As an epic Fashion Week in New York drew to a close for me, I was privileged enough to attend one final event as a culmination of all the amazing experiences I had been privy to all week. Milk Studios, in conjunction with MAC Cosmetics, had the ingenious idea to hold a panel discussion on the last day of Fashion Week—featuring nine awe-inspiring heavyweights in the fashion industry—for students at New York's prestigious design schools, Parsons and FIT. Centered around a mostly informative and educational theme, not many members of the press were invited, but SCS was among the privileged few.
The airy, open space at Milk Studios filled up quickly, the site of panel members Proenza Schouler's Spring '10 presentation just the night before. In addition to Proenza Schouler's design duo Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough (who named the label after their mothers—who knew?!), the panel also boasted the impressive lineup of fellow breakout designer Alexander Wang, the co-founders of emerging designer mecca Opening Ceremony, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, co-founder/creative director of Milk Studios, Mazdack Rassi, and the Dean of Fashion at Parsons, Simon Collins. And if that wasn't enough to get chills, the entire discussion was moderated by journalism extraordinaire, author, and fashion critic for the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes and emceed by Group President of the Estee Lauder Companies, John Demsey. With that much innovative energy of the fashion industry in one space, I was surprised the room didn't catch fire.
The purpose behind the panel discussion, besides as an informative tool to the emerging talents at Parsons and FIT, was to address the crucial changes surrounding the fashion industry that have become more and more apparent in today's economic and social climate. After all the guests were introduced by Demsey—who oversees the operations of the Estee Lauder empire including, in addition to Lauder, MAC, Tom Ford Beauty, Prescriptives, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone, and La Mer—the discussion got right underway. Asking the questions, Menkes' poignant and often amusing dynamic lent a tone of relaxed informality to the discussion, as if all the guests were just engaged in one big conversation. Menkes began by acknowledging the importance of New York's Fashion Week and the invaluable opportunities it offers in showcasing American Fashion. But what is the future of this industry in a time when luxury and contemporary spending has been substantially cut back and the unstoppable power of the internet has all but dashed the once exclusive nature of high end design? And to all the students on the edge of entering the industry at this tumultuous time, what can skills can be gleaned to provide every opportunity for success? Each panel member had a myriad of ideas and viewpoints to bring to the table.
McCullough and Hernandez offered the tried and true characteristics they believe necessary to launching a successful line. They noted the tantamount importance of passion and drive in an extremely competitive industry, adding the necessity to offer something different and individualistic. They attributed the success of their duality since meeting at Parsons in 1998, to the continual non stop dialogue that they achieve during design, though its not always cut and dry compatibility. "We do disagree," McCullough noted after being explicitly asked by Menkes. "But if I like blue and he likes red, then we'll usually end up using purple." They acknowledged the widespread access of high end fashion these days with the internet, citing fashion as becoming more "democratic," but noted their enjoyment that more people are able to visually enjoy their designs. They also touched on the topic of bloggers and said that their relevance is being realized as they become invited to more and more shows. Bloggers do have a lot of pull these days, they said.
Fellow designer Alexander Wang chimed in that he credited his popularity to creating things that have legs, things that are versatile and real statements for real people. He added that he is often just as excited to see a stranger on the street in his designs as he is to see his work on a celebrity. And in dressing celebrities for events, he noted that effective designers should find the right people to represent the dynamic of their label and that it is crucial to maintain a level of integrity to yourself and your brand.
After sifting through these pearls of wisdom, Menkes then turned her attention to Simon Collins and asked him, as Dean of Parsons the New School for Design, if he should be credited with providing the backbone for these insights. Collins said that Parson was not set up as a school to teach design, rather to facilitate a designer's development. "We enable them to do what they are going to do anyway." He noted, adding that the best way to gain the crucial skills of the field is to throw yourself into an internship as soon as possible instead of trying to launch an eponymous label right away. He was, of course, resigned to note there are exceptions to that rule as Wang, and the Proenza Schouler duo did just that.
For the Opening Ceremony pair, Menkes asked if what the building blocks of their success was and why, especially in these times, do they continue to have business. Leon and Lim explained that it was important for them, in building the retail space, to embrace the attitude and excitement of the collections they carried. The handpicked lines offer that individualism that McCullough had mentioned though, in purchasing a designer item, one must justify if it is actually worth it. Leon and Lim's job is to maintain a consistency and loyalty to their customer base to make sure it always is. After an inquiry on why clothes cost so darn much, they broke down the components involved in luxury pricing such as fabric, cut, and constitution. The newer trend of fast fashion collaborations, they believed, are fun and don't necessarily take away from the label, contrary to what some critics say.
The final topic discussed was posed to Milk Studios co-founder Mazdack Rassi and involved the friend or foe status of social networking and the Internet. Rassi said it was important that technology is moving forward as quickly as it is and providing a vehicle for anyone in the industry to create a name for themselves. He notes a URl these days is just as important as a television channel in terms of advertising and that emerging designers should use these resources to their advantage in a time when a job offer is never a sure thing. He referenced the panel itself as an example of the merging forms of media, noting how it was about collectively deciding where we go from here. Both Proenza Schouler designers and Wang added that technology does not affect the inspirations or creative sides of their lines but that it is an integral part of the process for fabric development and construction.
At the end of the panel discussion, before opening up the floor to students' questions the panel guests all supplied tips on how to beat the recession blues when seeking out a fashion industry job, though all of the points seemed versatile enough to apply to just about any facet of life. The collective contained insight including:
-Use all resources. Companies like Milk Studios provide time in their space for free to students looking to complete a portfolio.
-Find an internship but make sure its one that you will benefit from and be worth all the work.
-Ask for help from some sort of mentor in your field, they will never fault you for it.
-The most important components in finding your voice is individuality and imagination. Be yourself!
Photo Source: Second City Style