are arranged thematically in an exhibition environment designed to evoke the restrained style of the era. The exhibition opened on February 7, 2014 and runs through April 19, 2014. Learn more about Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s.
Why did you choose FIT?
I always knew I wanted to go to college in a big city, coming from the small town of Erie, Pennsylvania. After talking to a close girlfriend who was set on applying to school there, I figured it was worth taking a look myself. My Mom and I flew to New York and I fell in love with not only the city, but the school. There was no turning back.
What would you consider an FIT gem?
I would say FIT’s gem is definitely 27th Street. It’s so refreshing sitting outside watching the students and faculty express their style right before your eyes! The street transforms into a runway show during the day.
Since graduating in 2009, you co-founded Bobo Buddy which is quickly growing! Tell us about the business.
We founded Bobo Buddy in 2012 with the mission to fill a void in the marketplace and provide parents and babies with the highest quality plush toy that also has a purposeful function.
What are some of the product features?
Bobo Buddy is a small plush animal attachment that fits virtually any pacifier on the market. Babies can easily locate and maneuver the pacifiers into their mouths without assistance, thus feeling comforted by the soft and gentle texture of the animal. As the child develops, they become attached to the toy and not the pacifier so the transition down the line becomes easier. For parents, middle of the night searching for lost pacifiers is completely eliminated. The pacifier and the attachment can both be thoroughly washed separately.
How did the idea for this kind of product come about?
My sister-in-law had triplet girls in 2008. All three babies were born premature, so she relied heavily on pacifiers to soothe and comfort them until it was time for the next feeding. From the beginning there were constant issues with lost pacifiers; the girls would spit them out and not be able to put them back in their mouths. We were aware of a product on the market that had a hospital pacifier permanently attached to a plush animal, but there were several problems with that product. It was not machine washable and all her girls had severe reflux, it was expensive, and it was only available online. We decided to create a product that would meet the needs of both parents and children alike.
Talk a bit about the recognition and awards Bobo Buddy has received and some of the causes you’re involved in.
This year Bobo Buddy has won the PAL Award for inspiring kids and caregivers to engage in rich communication and interaction, the Creative Child Award and most recently the PTPA Award. At Bobo Buddy we realize that everyday in this country children are going to bed with empty bellies. For that, we are very dedicated to fighting childhood hunger here in America. A portion of the profits from every Bobo Buddy sold is donated to help end childhood hunger.
The product was recently picked up by Walmart and is sold nationwide. What has that experience been like and what does this kind of reach means for your company?
We had been working with Walmart for about nine months or so before the product hit stores this past January. We were beyond excited for its debut. The Walmart team has been really exceptional to work with so we were very lucky. When I saw our product on Walmart’s shelf for the first time, I instantly became emotional and thought about my classes at FIT. I vividly remember Professor Johnson’s product development class and learning about all of this. It was a full circle moment to say the least.
That must’ve been a very gratifying moment, especially in this competitive marketplace for baby products. How has being a women-owned company factored in?
It’s very important to find a niche and unique ways to set your business apart within that niche. We view our status as a minority and women-owned company as a positive, an empowering plus providing us with endless opportunity. One of the great things Walmart and Women In Toys (WIT) has committed to doing is partnering with women-owned businesses in all parts of the world, giving women a platform to make a difference in their communities. Many of the top Fortune 500 companies are run by powerful women. As female business owners, this fills us with pride.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
For the longest time, I would say I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve had many, many ideas from a men’s suit rental company to an event planning business to owning a home decorating/baby store. Only time will tell what will unfold, but I know one thing for sure: You have to do what makes you happy!
Do you have any exciting ventures in the works?
To say 2014 will be filled with exciting adventures would be an understatement. For one, I am getting married in May to my love and best friend! That certainly takes the cake, but as for the business, we are reaching for the stars. We will be attending 2014’s Toy Fair as Keynote Speakers for the Walmart and Women In Toy’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative. In March we will be in LA for Big City Mom’s Biggest Baby Shower, the ABC show in October and much, much more in between. As we look ahead, store expansion and line extensions are on the horizon!
We are excited to see it all unfold! What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
I think what I’ve learned the most is that there is never a perfect time to start something new. Bobo Buddy came about at the most unassuming time while I was juggling a full time job and planning my wedding. If you want something badly be willing to seize the opportunity when it’s presented to you, even when you least expect it.
For more information about Bobo Buddy, email Kelly Deimel at email@example.com
Donna Distefano (Jewelry Design ’82) recently returned to campus as a guest speaker for a class taught by her former FIT classmate and longtime friend, Frank Fraley (Jewelry Design ’82). Distefano offered students invaluable insight and advice about her career as a jewelry designer and owner of Donna Distefano LTD. We caught up with her about her FIT experience, landing in New York Magazine’s ”Best of New York” piece, and much more.
Why did you choose FIT?
During high school, I took college-level courses in art history, sculpture, music appreciation, music theory, drawing, and jewelry making. When I graduated, I had no idea what my career would be. I had been accepted to Southampton College as an Art Therapy major. I even had my dorm room picked out with my best friend. At the 11th hour my mother showed me the catalog from FIT. She knew I loved creating and working with my hands. I went on an interview with the late great Mel Strump and was accepted on the spot. That September, after graduating high school, I moved into Nagler Hall – room 703.
What was most valuable to you about FIT?
The greatest takeaway was working with individuals and teachers who were professionals in the industry. They offered something from the real world of design and fashion. At the time, 1980, punk rock was very much alive in New York City. I had jet black spiky hair, pointy leather boots and a motorcycle jacket. I was not embraced by all of my professors. However, I was taken under the wing of Coty Award winner, the late Bill Smith. He taught a great design class, had a fabulous loft that I felt privileged to be invited to, and he introduced me to what life as a designer really meant. Another professor who had a big influence on me was the late Chairman Samuel Beizer. During my years as his student, Professor Beizer showed me the many avenues that were available in the world of jewelry and that anything was possible in my career. He had a notorious reputation for being standoffish. He liked me and I took this as a sign that being a misfit might be ok after all.
Speaking of professors, you’ve stayed in touch with former FIT classmate, Frank Fraley, who’s now teaching at FIT!
Yes, we’ve remained friends since school and I love him like a brother. What’s most inspiring about Frank is his generosity and enthusiasm as a teacher. He works from the heart — for the students.
Have you stayed in touch with others and how important are the relationship you make as a student?
I have stayed in touch with two or three other students from class. But none stand out more to me then Joseph Murray. We arrived at FIT practically the same day and age. He jokingly admits that he thought I was a weirdo. But we were drawn to each other and our friendship continued over the decades. Our jewelry career paths were completely different however dynamically parallel. I learned so much from him decade to decade. I am to this day in awe of his talent and achievements. Our friendship is certainly one of the most important in my life. We have supported each other with advice and critiques on common ground. The best thing about our friendship is that when we get together we still laugh uncontrollably over our own bad, juvenile jokes. — In 2013 we were featured in the same book called Jewelry’s Shining Stars. This “alignment of the stars” was a meaningful reminder of our paralleled perseverance, success and bond.
Tell us a bit about how you started out as a jewelry designer.
My first jewelry job was during college. I worked for jewelry designer Tulla Booth. She was one smart business woman. I watched her design collections, run a business, put herself into magazines and sell to department stores with grace and style. I started working as a bead stringer. One day she realized I could solder and she moved me to the bench. At 18 I was producing a great deal of her product that she was selling nationwide. Talk about a great role model! She was also very kind and offered me advice when I really needed it at such a young age.
How did working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art come about?
In 1990, I was working for a firm as a designer and production manager. One of the partners was a skilled designer and a pleasure to work for. His partner was a good businesswoman but horrible to work with. She would generally humiliate the people that worked for her. She left me alone. One day when she took a tone of disrespect toward me, I calmly thanked them for the employment opportunity and I left. The gracious partner followed me into the elevator and pleaded with me to stay but I declined. As I stepped out onto the street alone I realized I had no job, no money and plenty of bills. I walked over to FIT and looked at the Alumni Job Board. On an index card there was a post from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they were looking for a goldsmith. I applied and after a couple of interviews I got the job. I became the senior goldsmith in the reproduction studio. It was a blissful position working with extremely talented people for four years. The museum is like a small city and I met my husband there who worked in a different department. Looking back I always remember the day I quit the production manager job. I chose self preservation over allowing someone to disrespect me. Stepping out onto the street into unchartered territories made all the difference.
Tell us about the decision to start your own jewelry business.
I started two businesses. One was called Spark and it was in the early 80s. Shortly after FIT I decided to open a jewelry studio and gallery, a similar business template to what I have today. I sold jewelry to Patricia Field, Saks Fifth Avenue, and many hip boutiques in Manhattan. I was in my early 20s, on a shoestring budget and very rebellious. In 1989 after wearing too many hats and burning out, I moved into my aunt’s house in the Italian countryside. I studied at the University of Ubino, traveled Europe and put my head back on straight. When I returned to New York, I worked various jewelry jobs and then for the Metropolitan Museum until 1994 when I founded Donna Distefano LTD. I always had a business plan and followed it. There were times when I had to take jobs in order to stay afloat but I was always fixated on my vision. That vision has not changed since I was 18.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Long before my Metropolitan Museum job, I was designing pieces and incorporating hieroglyphics and other ancient themes into my work. I am strongly influenced by history, poetry, paintings, literature and music. All of these art forms play a part in the creation of my collections. Portrait of a Lady is a good example of that, and my ring called “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” is a completely inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. My aesthetic is beauty, rich color and antiquity.
You mentioned during your talk with students that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Explain how this applied to your business.
My grand opening in my current Flatiron location was October 1, 2008. That ominous date played a big part in the years to come. We had moved into the new space because things were looking up and the business plan was working. After the crash, I was stuck with a high rent, lenders were nonexistent and bankers were systematically sinking small businesses and homeowners. I persevered. Only one aspect of my business continued to rise during the recession: Bridal. Patrons that had seen my work in InStyle Weddings would fly across the country or drive from Boston or Baltimore with my InStyle page stuffed in their wallet. In 2009, I launched a more official bridal collection and kept the emphasis on wedding bands, engagement rings and jewelry for the bride on her wedding day. As a result of the market crash, I became a pretty well-known wedding ring designer. I have to admit it’s one of my favorite things that I do. My greatest pleasure is working with so many happy couples during the greatest time of their lives.
Publicity from magazines like InStyle have a great impact. Tell us about being listed in New York Magazine’s “Best of New York” for Best Jewelry Repair. New York Magazine is gold. It seems to put New Yorkers under a hypnotic spell. I have been in many magazines before but once I received “Best of New York” it was a game changer. When the editor called me to interview me about best jewelry repair, I cringed and tried to sway her toward best jeweler or best designer. After many years of working so hard, I didn’t want to be labeled a repair jeweler. I quickly surmised that she wasn’t going to budge because she had heard about my successful repair work for many editors and clients. I put great care into all pieces and consider myself a guardian of every jewel that’s handed to me–whether it’s worth $5 or $50,000. When “Best of New York 2010″ came out, New York came out of the woodwork. A famous playwright, a world famous composer, actors, producers, publicists, socialites all needed their treasures repaired. I created a Venus flytrap of sorts. Once they walked into my atelier I introduced them to my jewelry collection and they became collectors. Had I received Best Jeweler, I don’t think they would have walked through the door during a recession when everyone was holding on to their money so tightly. This is another example of “necessity is the mother of
invention”. These individuals are still my clients today because of Best of New York. The repair clients built up my couture collection.
Do you have any exciting future ventures?
I will continue to make crowns and tiaras in solid gold. Visions for the future: Jeweled objects such as boxes, perfume bottles, desk accessories all with ancient metalsmithing techniques with the aesthetic from antiquity. I want to give my client the feeling of slowness. Slowness is lost in a society of gadgets. When you look at a piece that is meticulously handcrafted your mind is forced to slow down and think. — Oh, I have a billboard going up in Time Square for the holiday season! The plan is to get people to slow down in Times Square!
What’s one favorite item in your workspace?
Nestled on my bookshelf is a copy of The Leopard: A historical novel about a 19th-century Sicilian nobleman that lived a grand life and desperately clung to the past. Written by a great man who never knew his success and died before his book was published, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, was the last in a line of minor princes in Sicily. Tomasi was a cousin to the great jeweler Fulco di Verdura who I am deeply inspired by. Both were from the province of Palermo where my Italian citizenship is from. The Leopard reminds me of the grandeur that life has to offer, creative genius, the unpleasantness and necessity of change, art for art sake, and the beauty of Sicily. Somehow these topics manage to weave their way through my mind every day.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My wedding band represents 21 years with the man of my dreams Sean Younger Thomas. Together we travel many countries, cook great meals, discover new things about our own hometown New York City, laugh at silly people on the street, enjoy family gatherings, and visualize our common goals and dreams. Together we built Donna Distefano Ltd with talent, sweat equity and perseverance. All of that is melted and forged into my 22 karat gold wedding band.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
You are the expert of your dreams. Persevere.
When you read biographies of famous people and success stories, it may feel impossible for you to imagine yourself at the top. This is where you are wrong. It is important for you to visualize yourself already there. Use some common sense: create a business plan or career plan and follow it. You can adjust your plan every six months. That plan together with your dreams are very powerful tools.
Faces & Places in Fashion Lecture Series – Spring 2014
Mondays, 4:15 – 5:15 pm
Fashion Institute of Technology
Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
Please join us for the Faces and Places in Fashion lecture series, which is led by FIT alumnus Joshua Williams (MPS Global Fashion Management ’07), and takes place every Monday. The lecture series is a forum for prominent fashion professionals, including executives, designers and marketers to discuss their trade, their experience and their perspective on the business. Select lectures will be followed by networking receptions open to alumni, students and industry professionals. Reservation is required. We hope to see you there!
February 3rd – CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER CONDITIONS Mitria di Giacomo (Adv & Comm ’95), NexusPlexus, Consultant
February 10th – Andy Golub, Body Artist
February 24th – Tae Smith (MA, Museum Studies), Costume & Production Design Researcher, The Great Gatsby RSVP for Talk & Reception
March 3rd – Jamie Espertin (Direct Marketing ’09), Mayvien
March 10th – Ceci Johnson, Founder/President, Ceci New York
March 17th – Marcie Cooperman, author, “Color and How to Use It”, Owner of Fresh Interiors
After twelve years working as a dancer in New York City, Reid Bartelme (Fashion Design ’12) decided to launch into a new career in fashion. FIT was a clear choice for making that transition, and it was where he connected with fellow classmate Harriet Jung (Fashion Design ’11). The two bonded over their obsession with Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons and, throughout their studies, they nurtured each other’s work with considered critique. Their shared fashion sensibility and aesthetic would soon lead them into a great business partnership. Since graduating, they’ve teamed up on costume design projects for such dance productions as the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. We caught up with this talented duo to talk about their collaboration, Reid & Harriet, and their ideas on fashion and dance.
Tell us how your design collaboration started. Bartelme: In the fall of 2011, I began receiving costume commissions from dance companies and a job came my way that I thought would be the perfect opportunity for the two of us to design collaboratively. Justin Peck, from the New York City Ballet was looking for a designer to dress a small piece of his, and so he asked to see some of my work. I asked him if it was okay if I showed him a combination of work from both Harriet and myself. I suggested to him that we redesign an existing ballet in the New York City Ballet repertoire, so he could see how Harriet and I design as a team. These drawings that we presented to Justin were our first collaborative effort.
Jung: In general, our design collaboration is very fluid and open. We throw out ideas at each other and build upon each other’s ideas. It’s a creative, collaborative discussion and process.
Reid, as a longtime dancer, did you set out to design dance costumes after completing your studies? Bartelme: No, actually. I thought that once I graduated from FIT I would apply to work as an assistant to a designer at a label, but the summer after school was over my costume business took off.
Did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer, Harriet? Jung: Initially, I thought I wanted to be a doctor so I completed a Pre-Med degree in Molecular Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Obviously, that changed. After more self reflection, I realized where my talent and most importantly interests have always been.
What are some recent dance projects? Bartelme: We just finished a set of costumes for American Ballet Theater. It’s a piece choreographed by Marcelo Gomes and will be performed at the opening night of their fall season. We also designed costumes for Mr. Gomes for the opening night of their Spring season. We also designed two Justin Peck ballets over the summer swell as a duet choreographed by Emery Lecrone.
Do you find there is a relation between the expression of dance and fashion design? Bartelme: Yes. There is a great deal of rhythm in dance, and control of proportional rhythm is key in fashion design. There are also similar dynamic qualities in dance and fashion design: fluid, hard, crisp, transparent are all dynamic qualities that can be applied both to fashion design and dance.
Jung: They both stem from an idea or story wanting to be shared. Like dance, good design requires a balance and a sort of natural progression as a collection and within each garment. A strong, clear vision is also extremely important for both.
Harriet, how is designing dancewear different or similar to designing eveningwear at Jill Stuart? Jung: Comfort is a secondary design priority when designing eveningwear or womenswear. If we can make it look great and keep it comfortable–that’s a real feat. In dancewear, however, comfort, functionality, and movement are essential. We need to fuse design and the technical needs of the dancer together from the beginning.
How does the motion of the dancer factor in to your designs? Bartelme: There are two different ways this factors into the design process. The qualities of the dancer will often elicit and an emotional design response and have a profound effect on the design itself. Second, there are many construction parameters that need to be considered in dance costumes. The dancers need full range of movement, and the costumes need to stay in place and remain neat even during vigorous physical movement. It is also best if the costumes are washable and durable so they can withstand abnormal amounts of sweat and frequent washing.
What’s your favorite part of this work? Jung: Lots, but one of my favorite parts is initially seeing the piece and speaking to the choreographer about their vision for the piece then coming up with our vision and concept for the costumes. It’s the most creative and stimulating part for me.
Bartelme: I love that in each job I begin I get to explore a different aspect of my design personality.
Favorite item on your desk? Bartelme: Unlined moleskin pads, mechanical pencil and refillable eraser, and two grey scale markers.
Jung: Mechanical pencil! My watercolors.
Most treasured possession? Bartelme: Vintage Commes Des Garçons dresses from my mother.
Jung: My box of letters and notes from friends and loved ones. They’re not as common these days.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students? Bartelme: It is impossible to know what will come your way in the future, but it is important to approach all your work with rigor and integrity. Discipline in your design practice will really serve you well. With diligence and time the practice of design becomes more fluid and more rewarding.
Jes Wade moved from Austin, Texas with great aspirations to study fashion design in New York City and start her own label. Since completing her degree at FIT, Wade’s dream to launch her business became a reality. She has continued to stay involved with the college, recently joining the MFIT’s Couture Council, attending alumni talks and receptions, and participating in Design Entrepreneurs NYC. We talked to Wade about her journey, her fast growing clientele, and some of her favorite things.
Tell us how the idea of starting your own business came about.
When I was a Marketing major at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, Donald Fisher, the founder of Gap, came to speak at the business school and said, “If you’re going to start a business you wouldn’t be sitting here.” I decided right then that I needed to make some changes.
Why did you choose FIT?
I had fallen in love with NYC while traveling there to do the ENK shows for a designer friend. I would return to Austin and think about how much I wanted to live in NYC. When I started looking at fashion design schools in NYC I saw that FIT offered a one-year associate degree program that was very intriguing. I had already been to a great college, so I wasn’t looking for a long academic experience. I wanted an intense technical training and in that year I slept less, worked harder and loved it more than anything. I fondly refer to the one-year associates degree at FIT as fashion design boot camp.
Which FIT class or professor shapes your work today?
The draping professor who taught us to sculpt, the illustration professor who showed us how to fingerprint and smear our work to make it our own and the Italian tailor who turned fabric into molten butter with his hands.
Tell us the story behind your label.
While working for major labels I spent most of my time in meetings and in front of a computer communicating with textile mills and garment manufacturers and I was disappointed with how little design takes place. As a result, I set up a design studio and began designing, patterning and sewing and developing my own design vocabulary and aesthetic. This is how I spent many nights and weekends for nearly a decade before launching my label full time. Then and now every step of the design process (from sketch to final stitch) is equally important in our Atelier.
What’s your aesthetic?
I love the classic clean shapes of American sportswear combined with old world couture fabric and detail. In our Atelier every pattern and design goes through some kind of simplification or purification before it is ready. We joke in the Atelier that a pattern isn’t ready to go into production until it hits that perfect harmonic note… or until it sings. Since the human body has a perfect symmetry and harmony each pattern can reach its own perfect harmony as well. With new styles there is always a tug of war with measurements and geometries but then after hours or even days of working on the pattern there will be a moment where it will all start falling into place.
Describe your team.
Our Showroom and Atelier is located in a TriBeCa loft. We design and manufacture everything in our Atelier and it is open to our Showroom where we sell the collection direct to private clients. I work very closely with my Head Seamstress who has been with the company since 2010 and during that time she has been taking night courses at FIT in couture sewing and patternmaking. We both share a love for taking raw materials and turning them into a beautiful final product.
Unlike mass market fashion, you have a small operation driven by very intimate relationships with your clients. How do you hope to maintain that intimacy while still growing the business?
I believe there is so much opportunity with mobile technologies and cloud networking that it is possible to stay intimate despite growth. Technology can insure intimacy with customer service and sales. I believe it can also be developed to allow for customization in manufacturing. I have an obsession with developing the technology to combine body scanning with digital patterning software. I think this technological development would be valuable in “direct to client” custom manufacturing as well as in global applications where body shapes vary with genetics and lifestyle from region to region and country to country. When FIT gets its new technology and research lab up and running I want to be first in line!
We’d love to have you back! Now, we have a few “favorite” questions, beginning with your favorite item on your desk.
It must be the desk itself. I have a 19th century standing bankers desk in dark wood with these great carved legs. I found it at an antique dealer in Hudson, NY which is right near our little farmhouse upstate where we go nearly every weekend.
Favorite spot in New York City?
When I need inspiration there are two places that always work: the MET Museum and the Hudson River.
Song to get the day started?
Anything by Morningwood. The band is no longer together but their popularity on Pandora proves that in fact it is possible to be ahead of your time.
Book on your nightstand?
I recently started the “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal. I just finished “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie and it was fantastic and I recommend it to everyone. I don’t care how much you know about Coco, you have to read it.
Most treasured possession?
My two daughters.
Little-known fact about you?
I am a closet jock. I was a competitive tennis player in high school and I slalom ski every summer and snowboard every winter.
Exciting future ventures?
We are hosting the Couture Council for an event in November. I became a Couture Council member this spring and can’t say enough positive things about the organization, their events and the Museum at FIT. I have always been a fan of Valerie Steele’s work and it is so exciting for me to keep up with and support that work in real time.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Do what you love, work hard and be patient.
Irene Mak (Fashion Design ’82) recently attended our Kickstarter School panel to support her friend, Stefan Loble (SCPS ’10), who was one of the alumni panelists. Stefan’s presentation about his hugely successful menswear startup, Bluff Works, was nothing short of inspirational and was a testament to the importance of building relationships in the industry. Stefan’s connection with industry veterans like Irene proved invaluable, as she offered expertise and consulting for his new business venture. With great enthusiasm and commitment, Irene has long supported the entrepreneurial work of peers and continues to serve as a mentor to so many who are getting their apparel startups off the ground.
After spending the last few years consulting, Irene decided to reenter the fashion corporate world. This summer, she joined New York and Company as Vice President of Technical Design, where she leads a team of 18 technical designers and 5 patternmakers. We visited her at the headquarters to get a glimpse of her operations and to hear all about her rewarding career in the industry.
We started the morning off at a fitting session, where the most minor details were pinpointed and ironed out in a discussion among both Technical Designers and Fashion Designers. The model, Dierdre, also offered input on getting the fit right. Seamlessly, the team worked through one garment after another in an effort to ensure the most flattering and comfortable fit for the NY & Co customer. According to Irene, the looks must strike the perfect balance between casual and wear-to-work, which is not easy to achieve.
After the session, we toured the office, passing cubicles punctuated by racks of garment samples ready to be tried on and tweaked before hitting store floors. We sat in her office with a view that looks out to the west and faces the Post Office on 8th Ave, not far from the FIT campus. Irene had just received a shipment of two versions for a wrap skirt that awaited her executive decision: she went with the one that required less fabric and was, in effect, more cost efficient. She talked about her studies, her design jobs at Anthropolgie and Victoria’s Secret, and her upbringing in the Lower East Side with a mother and two sisters who were seamstresses.
It quickly became clear that her technical design skill has been refined over many, many years. Her cheerful personality and openness speak to her leadership skills, too. It is a composite of both technical and leadership skills that Irene is able to make a perfect fit for the everyday working woman and mold future designers–in her team and in the classroom. She will begin teaching in the Product Development and Technical Design Certificate programs at FIT’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, beginning October 1. We’re thrilled that Irene continues to stay involved with FIT as an alumna and now an instructor, and we look forward to hearing about the next brand she helps launch!
Faces & Places in Fashion Lecture Series – Fall 2013
Mondays, 4:00 – 5:00 pm
Fashion Institute of Technology
Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
Please join us for the Faces and Places in Fashion lecture series, which is led by FIT alumnus Joshua Williams (MPS Global Fashion Management ’07) and takes place every Monday. The lecture series is a forum for prominent fashion professionals, including executives, designers and marketers to discuss their trade, their experience and their perspective on the business. Select lectures will be followed by networking receptions open to alumni, students and industry professionals. Reservation is required. We hope to see you there!
September 9 - Michael Niemtzow, Jon Harari, Raul Tovar, Windowswear
September 16 - Irina Pantaeva, author, model and celebrity
September 23 - Samata Angel, author, Designer’s Resource Book
The Office of Alumni and Faculty Relations is excited to start working with Brian Williams, a first-year FMM student, who was recently elected as Vice President for Alumni Affairs on the FIT Student Association (FITSA)! We caught up with Brian and asked him about his studies, the importance of alumni role models in students’ lives, and his upcoming plans for strengthening the connection between alumni and students.
First of all, welcome to FIT and congratulations on becoming the new FITSA VP of Alumni Affairs! How does it feel to be a student at FIT and a student body leader?
Thank you! It is an honor to be a student at FIT. I am very excited to be on Student Association, and cannot wait to start working with the alumni and putting on some exciting programs.
Tell us about your decision to transfer from SUNY New Paltz to FIT.
I went to New Paltz for a year to get some of my General Education requirements out of the way. At first, I was planning on staying at New Paltz, and was going to major in Psychology. But after taking a variety of classes and also connecting with different people in the industry, it helped me realize that FIT was the right choice for me.
Was there a particular person or experience that served as a catalyst for choosing FIT?
I won a scholarship at the end of my senior year of high school from an organization called Live Out Loud. Many of the supporters of the organization are in fashion related industries. After being connected with some of these individuals, I became extremely interested in being in the fashion industry as a career.
What’s your major and expected grad year?
I am a Fashion Merchandising Management major. I will finish my Associates at the end of this year.
Do you plan on continuing onto a Bachelors degree?
I do. I am not sure what I want to specialize in, or if I want to move onto another program.
What are some of your favorite courses and professors so far?
I really love Intro to the Fashion Industry and Fashion Business Practices. All my professors are great!
What made you want to take on the role of FITSA VP of Alumni Affairs?
At New Paltz, I was very involved on campus, so when transferring to FIT I expected nothing less of myself than to get involved. During Welcome Week, there was a booth for the Student Association, so I walked up and asked if there were any open positions. One that caught my attention was the VP of Alumni Affairs. It sounded like a great opportunity and an interesting position.
What are some programs you plan on organizing to involve alumni at FIT?
I want to organize panel discussions with alumni, as well as a few other networking opportunities, such as shadowing opportunities for students.
From a student’s perspective, how important is the role of alumni in students’ success?
I think alumni are some of the most important assets to a student’s success. The alumni know what it is like to go to FIT, and have a lot of valuable knowledge to share. Many students do not know what they want to do when they graduate, and alumni can act as a role model for these students.
Are there any alumni in particular that you have met or know of who inspire you?
I haven’t met that many alumni, but I cannot wait to meet as many as possible! I think all the alumni are very inspiring. After being here for a while, I see how intense the programs are. Everyone works so hard, and knowing that others before me have completed the program inspires me.
What do you plan to do after graduating?
After graduation, I will hopefully get the opportunity to start my career. I’m not sure what I want to work in exactly, but that will develop over time. I like to go with the flow and see where life takes me!
What message would you like to extend to the FIT Alumni community on behalf of FIT’s student body?
Thank you for paving the way for us, and for being such an inspiration!