Uvalde

The funerals started this week.  There will be 21—21 lives lost in a Texas massacre not long after a mass murder in Buffalo took ten.  The numbers mount incessantly: over 1500  people have been killed in more than 270 mass shootings since 2009.  As we witness the grief in Uvalde today, it is hard not to nod in recognition to a headline in Tuesday’s New York Times that asked:  “What’s the Limit on How Much We Can Cry?”

Last week at commencement, I told our graduates that words matter. And so they do.  But today,  I confess that I grapple with finding words that encompass the enormity of this national tragedy…words that even in their smallest way can help to  heal or illuminate.   All I know is that we cannot let our pain and feelings of frustration—powerful though they may be—lead to helplessness and inaction.  We cannot continue to fail, as a society, to protect our children in their schools, our neighbors in their supermarkets, our fellow congregants in their churches, synagogues and mosques—or on their streets. Friday, June 3rd—tomorrow—happens to be National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a perfect time to join together to call for comprehensive gun control measures that will take weapons of war off of our streets and out of the hands of angry, disturbed or deluded individuals. And as we saw in Uvalde, too many of these individuals are still teenagers—often driven by emotions they are far too immature to control.

I am comforted in knowing that the FIT community is made up of caring and compassionate people, rich in idealism—people who value life. And as educators, I believe we have an additional role to play—one I have spoken of frequently over the years—and one that parallels the urgency of gun control laws.  In this extraordinarily uncivilized time, and in the face of this unfathomable tragedy, we cannot lose our compass. More than extolling the virtues of civility, we must live and teach the values of brotherhood, tolerance and cross-cultural respect, and demonstrate for ourselves—and our students—the many ways in which every life can and must be valued.  We might be limited in the ways that we can have an immediate impact, but if we believe in democracy, we can  vote for those with the courage to fix the parts  of our society that are broken.

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Karma’s World & FIT

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If you—or your children—haven’t yet had an opportunity to tune in to Netflix’s Karma’s
World, please do! I think this hit animated series, based on a concept by rapper, actor, producer and entrepreneur Chris “Ludicris” Bridges, will delight you—and certainly inspire any children in your world.

This coming-of-age series features 10-year-old Karma Grant, an aspiring rap artist with a big talent and even bigger heart. Every episode—infused with hip-hop music and streetwear fashion—carries a life lesson, one which it wears lightly. The series focuses on themes of identity, leadership, creativity, and the importance of family and community. Karma’s World has been nominated for three NAACP awards, and a second season is in progress.

I tell you this not only because I have so enjoyed Karma’s World myself, but also because FIT has had its own role to play in its continuing success. The series is a collaboration between Karma’s World Entertainment, Bridges’ entertainment media company, and 9 Story Media Group, an industry- leading producer, creator and distributor of material for young audiences. At this point, the series has 35 licensees, including partnerships with Mattel, Scholastic and Universal Music—and through our innovative FIT DTech Lab has forged a partnership with FIT.

The upshot is that a team of FIT fashion design students created a 50-piece fashion forward children’s collection for licensing partners, with the first products to launch later this year. Designs included jumpsuits, jackets, sweatsuits, dresses, swimsuits and footwear—fashion that our students imagined a smart, creative child like Karma might have in her closet. Our design team included both current students and 2021 graduates of our fashion design program: Juliana Bui, Brianna Castillo, Jacob Desvarieux, Desiree DiCarlo, Hawwaa Ibrahim, Carly McBride, Jake Valliere and Jada Wilkerson.

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As always, our FIT DTech Lab, a key component of the college’s Innovation Center, provided a high-impact learning environment for the designers as they have just produced in the real world a product line that speaks directly to young people devoted to the fictional Karma. I want to give credit as well to the FIT faculty who acted as guides for this project: FIT’s Footwear and Accessories Design Chair Sarah Mullins, and Fashion Design Professors Lauren Zodel and Greg Woodcock. Brandice Daniel, founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row and an FIT alum, served as the series fashion consultant.

Experiential learning and innovative partnerships are pillars of the FIT mission and nothing illustrates that better than our partnership with 9 Story Media. For our students, who always make me proud, Karma’s World was an inspiration: radiating FIT’s own values of inclusivity and community.

Read More: Students Tapped to Design Streetwear Collection Inspired by ‘Karma’s World’ Star

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The Social Justice Center at FIT

The Social Justice Center at FIT is a new and groundbreaking initiative that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion and creates opportunity and access for members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. It is a unique program that is designed to provide the necessary educational and professional support at all points— from their youth through the lifecycle of their careers in the creative industries.

We are proud to have, as founding partners, PVH, Capri Holdings, Inc., and the Tapestry Foundation. These companies share our commitment to issues of diversity and we are deeply grateful for their support.

I invite you to learn more about the Social Justice Center at FIT here:

Further details can be found at: [email protected]

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FIT: The MIT for the Fashion Industry?

One of FIT’s founders, Morris Ritter, famously said, “What we need is an MIT for the fashion industry.” Seventy-seven years later, we are well on our way. There is, after all, the very successful, ongoing partnership we forged with MIT three years ago to see what could be developed in workshops which bring together their engineering students with our design students. But these days, there is a good deal more. In fact, FIT faculty and student research activity has never been more robust. One example: FIT today is the recipient of four active grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the most in our history. In some, we are collaborating with research university giants such as Carnegie Mellon, Stony Brook University and Drexel University.

There is good reason for that: more and more, scientists and engineers are beginning to understand the value of good design, and for that, I am pleased to say, they come to FIT. They recognize, too, the strength of our own faculty scientists and all they can bring to projects, particularly those involving advanced textiles.

While our MIT/FIT workshop students and their MIT peers are creating future-focused footwear for New Balance, our NSF grantees have projects that range from programming a nutrition app for young people to creating a sustainable muslin.

I am incredibly proud of the ambition and ingenuity our faculty and students have demonstrated in these projects. They’ve been supported with great skill and creativity by our Office and Grants and Sponsored Programs.

To learn more about the four exciting projects funded by the National Science Foundation-—and the faculty and students involved—here is a link to FIT Newsroom, which devoted a full edition to the topic.

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Alber Elbaz, 1961-2021

Has there ever been a more original spirit in the world of fashion than Alber Elbaz? This ebullient designer, whose triumphant collections rejuvenated the moribund House of Lanvin with elegance, grace, and an inimitable wit, loved women and fashion in equal measure—all of which was evident throughout his extraordinary career. His recent death from COVID-19 is a profound loss to us all.

Alber Elbaz with l-r: Dr. Valerie Steele, Dr. Joyce Brown, and Glenda Bailey
Alber Elbaz with l-r: Dr. Valerie Steele, Dr. Joyce Brown, and Glenda Bailey.
FIT Couture Council Luncheon, September 5, 2007. © Patrick McMullan

In 2007, the Museum at FIT honored Alber with its Artistry in Fashion award and at that time I called him an honorary FIT alumnus. That is because he studied fashion at Shenkar College in Israel, which FIT helped to establish ten years before he graduated. So the programs he learned from were programs that we were instrumental in developing. “With your Shankar pedigree,” I told him, “we take great parental pride in your achievements.” And his achievements were bountiful.

orange silk gown, viewed from behind
Silk gown designed by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, spring 2008

Always fashion-forward, he blended craftsmanship with modernity, both before his 14-year tenure at Lanvin and after, and at each turn, he asked himself that famous Freudian question: “What do women want?” Unlike Freud, he always found an answer and applied it with elan to everything he created, whether it was sneakers or accessories or cocktail gowns.

For his most recent venture, the AZ Factory website, he once again raised the question and the answer was, he said, “Something that is first comfortable. Something fun. Something that lets me eat a big piece of cake.” Eat a big piece of cake? I cannot imagine a designer, any designer, even conceiving of a garment that would permit a woman so much as a crumb! But this was Alber Elbaz: empathetic, kind, joyful, and brilliant. Women felt confident and beautiful—and comfortable—in his clothes. The AZ Factory was created to make accessible fashion for women of all sizes: “smart fashion that cares,” he called it. No wonder he was beloved throughout the industry. No wonder his influence was so widespread. He will be sorely missed.

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