Disney at FIT

More than a few dreams came true in mid-September when an exhibit opened in our Art & Design Gallery celebrating 25 years of Disney on Broadway, of all things. It isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. In fact, Disney came to FIT last summer with a design challenge for our students to create modern interpretations of costumes that might be worn by some of Disney on Broadway’s iconic female characters. Ten fashion design students were declared winners and it was their designs that were on display in this exhibit.

The opening reception drew a lively crowd from the FIT and Disney communities including the lead actresses from six productions who arrived early for a press preview and lingered as long as they could before rushing back to their respective theaters. However, a choral ensemble made up of Broadway singers remained and gave us as vibrant a performance of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin as you can imagine—and the acoustics in the Art & Design Gallery did them proud!

student award winners lined up with president brown
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Georgianna Wells, Paige Walker, Sooyoung Yun, Ashna Moogi, Annette Stone, Dr. Joyce F. Brown, Yelayny Placencia, Ruby SeoHee Shin, Baoqing Yu, Eunhye Jo and Marianna Gonzalez attend Disney On Broadway X FIT on September 24, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for Disney on Broadway X FIT)

And speaking of “proud,” I was so proud to see the witty and charming contemporary interpretations of costumes that our ten students produced. Nala and Rafiki from The Lion King, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins were among the “leading ladies” who got a refreshed wardrobe. The students were all third or fourth year fashion design majors and each received $3500 in prize money and $1000 to purchase materials for their costumes. This entire experience has been a “once in a lifetime” event for them—a dream come true. Annette Stone, a fourth year student from California who designed for Jasmine in Aladdin, spoke on behalf of all of the students and described what the experience has meant to them. “We are so unbelievably grateful to both FIT and Disney for giving us this opportunity and platform to share with the world our designs,” she said. “You have given us a voice as designers…I know that for each of us, there are hundreds of people believing in us, and whether or not it was true before, it certainly is true now.”

For me, it was gratifying to hear her tribute to FIT and to the professors in the fashion design program. “Our fashion program truly is the best,” she said.” Our professors go above and beyond… coming in on weekends, staying well after class hours, answering countless emails, and being true mentors when navigating this industry.” Also speaking at the reception was Professor Gerard Dellova, one of two faculty mentors for the project, who praised the students for their hard work and the way in which they bonded as a community over the summer, despite the pressure of producing the polished, professional costumes being showcased and celebrated in this exhibition.

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Remembering 9/11

newsweek magazine logo

To commemorate the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Newsweek magazine interviewed five New York City college presidents to learn where they were as the planes struck the two towers and the challenges they faced in creating a calm, reassuring environment for their campus community.

I was one of those five and my interview, which appears in the September 12th issue, follows.

Excerpt from Newsweek:

Where were you when you first learned about the attacks?

I remember explicitly. I was supposed to go to a meeting upstate and I was going to fly, so I was going to the airport.

It came over the news that a plane struck the World Trade Center. What I really thought was that the plane must have really been in trouble. The World Trade Center was such an imposing structure, how could you possibly hit the World Trade Center? It must have really been in trouble and falling to Earth.

I had the car radio on, and then another plane struck. As that came across, we passed an intersection, and I looked up. I saw the building and I knew. Then they said the tunnel was closed, transportation, everything, and I turned around and came back knowing we were really going to have to mobilize and figure out what to do for the community.

What was your first move?

I thought I have to gather my top staff, and we have to figure out a strategy for how we’re going to hold this community together. Whatever I thought was minuscule compared to how it felt when we got back here because it was like a pallor had fallen over everything. No one really knew what to do. Everything was systematically shutting down. The airports, the subways, the streets, the cash machine didn’t work, the phones didn’t work, people couldn’t get here.

I knew what I had to do was create whatever cocoon-like sense that we could that people would feel safe here. I needed to set up a communication pattern so that I would know what was happening in the various areas.

What about your own emotions?

I wasn’t in touch with my own emotions. I really felt like my biggest responsibility was to hold everything together for the community and people should feel this was a safe place to the extent that we could make it such.

Campus: calm or chaotic?

It wasn’t chaotic. I don’t know that I would call it calm. I think it was tense. I think people didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know where it would come from next. We’re very close. The smell, the stench of the attack was very pervasive at this end of town and that went on for weeks. It hung in the air.

Read the full article at Newsweek.com

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The Studio: Artists in Residence

It is altogether possible to walk through our Art and Design Gallery in the Pomerantz lobby and never notice the glass-encased balcony-like space situated directly over the entrance turnstiles. After all, the gallery is so dazzling and its displays so captivating that your attention is riveted to what is immediately before you. However, for several weeks over the past academic year, that space above the gallery—which we call The Studio—beckoned with equal allure as it showcased FIT’s first “artist-in-residence” program. The program’s mission is to bring in outside artists recommended by faculty who will engage with our students and faculty in projects that reflect the artists’ specialty. Under the supervision of acting associate dean of art and design Melanie Reim, it had a soft launch in October with FIT alum John Anthony’56 who conducted a master class in fashion design for approximately 25 students. The program really took off in the spring semester during which time three artists with very different practices occupied the Studio, each for three consecutive days. There were Kathleen Granados, who creates sculptures from fibers and everyday objects, Ruben Marroquin , a textile designer and weaver and Bethany Robertson, an illustrator and hand-lettering artists.

With each artist, the 856 square foot Studio—formally room D-223—looked altogether different. When Ruben Marroquin was in residence, the worktables were filled with colorful yarns and small looms that he supplied—while the interior walls displayed the artist’s own work: images vibrantly stitched with yarns. Participating students took to the looms, discovering their expressive possibilities in terms of color and design. The Studio was equally alive with Kathleen Granados, whose own fiber-based sculpture acted as inspiration for the students who were asked to create artwork based on a line of poetry they received from the artist. The students working with Bethany Robertson were given paper to cut and fold that was integrated onto a brilliantly-colored oversized foam-based installation resembling botanical and organic forms.

The artists worked with students during the common hour on two days. On a third day,- they were free to use the studio for their own work. While faculty invited their students to take part, in fact, many of the participating students were drop-ins—curious passersby who were lured in by the activities they witnessed. For these students in particular, the “artist-in-residence” program was a real plus: they walked in with no expectations and walked out having expanded their artistic skills and horizons. The enthusiasm and excitement in the studio was palpable—enough to attract some attention from viewers in the downstairs gallery. An excellent start to a very worthwhile program!

artist in front of wall collage of leaves
Bethany Robertson
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FIT’s Global Reach: Fulbrights

I was so proud to learn that this year, FIT had three Fulbright scholarship winners—our highest number ever. It was so high in fact, that FIT was included, for the first time ever, in the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the highest number of U.S. Fulbright scholars. The Fulbright, like the Rhodes and the Marshall, is one of the most competitive and prestigious scholarship programs in the world.

So congratulations to awardees Joseph Antee, associate professor of Fashion Business Management, Brenda Cowan, associate professor and associate chair of Exhibition and Experience Design, and Deirdre Sato, dean for International Education. Each was chosen based on academic merit and leadership potential.

I am equally pleased to see FIT, with its growing global reach, recognized by so important and influential an organization as the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which makes the awards. Since the goal of the Fulbright program is to improve cultural relations among nations, it makes sense that FIT would rise to the top. Fashion, after all, is a global enterprise. That is one reason why globalism is such a vital part of the FIT mission. We are worldwide with our robust study abroad and international internship programs, as well as our long standing campuses in Florence and Milan, and our recently established presence in Incheon, South Korea, as part of SUNYKorea. We also have a dual-degree program with Istanbul Technical University.

Complementing these programs are our numerous study abroad offerings in China, England and Europe as well as Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, as part of our pedagogy, we teach students to navigate, appreciate, and forge business and cultural connections in countries unlike their own. These connections are particularly important in times when friction dominates the international landscape, as happens all too frequently.

The Fulbright awards represent a powerful statement about FIT’s growth and promise on the international stage. I am confident that our students and the rest of the FIT community will be enriched by the experiences of our Fulbright awardees on their return.

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Prom Plus

students selecting dresses from multiple racks of clothing

It was like a scene from “Yes to the Dress;” all it lacked was Randy Fenoli and wedding plans. It was, instead, all about proms—and it was taking place on the 8 th floor of Dubinsky on a Sunday afternoon in April. There were racks of gowns; stacks of dancing shoes; tables filled with sparkling jewelry and fancy beaded bags and a hair and make-up station, courtesy of Aveda. Then there were the young women—about 35 of them, seniors from the city’s public high schools. It was their day. They were here to find the dress of their dreams. They were here as part of a program called Prom Plus NYC, and as the program founder, Michelle Castro Douglass, told them, “ You deserve this.”

Michelle Douglass is a friend of mine and she told me all about Prom Plus, which she established in 2015. Designed to support underserved New York City students, it provides mentoring, life skill workshops—and finally, and especially, this special “boutique” day. And it is special: all of the gowns and accessories are gifts to the students. They are free. More than one student asked, “But can we really keep these?” The answer, of course, was yes.

The students come to Prom Plus through recommendations from its partner, Statement Arts, a long-established arts and college prep program that serves the same population. Its founder, Liza Politi, was also present. These were students whom she recruited: talented, hard working, high achieving young people with limited financial means, and she was proud of them. Indeed, all of the students whom I met that afternoon were college-bound—and the partnership with Statement Arts explained not only why they were college-bound, but also why so many of them were expecting to major in dance or media or drama programs.

The real drama took place at the racks and then behind screens set up by a team of FIT student Tiger volunteers under the supervision of Christie Graziano, FIT’s associate director of leadership and civic engagement who, when she learned about Prom Plus, thought it would be a perfect community service activity. The gowns were arranged by size, from 0 to 24. But there was palpable concern: would there be enough to choose from in my size? (There were.) Called up in groups of about eight, they rushed to the racks, grabbed their favorite gowns and went behind the screens to start trying them on. And as each emerged from behind the screens, dressed to kill in siren red jersey or pale grey satin or tiger printed taffeta, the looks on their faces told the whole story. Were they saying “yes to the dress?” Without a doubt!

Then they accessorized, selecting shoes and jewelry—the vast majority of which, by the way, was generously donated through the Accessories Council, and I have to say, the jewelry was beautiful.

It was utterly touching to witness how happy these young people were, the fun they were having, and .the joy they expressed at each step along the way. Not that there weren’t some moments of doubt: was the color right? Was it too revealing? Does it flatter? But in the end, they all seemed to have found a gown that was right for them. One curvy young woman was absolutely ecstatic at having found a gown in her size by her favorite designer (Tadashi Shoji) because, she said, “His designs are not usually inclusive.”

Did I mention that there were two young men in the group? Ms. Douglass said she opened the program up to males this year and had suits , shirts and ties available. The two young men were proud to learn how to knot a tie—and even enjoyed it.

male student chooses prom outfit

As much as the world has changed since I was a teenager, the symbolism of the senior prom has not. It remains even today a rite of passage, a big fancy party that marks the end of high school—a party that almost all teenagers want to attend. Yet the majority of students I spoke with made clear that had it not been for this program, they would not be going to their proms—they simply could not afford it.

I did meet some, however, whose families were saving and sacrificing , hoping they could put enough aside to purchase that coveted gown. One young woman, destined for the media program at Pace College, said that she can’t wait to surprise her mother—who didn’t know about Prom Plus and was working extra hours to be able to buy a gown for her daughter. The student had selected a crowd favorite: a soft yellow romantic chiffon gown with a spray of apricot flowers at the waist. “I feel like a princess when I wear it,” she said. She had expected to attend the prom alone, which I gather is a norm these days. But , she said, “Now that I have this princess look, I want to go with a prince…” and yes, she assured me, she had two “princes” to choose from.

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