Hue Summer 2011

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Alumni Magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology

volume 4 | number 3 | summer 2011

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FEATURES 6 BANGKOK IS HER BUSINESS Alumna owns a beauty and fashion firm in Thailand 9 BEST FOOT FORWARD The class of 2011 enters the world


10 THE BIG PICTURE A fashionable tableau featuring graduating students 12 MAD PROPS JoAnn Vara ’99 sets the stage for Rachael Ray 16 SHOES! SHOES! SHOES! Liz Starin, Illustration MA ’09, drew the best footwear at FIT 20 THE HEART OF THE TALE Why toy designers learn to tell stories

16 Hue is the alumni magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology, a State University of New York college of art and design, business and technology. It is published three times a year by the Division of Communications and External Relations, Alumni Magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology

Seventh Avenue at 27 Street, Room B905, New York, NY 10001-5992, 212 217.4700. Email:

volume 4 | number 3 | summer 2011

Address letters to the editors, Hue magazine.

26 TOY BOY Meet Brian Wilk, the vice president of design for Hasbro’s Playskool division

Vice President for Communications and External Relations Loretta Lawrence Keane Assistant Vice President for Communications Carol Leven

Editor Linda Angrilli Managing Editor Alex Joseph Staff Writer Jonathan Vatner Editorial Assistant Vanessa Machir Art Direction and Design Empire Design Studio

Hue magazine on the web:

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4 HUE’S NEWS Recent developments at and related to FIT

18 I CONTACT A student creates an advertising campaign for the NYPD Foundation

Marianne Barcelona

8 HUE’S WHO VIPs at FIT events, from September to May

ON OUR COVER: Satiric illustrator and FIT faculty member Steve

19 FOOTPRINT For sustainable technology models, look to nature

Brodner drew this issue’s cover of graduating students against the New York City skyline. His caricatures and cartoons frequently appear in top publications across the U.S. and Canada, including the New Yorker, where he has been a regular


19 FACULTY ON… A professor puts the Italian language in a cultural context

contributor since 1993. For the cover drawing, Brodner started with photos from past FIT graduations and folded in a generous helping of his own imagination. As for the creatively arranged cityscape, “I made it up completely

28 ALUMNI NOTES Find out what your classmates are up to

out of my mind,” he says. “It’s an illustration, so you can do what you want.”

31 SPARKS Nima Behnoud ’10 gets ideas from the streets of New York




On FIT’s website,

81 trees preserved/planted

In “Hello, Gorgeous!”

233 lbs waterborne waste not created

(vol. 4, no. 2, spring 2011),

34,235 gallons wastewater flow saved

Hue incorrectly described

Continuing and Professional Studies:

3,788 lbs solid waste not generated

FIT job openings:

7,458 lbs net greenhouse gases prevented

Scott Kay’s bracelet,

Gladys Marcus Library:

57,086,000 BTUs energy not consumed

shown at right. Kay works

The Museum at FIT: To view videos about the college, go to: Email the FIT Alumni Association:

Printed by Monroe Litho Inc. on Mohawk Options PC100 FSC-certified, 100% post consumer waste reclaimed/recycled fiber, made with 100% renewable energy; manufactured chlorine free; certified ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management System.

in sterling silver, not stainless steel.

Please recycle or share this magazine. Coolife Studio

Go to to answer The Ask, tell us what inspires you for Sparks, or update your alumni info.

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Tony Kushner Visits Campus

Given the almost complete transition from analog to digital photography in professional applications and the fine arts, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies will offer a credit certificate program in Digital Still Photography, beginning this fall. The program is aimed at the experienced analog photographer who wants to compete in the digital market, as well as the committed hobbyist looking to learn professional techniques. In six courses, all held weekday evenings, students learn everything from shooting to print, including camera work, lighting, and retouching in Photoshop. The program can be completed in as few as three semesters. Students must own a digital SLR camera; a computer with Adobe Creative Suite and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is recommended. For more information, visit digitalphotography.

Smiljana Peros

what’s happening on campus

New Photography Certificate Program Offered

Kamali ’65 offers pointers in a Fashion Design class.

Noted Designers Serve as Fashion Critics Every spring, professional designers visit FIT to critique the work of graduating students and help them prepare their designs for the annual fashion show. This year, the ten critics included Carolina Herrera, Narciso Rodriguez, and FIT alumni Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein, and Michelle Smith of Milly. The show, The Future of Fashion, featured 94 designs by 83 students, selected by well-known judges such as Kate Betts and alumna Nina Garcia. The fashion-designer critics gave awards to their favorite looks, and the judges decided on the best-incategory winners. Watch video clips of the runway show at futureoffashion, and check out more photos of the designers in the classroom at FIT’s Facebook page. You can “like” the page to join the conversation.

Their Stock Is Rising

In April, Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angels in America, spoke informally at FIT about his creative process, the role of politics in art, and whatever else came to his protean mind. The talk was sponsored by the English and Speech Department and the School of Liberal Arts. Though he has no single source of inspiration, he carries a notebook to jot down ideas; projects often arise out of “things that have just stuck with me for a long time.” His 2001 play, Homebody/ Kabul, set in Afghanistan, was triggered by Doris Lessing’s 1987 account of meetings with mujahideen, The Wind Blows Away Our Words. Angels in America began as a dream, he said. “I had a dancer friend who was sick. I dreamed he was in his bed in his pajamas and an angel crashed through the ceiling.” He missed no opportunity to jape at Republicans. He called conservatism “a thought disorder.” One student wondered whether Kushner hoped his plays would change conservative minds. The playwright was skeptical. “Art is about being open, awake, and curious about the world. Conservatism is about a refusal to change.”

Check out Liz Starin’s colorful shoe drawings (pp. 16-17), then send us a photo of yours. Email Submissions will be considered for publication in a future issue.


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Jerry Speier

What h are your all-time favorite shoes? Did you make them? Kushner at FIT. The FIT logo appeared on the Times Square Jumbotron on May 10, when students taking a corporate finance course as part of their Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management MPS program participated in NASDAQ/NYSE’s closing stock market ceremony. Center: Dawn B Duncan, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations; Brooke Carlson, assistant professor; and Stephan Kanlian, program chair.

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Triangle Fire Commemorated


To mark the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, students from Assistant Professor Daniel Levinson Wilk’s U.S. history class and members of the Merchandising Society chalked the names and ages of the fire’s 146 victims — as well as 51 garment workers who died in two factory fires in Bangladesh last year — in front of the Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center. The idea came from the artwork of Ruth Sergel, who has chalked the names and ages of the Triangle victims in front of the places they lived. Levinson Wilk also organized five panel discussions that applied the lessons of the fire to making workplaces safer today.

>> More than 100 emerging designers have joined the new FIT Etsy alumni team (

>> In March, FIT won the 12th annual Fusion Fashion Show, a competition between FIT and Manolo Blahnik, boot, tan and hunter green leather, rubber, c. 1994, England, gift of C. Hooper.

Smiljana Peros

Museum Exhibition Shows How Sportswear Became Fashion

Students chalk the names of Triangle victims at FIT.

Sporting Life, an exhibition running through November 5 at The Museum at FIT, examines the intersection of sportswear and fashion, from the full-body woolen swimsuits of the mid-19th century to sports-inspired getups of the present day. The show features more than 100 garments, accessories, and textiles made for and inspired by 16 different sports, including bicycling, dance, and surfing. Some sporting outfits are juxtaposed against the ready-to-wear fashions they inspired. For example, a 1926 silk Chanel dress with a loose cut and pleated skirt captures the flowiness of a cotton tennis outfit from that era. And Manolo Blahnik reinterpreted those ubiquitous L.L. Bean duck boots, originally meant for hunting, as to-die-for stilettos. (Good for bargain hunting, maybe.)

Parsons The New School for Design. This is the sixth time FIT has won. A prize was also awarded to the top designer from each school; Wonki Lee, Menswear ’10, from Seoul, took home that prize, for a collection entitled Industrial Art: The Elegance of Mechanization.

what’s happening on campus

8214/fit-alumni). By joining, alums can claim the credential and network with other alums on Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods.

>> FIT has a new sustainable design website ( that features information and other resources for anyone intrested in making fashion eco-friendly. >> Internationally renowned architect and designer David Rockwell was awarded the 2011 Lawrence J. Israel Prize, which is given by FIT’s Interior Design Department. Rockwell spoke at FIT on April 28 about his professional journey, Rockwell Group’s current projects, and on using technology to create more powerful spatial experiences. >> The New York Tri-State Chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International has provided FIT’s Center for Professional Studies with funds for an annual award of $1,000 for each of two students who have completed the certificate program in Image Consulting. >> In May, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and SUNY Chancellor Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher

Welcome! When Nick Desimone, Fashion Design ’15, posted a picture of himself holding his acceptance letter to FIT’s Facebook wall, he unwittingly triggered an avalanche of more than 200 photos from incoming first years. Here are some of them; the rest are compiled in a photo album on the college’s facebook page.

unveiled the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program. In Phase One, $140 million will be directed toward the University Centers in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook. The goal is to strengthen the universities’ academic programs and boost job creation and economic development in the state. >> The first annual SUNY “report card” was released by the university in May. It measured success in teaching and research, and SUNY’s effectiveness in improving New York’s economy and residents’ quality of life. The report looked at graduation rates, diversity, and energy consumption, among other measures. Officials hope the report card will allow the public to track SUNY’s future progress.

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Basil Childers

BANGKOK Is Her Business Teerada Chokwatana Ambhanwong,

Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’90, brings cosmetics and clothes to Thailand

by Greg Herbowy


he atrium of Bangkok’s Central Bangna mall—bordered by a Dairy Queen, Cold Stone Creamery, Japanese restaurant, and set of escalators—would seem a poor setting for a Guy Laroche lingerie show. But the event planners hired by Teerada Ambhanwong, CEO and managing director of OCC, the Thai beauty and fashion company that distributes Laroche in Southeast Asia, pull off a transformation. The space is roped off, its entrance guarded by list-checkers. Inside, waiters hold aloft trays of finger foods and sparkling wine, and Thai television stars smile for more than two dozen photographers. 6

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Over the years, other licensing agreements followed. OCC began in 1973, with the acquisition of the O’Leary and Covermark cosmetics brands. (It’s also how the company got its name: OCC stands for O’Leary Covermark Company.) In 2009, OCC’s sales totaled 1,450 million baht, or about $48 million. It has 1,280 employees. While at FIT in the late 1980s, Ambhanwong was, as far as she knew, the college’s lone Thai student. “There might have been a few more, but I didn’t meet any.” The language barrier made the curriculum doubly challenging. “I didn’t talk much in class,” she says, “but I made up for it in my assignments.” In 2005, she reconnected with the college via FIT’s joint one-year program with Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. Ambhanwong presented a Saha Group clothing and accessories brand to the students, who then created appropriate marketing and merchandising strategies. It was the type of class exercise that she remembers well from Above: Ambhanwong at the March 2011 Guy Laroche lingerie and swimwear show at Bangkok’s Central Bangna, with Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova (center), models, and mall executives. Right: Ambhanwong on stage with Thai actress Pariyachat Limthammahisorn and a presenter at a 2010 event introducing a new collection from KMA, a cosmetics brand OCC distributes.

her time at the college: “They taught us as people who were building careers in fashion.” After graduating, she returned to Bangkok and for several years worked in marketing for the Saha Group company SahaPattanapibul, which deals largely in household items and foods like Mama instant noodles and Lotte candy. In 1997, she moved to a different clothing and cosmetics distributor in the Saha Group, at the behest of its director. He asked Ambhanwong to build a brand called BSC:

Then there is the show itself. Models parade in silk and lace, to music loud and insistent enough to

fashionable, midrange accessories and men’s,

annihilate any ambient mall noise. On the mall’s upper floors, spectators surge against the railings. Three

women’s, and children’s wear, designed, manufac-

rapt schoolboys take repeated trips on the escalator. There are confetti cannons. For the finale, Natalie

tured, and sold in Thailand. “Sort of like [British

Glebova, 2005’s Miss Universe, walks the runway in a white corset, flanked by two men in tuxedos, and

retailer] Marks & Spencer,” she explains. Ambhan-

strikes a long pose at the stage’s edge. Glebova has been all over the local media for her recent divorce from

wong managed and approved everything, from

Thai tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan; a few nights before, the two were interviewed on live TV about their

designs and logo to advertising and sales. Intro-

split. The image of Glebova, looking like a racily dressed bride in the company of two groomsmen, is a

duced a year later in department stores, the label

photographer’s dream. The flashbulbs strobe. As an effort to increase awareness of Laroche—an affordable,

was a hit. Two years ago, after 12 years with BSC,

stylish French label—among middle-class Thai consumers, this is hard to top.

Ambhanwong moved to her current perch at OCC.

Earlier in the day, I meet Ambhanwong across town at OCC’s five-story building, which stands at the

Of particular importance to Ambhanwong these

edge of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. On the ground floor is OCC Beauty House, a salon and spa that uses

days is “human resources,” she says. “I want the

the seven beauty brands the company distributes. These include Shiseido Professional and Covermark, a

people working here to be happy and to continually

concealer, cleanser, and moisturizer line. There is also a showroom, displaying fashion lines distributed by

develop new skills.” In 2010, she held weekend

OCC. There are G-Plus workout clothes, Laroche intimates, and Gunze undershirts. In one corner, incon-

retreats with 30 employees at a time to probe the

gruously, stands a piano from Ritmüller musical instruments, the odd duck in OCC’s raft of licensed brands.

strengths and weaknesses of OCC’s corporate

We sit in a conference room for our interview. On the table are Ambhanwong’s BlackBerry and iPhone;

culture. This February, she initiated Beauty From

over the next 90 minutes, they will buzz and flash nonstop. At moments when it is not rude to do so—when

Within—a yearlong series of workshops and

I take a sip of coffee, for example—she checks them. When I ask whether she personally follows fashion,

meetings among staff, meant to foster a more

she smiles. “Not anymore. I am too busy.”

supportive working environment.

Ambhanwong is responsible for everything at OCC. From accounting to HR, marketing, and sales, every

“Teerada is great to work for—very understand-

department answers to her. She is also responsible for growing the business and acquiring attractive new

ing,” Vipavee Prasong, her longtime assistant, tells

brands. One current preoccupation is a women’s wear line that OCC is negotiating for the license to

me. It’s easy to imagine: she is remarkably ap-

distribute. When a company wants to do business in another country, it will often use a distributor, like

proachable and unassuming. Her closest friends are

OCC, based in that country. The distributor sells the products to local retailers and markets the brand

from primary school; they still get together each

within the country with promotional events, like the Laroche show, and sponsorships of events, like the

week. She is quick to recommend her favorite

Miss Teen Thailand pageant, whose contestants wear OCC’s KMA cosmetics.

macaron shop in Paris, where she often travels for

OCC is part of Ambhanwong’s family’s business, Saha Holding Group, a conglomerate of more than 200

business. Before I leave, she pulls me aside. “If you

consumer-goods, textile, and advertising companies. The firm began as a modest enterprise some 80 years

need anything, if you’re in a taxi and need someone

ago, when Ambhanwong’s grandfather began importing Japanese products, like T-shirts, into Thailand.

to speak Thai to the driver, call me.”

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VIPs at FIT events this academic year


Annual BFA Fashion Show: 1. Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein* 2. Narciso Rodriguez 3. Norma Kamali*.


Other VIPs at FIT Events: 1. Edmund White, author 2. Rachel Zoe, stylist. 6







The Museum at FIT’s Fashion Culture Programs: 1. Francisco Costa* 2. Valerie Steele, MFIT 3. Elyssa Dimant, fashion historian 4. Patricia Mears, MFIT 5. Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, Opening Ceremony 6. Hamish Bowles 7. Kate Betts, Time magazine 8. Laura Brown, Harper’s Bazaar 9. Matthew Williamson, designer 10. Jeff and Masayo Fukuda-Williams, Tokyo Rebel 11. Valerie Steele 12. Gashicon, h.Naoto.






Pet Product Design and Marketing Fashion Show: 1. Eric West, actor, singer 2. Fern Mallis 3. Lauren Rae Levy, stylist.




Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology Dean’s Forum: Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s.





Japan Fashion Now Opening: 1. John Bartlett* 2. Fred Dennis, MFIT 3. Noritaka Tatehana, designer 4. Roxanne Lowit*.

Lawrence J. Israel Prize Lecture: David Rockwell, Rockwell Group.


EFFI Gala: 1. Eric Wiseman, VF Corporation 2. Steve Sadove, Saks 3. Tim† and Johnny Belk†, Belk Inc., with President Joyce F. Brown.

1 2



Advertising and Marketing Communications Organ Donor Awareness Event: 1. Alexa Winner, stylist 2. Danielle Staub, Real Housewife 3. Allie Rizzo, model 4. Grizz Chapman, actor.



Executive Women in Fashion Event: 1. Martha Stewart 2. Mindy Grossman, HSNi.




Art and Design Town Hall—What Makes a Good Creative Director: 1. Liza Deyrmenjian, 2. Joshua Williams, Fashion Merchandising Management 3. Andrea Linett, eBay Fashion 4. Joe Zee*, Elle magazine.







Home Products Development 15th Anniversary Reception: 1. Barry Leonard†, Welspun 2. President Brown 3. Peter G. Scotese, chairman emeritus, FIT Board of Trustees 4. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot 5. Michael Fux, Sleep Innovations 6. Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s.

*FIT alumna/us; †honoree


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Best Foot Forward Commencement 2011 At FIT’s 66th annual commencement exercises, on May 24 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, spirits soared among the 1,600 students, eagerly awaiting the moment to turn their tassels and embrace their new status as graduates. In line with FIT tradition, many of the mortarboards in that sea of bright blue regalia were enhanced with sequins, rhinestones, glitter, fabric, feathers, and even toys. For the first time, FIT held two ceremonies, one in the morning for the School of Art and Design and the School of Graduate Studies, and another in Jerry Speier

the afternoon for the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology and the School of Liberal Arts. About 10,000 people attended in total, twice the capacity of Radio City Music Hall, where the ceremony has been held in past years. In the morning, the featured speaker was Aerin Lauder, creative director and chairman of Aerin LLC and style and image director of Estée Lauder. A President’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys. In his speech, Doonan offered an antidote to standard graduation bromides with crowd-pleasing pointers like “Make sure you have at least one drag queen in your life,” and “Always keep a jar of pickles in your refrigerator. You never know when Aunt Mitzi might drop in. Or Snooki.” In the afternoon, speaker Tony Hsieh, CEO of, lectured enthusiastically on the science of happiness, and Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, received a lifetime achievement award. She talked

Jerry Speier

about her own struggle to find her niche within the fashion world. “Remember that there’s no such thing as a problem,” she said, “only an opportunity.” In both ceremonies, President Joyce F. Brown gave an impassioned call for a Top: Zee, Bailey, President Brown, Hsieh.

stronger focus on the liberal arts. The day’s unspoken theme seemed to be the challenges of making it

Above: Lauder, President Brown, Doonan, Perry.

in today’s economy. But the speakers offered hope. In their congratulatory Zee, Advertising and Communications ’92, creative director at Elle magazine, called upon graduates to cooperate with their classmates for mutual advancement. And both Lauder and Hsieh encouraged the graduates to follow their passion rather than money. Said Hsieh, “Every business has its ups and downs. Your passion is what’s going to get you through the tough times.”

Matthew Septimus

Below right: Mace bearer Celeste Weins, Graphic Design, president of the FIT Student Association; Marisa Politi, Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design, manager of cultural events for FITSA; grand marshal Susan Rietman, professor of Textile/Surface Design; Colin Smith, Fashion Merchandising Management, FITSA treasurer.

remarks, Lisa Perry, Textile Technology ’81, owner of Lisa Perry Style, and Joe

Matthew Septimus

Matthew Septimus

Matthew Septimus

Below: The tiger, FIT’s mascot.

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BRITTNEY BANKS Fashion Design WHAT’S NEXT: Internship at Opening Ceremony.

ALLISON CANNARSA Jewelry Design WHAT’S NEXT: MFA in Jewelry Design from Konstfack University College of Art and Design in Stockholm, Sweden.

A very fashionable role-play, starring a cast of graduates In this tableau, members of the Class of 2011 enact a fanciful interpretation of the fashion system—a designer and his gown caught up in a swirl of commerce and art. Yes, in reality, making and marketing a garment is much more complex— but sometimes soon-to-be graduates just want to have fun. Christopher Hall, Photography, conceived and shot this fashion fantasy, starring students in six majors; the photo retoucher behind the scenes was also a class member. It all adds up to nine students in seven majors capturing the inspiring spirit of collaboration across disciplines, and between the schools of Art and Design and Business and Technology. Mark Eric’s fabulous dress, in nude netting with Alençon lace appliqué and Swarovski crystals, won the critic award from Bahram Hakakian. In May it was featured in the window of Hakakian’s store, Barami, with sketches by Machiyo Kodaira. Nearly all of these new grads already have cool jobs or internships lined up. As for Hall (below), he says, “Tell the alumni I’m ready for work—hire me!” Hall’s self-portrait was done for a class assignment to create a photograph based on a work of art. “I chose Caravaggio’s Young Sick Bacchus because I connected with the image’s vulnerability and honesty. I love Caravaggio’s style—such stark contrast between light and dark, and the dramatic effect he brings to his paintings.”

Retoucher: Andrew Emma, Photography ’11 Stylist: Nancy Alusick, Apparel Design Hair and Makeup: Niko Lopez Assistant: Vanessa Machir


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MARK ERIC Fashion Design WHAT’S NEXT: Internship at Aidan Mattox, which does cocktail, red carpet, and evening wear.

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AMANDA DePOLO Textile Development and Marketing

DANNY KIM Fashion Merchandising Management

WHAT’S NEXT: Working in product development in Polo Ralph Lauren’s sweaters department — and organizing the Polo yarn show in July.

WHAT’S NEXT: Assistant trend analyst for the Doneger Group.

VANESSA PONCE Advertising and Marketing Communications WHAT’S NEXT: Account executive at Revolucion Hispanic Brandmakers.

MACHIYO KODAIRA Fashion Design-Art Specialization WHAT’S NEXT: Internship at Marchesa.

ANDREW EMMA Photography (not pictured) WHAT’S NEXT: Freelance retouching for Box Studios.

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JoAnn Vara, on Rachael Ray’s Dick Van Dyke set. The vintage TV came from Film Biz Recycling, a prop shop in Brooklyn. Vara researched TVs from the period. “I liked the handle,” she says. “In the ’60s, they tried to make everything portable.”

Art Director

Mad Pr‰s By Alex Joseph


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JoAnn Witte Vara, Home Products Development and Marketing ’99, creates and dresses sets for Rachael Ray

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Left: Vara and Ray on the Dick Van Dyke set. Below: The Halloween set.

for an episode of Rachael Ray taped at the Bryant Park skating rink, the show’s art director, JoAnn Vara, created the entire set out of ice. It included seating for Ray and interviewees, audience bleachers, a Viking stovetop embedded in a block of ice, and props for a guest to set the world’s record for karate chopping the most ice bricks. Vara arranged for everything and hired the right ice sculptor—“Your sources are what make you as an art director,” she says. The only hitch was the weather: “It turned out to be a sunny day, and it all started melting.”

intended to demonstrate the density of the

Vara has been with Rachael Ray since its 2005 launch, and luckily, she loves a challenge. The

solution by having Ray walk on it. Vara, who

regular set of this syndicated daytime talk show was created by noted designer Joe Stewart (Friends),

always tests sets before the talent, tried it first.

and for most episodes, Vara has to find props that, she says, “fill it in, like a coloring book.” The 360-

All went well during fi lming, but immediately

degree stage surrounds the live audience, which sits on a rotating circular platform. Segments are taped

after, the pool broke. “We got cornstarch every-

on every part of the set, giving Vara a lot of space to fill. Thousands of items are needed every season,

where—in the halls, tracked into the elevators,

and each must be carefully chosen to fit the show and its hard-working host. (In addition to Rachael

you name it,” Vara says, laughing.

Ray, she hosts three programs on the Food Network.) Vara spends long days and even weekends during the August to May taping season seeking out the perfect prop. On Ray’s kitchen wall, for example, hangs a maiolica platter Vara found at Ceramica. It features

A Long Island native, Vara came to FIT intending to develop home products. While doing research in the college library, however, she

a lemon motif, a nod to Ray’s Italian heritage. Shelves are stocked with plates by Jonathan Adler

discovered the Association of Stylists and

(a designer Ray loves), donated pieces (“Fans are always sending her things,” Vara says), Rachael Ray

Coordinators, a professional networking group

branded cookware, canisters purchased at T.J. Maxx, and a sugar bowl from the Cooper-Hewitt museum

(recently disbanded), and she started styling

store—all of it color-coordinated with Ray’s signature orange. “I shop high and low,” Vara says, explain-

fashion and product photo shoots. She built skills

ing the eclectic mix. “It’s not just about hitting Bergdorf’s, although I love going there.” All props not

she still relies on: “A quarter of an inch can make

stored for later episodes are donated to Materials for the Arts—a company that gives props to community

a huge difference,” for example. She worked on visual displays for Henri

theaters and high school drama departments. What she can’t find, she builds. Vara created the kitchen table, for example, based on an Eero

Bendel, Gap, and Macy’s, but for the past 14 years,

Saarinen design (Ray loves mid-century modern). The original was white, however, which doesn’t read

she’s focused primarily on sets. She got her start at

well on TV, so Vara had the show’s scene designers give her version a faux wood-grain finish.

Props for Today, a prop warehouse. There, for two

For special episodes, like the Bryant Park show or a recent one featuring Dick Van Dyke, Vara and

years, she collaborated with event coordinators,

her two helpers create the entire set, with support from a graphic designer and four prop assistants.

print stylists, and, perhaps most important, set

Last Halloween, for a show filmed in 3D, she designed a set that won praise from guest Pee-wee Herman.

designers from soap operas and Saturday Night

Vara’s boss appreciates her efforts. Ray says, “I don’t know if I believe in past lives, but if JoAnn had

Live, helping them with their designs while

one she would be Santa Claus, the Wizard of Oz, and Willy Wonka all in one. We do 180 episodes a year,

keeping an eye on their budgets. From there, she

three shows a day, and to see what she puts together—from 3D Halloween sets to recreating The Dick

started getting small set design gigs and earning

Van Dyke Show set, down to the very last detail—I don’t know how and when she does it. It just seems

a reputation. At one point, for an independent

to appear as if a genie in a bottle blinked it there.”

film, she found herself dressing a slaughterhouse

Watching Vara work, you get a sense of how this genie—a very calm, centered genie—makes it

set by smearing fake blood on the windows.

happen. Taping an episode can be chaotic, with dozens of assistants, cameramen, and technicians

“That was a bit challenging for me,” she says.

swarming about while the loud, tattooed, and mohawked warm-up comic barks out commands to the

“I love animals. But”—she shrugs—“if you have to

audience: “We’ve got two segments left! Can you handle it? Applause!” Even Ray, perky and focused

art-direct a bucket of blood….” She also dressed

on camera, sometimes seems exasperated by the demands of the tight schedule. Meanwhile, Vara can

the set for both seasons of Naomi Judd’s weekly

be spotted in the background, steaming wrinkles out of drapes, arranging fake moss in a planter, or,

talk show on the Hallmark Channel.

seconds before the cameras roll, stealthily making

“A good set decorator knows how to under-

some infinitesimal adjustment to a bowl, lamp, or

stand the script or the talent that she’s working

picture frame. It doesn’t matter how much effort

with—seeing the project through their eyes, not

goes into a segment, Vara says; all that matters is

her own.” Tips like this can be found in the book

what the audience at home sees. “You’re the magic

Vara is writing on art direction. She seems to

behind the magic,” she says of her role. “Some-

believe anyone can do it, but it’s clear that not

times you just have two seconds to get it right.”

everyone can strike the balance that this gentle

Portrait: Paul Whicheloe

And sometimes it goes wrong anyway. For an

yet tenacious woman does in her work. While

episode featuring Australian scientist Rob Bell,

interpreting Ray’s prerogative and minding the

Vara scoured the city for cornstarch. “We bought

budget, Vara is also finding ways to be creative.

every box in Manhattan,” she says, “mixed it

To see a breakdown of how she did it for one

with water, and filled a kiddie pool with it.” Bell

outstanding set, turn the page.


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A successful art director

has access to a vast array of resources. For the 900th episode of Rachael Ray,

the last show of the fifth season, JoAnn Vara ’99 drew on hers to recreate the iconic set of The Dick Van Dyke Show for guests

Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. “We had to take the essence of the set from his show and make it work for our set,” Vara 1 from the prop explains. Her version wasn’t identical to the first; she replaced built-in bookshelves with a vintage hutch [

warehouse Props for Today, for example. The job required careful research into period décor so she could improvise with items 18 . Part of the Rachael Ray segment was taped in black that weren’t on the original set—like string art [ 2 and a vintage clock [

and white, like the classic ’60s sitcom, so the texture of objects and fabrics was an important consideration. Some of the segment was taped in color, so Vara also developed a color story. “A good rule of thumb is usually three main colors to a room,” she says. “Here I had blue, gold, and green with accents of burnt orange and taupe in the trim.” The blue of the wall was inspired by a piece of vintage Wedgwood china she found, while the drapes and circular couch were gold, and the telephone, chair, and ottoman were green. When the segment began taping, Rachael Ray called out, “Mad love to JoAnn!” Here, Hue shows how she did it, one prop at a time.






5 6



9 [

3 Vara’s version of the “bowl of balls” from the original show. This one is from Eclectic/Encore Props.


4 Vintage clock radio, from Film Biz Recycling, a prop-rental house/flea market. 5 In her research, Vara [

discovered that rubber trees were a popular house plant in the early ’60s. She found this one in the Flower District.


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6 The couch—the first piece [

Vara found (at Eclectic/Encore)— was the cornerstone of her design. “It was semicircular on the original set. The one I found also happens to be great for interviews.”


7 Showman Fabricators, a custom scenery construction shop, made this accent pillow because “the shape was popular at that time and I couldn’t find one.” Showman also built the walls.


8 As soon as Van Dyke walked onto Vara’s set, he pointed to this and said, “That’s the same painting!” It wasn’t, of course; Vara found a similar image on the internet and had the show’s graphic designer reproduce it on foam core in colors coordinated with the set. The frame is from Furniture Market, a used furniture store in Astoria.

9 A last-minute find from Olde [

Good Things, a salvage shop Vara says “is great for anyone who needs an old iron gate.” The table was made of brass, however (“very ’90s”), and heavy. Showman Fabricators cut the legs down, and constructed a top with a faux wood-grain finish to match the one on the original program.


10 Vara found the drapes at Jack’s 99-Cent Store. “You have to look high and low. It’s all about research.” These curtains had the right texture, color, and luster.

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Left: For a complicated set, Vara starts with an inspiration board, which she calls her “hunting-and-gathering board.” On the left: pictures that evoke the period in color and detail, including one of a room in the White House featuring a shade of green that is carried throughout the set. Other period colors appear on swatches, while fabric samples provide texture. Vara’s assistant (a cartoonist) sketched the completed set, center. On the right, Vara placed photos of pieces she’d already found beside archival images from the show, including a rare one in color, for clues about hues.




12 17


14 16 [

11 The gold of this Moroccan lamp is part of Vara’s color story. “A good story is three colors and a neutral. Otherwise it gets crazy busy. And if you have too much pattern, you get a moiré effect on camera. Color should enhance the show, not jar the eye.” 12 The green of the shutters [

was based on a color photo of the original set. The color is featured in the string art, glassware, and telephone.


13 Occasionally, a sliver of the art director’s personality sneaks into a project. The round gold pillows, while period-appropriate, also reminded Vara of dressing her grandmother’s bed: “She loved gold.”


14 The show’s producers told Vara they wanted the segment to feature Van Dyke tripping over the ottoman, an homage to his famous pratfall. Vara found the chair and ottoman at the Furniture Market and had them reupholstered in a gold paisley fabric.


15 Gold wallpaper from Astek, a company specializing in wallpaper for film and TV. “On the original set it was grasscloth, but I wanted to bump it up a notch and tie together the gold in the rest of the set. It’s a little ‘Vegas,’ maybe, but it’s fun.”

17 Vara’s flower arrangement [

was based on one in the White House photo on the inspiration board, though the flowers themselves—carnations, daisies, chrysanthemums, eucalyptus— came from the corner bodega.

Moore and Van Dyke on set with Vara.


16 Vara scored a coup in finding this wall-to-wall carpet at Carpet Time, in Queens—bought at a discount because it was excess inventory.

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Satu Repola, ’12: Accessories Design : for ker suc a I’m r 1) perforated leathe -esque age int e/v tag vin 2)

Fabiola Corominas, Accessories Design ’11: “When you go to Buenos Aires, you have to buy a pair of shoes, at least! They are so good with leather.”

Silvano Nova, Accessories Design’11: Nova calls this pair “Scarpe Diem.” (Scarpe=shoes, in Italian.) The wooden lasts, made in 1953, are from Kaufman Shoe Repair Supplies. “They were my size, which is hard to find.”

Robert O’Dell, Fashion Design ’12 (who texted throughout this conversation): Where’d you get those? “Saks, I think? I don’t know.” Why’d you buy them? “They’re shiny.” Are they hard to keep clean? “Not really. They’re scuffed, but whatever.”

s er rt p a qu am d: he v r t fo ox der n u

Alex Joseph, Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice’13, managing editor of Hue: “These are my Get Out of The Way Or You’ll Be Sorry Shoes.”


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de ov rby: er th quar e va ters mp

seum at FIT, in Seen at The Mu and sign classrooms Accessories De et fe on actual displays, and

Raphaela Marra, Fashion Design ’11: Do you fall a lot? “No.” Her friend says, “She wears high heels all the time and she never falls.”

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18th century, from The Museum at FIT: It’s like seeing the ghost of someone’s foot. (Side note: the fabric would make a great ’70s throw pillow.)

A painting of Shirley Goodman (1915-91), in the Shirley Goodman Resource Cent er. She was a key figure in FIT’s history and became executive director of the college’s foun dation.

Terrence Phearse, Direct and Interactive Marketing ’11: Yves Saint Laurent, spring ’07, slightly the worse for wear.

adorable Miss Goodman’s r. pe ip pink sl

President Joyce F. Brown’s dog, Bebe: Around here, even the dogs are well-shod.

Some tools from a Footwear Design and Construction class

hole punch


Uh ... I just liked the look of this and forgot to ask its name. Oops!


kni ook



k tac


Marie Denise Arellano, Accessories Design ’11: Carved wooden heels! Rope! Horsehair!

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a student in first person

COMMERCIAL APPEAL Molly Callaghan Advertising Design ’11 I heard you worked with the New York City Police Foundation. What was that project about? The Art and Copy Club, which mostly consists of Advertising Design students, and the Ad Group, which is mostly Advertising and Marketing Communications, did a campaign for their Crime Stoppers program. A bunch of teams pitched concepts, and mine was picked. I developed an idea for a poster and did the art direction and design, and other students helped expand the campaign into different media. But we only had time to do the print aspect. What does the poster look like? It has a black-and-white photo of someone holding a cell phone, calling the Crime Stoppers hotline. On yellow bars that look like police tape there’s the headline, “Report crime. You stay anonymous but criminals won’t.” It’s probably going to be on bus shelters and maybe a billboard. What was it like to work with clients? Clients sometimes won’t take as many risks as you want them to. You have to learn to compromise. A lot of times it was minute things. We had all this fine print on the poster, and they kept telling us to make it bigger. We said, “It’s fine print! We can only make it so big!” What are you doing after graduation? I’ll be a junior art director at an agency, Draftfcb, in their health-care department. It’s pharmaceuticals, but it’s advertising for physicians, not consumers. We don’t do people running through fields or anything like that. It’ll be brochures, interactive websites, and really large posters for trade shows. What’s your all-time favorite ad? One campaign that made advertising history was for Volkswagen, in the 1960s. It had a very different tone from a lot of ads at the time. It was a very simple photograph on a white background. It wasn’t super salesman-y. It set a new standard for what advertising looked like. You’re from Syracuse. What was it like to move to the big city? The night before I moved into the dorm, my parents and I were staying with my aunt, who lives in New York. We had all these big plans: a Yankee game, dinner, Times Square, things of that nature. I was so sad and dropped me off, I said, “Okay, I’m fine, you can leave now.” I guess I finally had my space.


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Erica Lansner

nervous, I didn’t go out at all. But the second my parents

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Mother Earth Knows Best insights from the classroom and beyond

steps toward a sustainable future

Industry’s greenest inspirations come from nature A beetle that drinks from air? A plant that can survive without water? At The Liquid Planet, FIT’s fifth annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference on April 12, keynote speaker Mark Dorfman, green chemistry naturalist at the Biomimicry Guild, discussed ways plants and animals survive in water and in areas of drought. For example, when water is scarce, the Namib Desert beetle drinks condensed fog collected from the bumps of its back. And while the sugars inside most plants will crystallize in a drought, rupturing cell walls, a sugar in resurrection plants turns into a gel when dry. The Biomimicry Guild helps companies harness inspiration from life to design better, more eco-friendly products. Nature’s factories are much more sustainable than those made by humans. “You don’t see leaves exploding or emitting toxic fumes,” Dorfman says. Biomimicry has become increasingly important in the fashion industry, ever since 1941, when George de Mestral, a Swiss electrical engineer, noticed how burdock seeds stuck to his clothes—and used that inspiration to design Velcro. More recently, fashion has borrowed from nature’s brilliance when it comes to the bright colors of peacocks and butterflies. “There’s actually no pigment,” Dorfman says. “The structure plays with incoming light and reflects it to create different colors.” Morphotex, a fabric by Teijin Fibers Limited,

Buon Appetito Isabella Bertoletti, associate professor, Foreign Languages

is colored with structural pigmentation, not toxic dyes. Shark skin has inspired a number of products—not just high-end handbags. Its microscopic toothlike scales reduce drag in water, making for fast swimsuits, and they prevent bacteria from attaching to it, for germ-free hospital surfaces. A searchable database of these biomimetic functions can be

Fred Kamphues / Shutterstock

found at

—Jonathan Vatner

Whether I’m teaching Italian here or at FIT’s program in Florence, I want my students to make a connection with Italian culture. I tell them, “By studying culture, you’re studying the context for the language.” If I’m teaching in New York, I give assignments that put students on Italian websites. I’ll give them a budget and tell them they’ve just moved to Italy and have to shop for a professional wardrobe. So they’ll familiarize themselves with the clothing vocabulary, dollar-to-euro conversion, and European sizing. These are things many of them will go on to use in their jobs. In Florence, we go on a lot of excursions. Of course, we go to famous sites like the Uffizi, the Boboli Gardens, and the Accademia, to see Michelangelo’s David. But I also have them go to the market to find three yellow fruits and report back to me on their price, or to find baby food and report on its ingredients. They’re surprised by what’s in Italian baby food—horsemeat, all kinds of fish. There’s one restaurant we always visit: Al Tranvai, “The Trolley.” It serves traditional Tuscan food and the interior is decorated with photos of the city’s old trolley system. The trips usually coincide with a student’s birthday, so we celebrate there and the staff sings “Happy Birthday” in Italian. Over the years, the chef has become a good friend. And one or two students always develop a crush on him.

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Heart Tale

The of the


Why stories are central to the art of toy design by Alex Joseph

aura Simms seems perfectly cast for her role as a professional

storyteller. Her wavy hair is a little wild. Her wardrobe of embroidered tunics and scarves suggests the international folk tales that are her stock in trade. But it’s her steady, piercing gaze that nails it; she seems to look not at things but into them, as if discerning their essence. In April, Simms came to FIT to conduct a storytelling workshop with graduating Toy Design students and 42 second graders from the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the Bronx. A partner with the New York Foundling agency, Haven Academy is the first charter school designed for kids in the child welfare system.

When the children arrived, wearing their uniform of bright polo shirts and khakis, they looked around the college’s brand-new toy lab, wide-eyed. “You are the very first children to be in this room,” Simms told them. Four years in the making, the largely white, open space contains a huge glass case of brilliant fabrics, immaculate work stations, new computers, and of course, shelves of toys. Simms gathered the kids into a carpeted seating area, and said, “Each of you has something special: an imagination. It’s your job to listen and make pictures in your mind.” Then, as Toy Design students looked on, Simms told stories. In a tale from India, squirrels and monkeys joined forces against a ten-headed monster. A princess in a Yugoslavian story searched all over the world for her prince, who had been

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turned into a pigeon. The third story was about Simms herself: the daughter of a dentist, as a child she was extremely shy. One day, she “borrowed” 32 rotten teeth from her father’s office for show and tell, and invented a story about how aliens had stolen the teeth and given them to her. The gambit (and its nerve) made her instantly popular. After Simms finished, each child was paired with a Toy Design student and given a new drawing pad and Faber-Castell pen set to draw stories. The lab buzzed with activity. Inbal Austern ’11 could be heard asking her young partner, “The story starts in recess? Can you draw how recess looks?” The child collaborating with Diana Vasquez ’11 dreamed up a little girl, Tabitha. Vasquez said, “Tabitha is blue?” Her partner replied, “She’s blue because she’s from Tennessee.” The little boy working with toy designer

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Graham Wilson ’11 invented twin mechanics who fly all over the world, building stuff. “They find a princess,” the boy said. “One princess, or two?” Wilson asked. “Two!” the boy cried. “One in Mexico, and one in Puerto Rico!” The Haven Academy children left FIT with industry-donated gifts: the pens, pads, and a hedgehog hand puppet. Simms has been telling stories for 40 years, and has an immense feeling for it. “When people share stories, through the imagination a common, empathic place inside us is opened up,” she said. Children need this because their imagination “allows them to overcome difficulties and find deep pleasure.”


the chairperson of FIT’s Toy Design department, Judy Ellis, didn’t exist, some genius toy designer would have to dream her up. She founded the 21-year-old program, the world’s first baccalaureate in toy design. It has a 100 percent placement rate, her graduates hold coveted positions at top toy companies (see the profile of Brian Wilk ’97, a vice president at Hasbro, page 26), and Ellis has contacts at every level of the industry. She’s serious. And, like Simms, she seems perfect for her role. Her blond fly-away hair might be a child’s playful scribble, and when she peers at you through her glasses and talks about toys, they sound less like earth-bound goods than sacred objects. The storytelling workshop is part of what Ellis calls her Discover Together Program, conceived to bring students and children together to explore the power of story as a method of enhancing creativity. Ellis says stories reinforce socialization by modeling mores and values. The princess in Simms’s Yugoslavian tale shows independence and persistence; the squirrels and monkeys in the Indian story learn teamwork. But stories mean more than that. Ellis’s office is bursting with toys—soft toys, hard toys, prototypes created by students, and commercial toys, like Elmo. Asked if she had a childhood favorite, she instantly reaches for Bruno, a tiny plush bear who lives in a coffee mug on a shelf behind her desk. Bruno still looks pretty good, especially considering that when Ellis was little, she flung him out an apartment window. “My mother gave him a kind of ritual bath to clean him up,” she recalls, touching Bruno tenderly. By capturing and nurturing the imagination, stories transform toys into totems whose meanings are carried into adulthood. For Ellis, a good toy preserves a sacred form of play. That may be the essential mission of her program. “We provide children a vehicle that allows them to still be a child.” Stories have practical implications, too. Licensed products—clothes, tools, or habitats for a character like, say, Winnie the Pooh or Barbie—are imaginative extensions of a story. They flesh out the world of the toy. So if you develop Star Wars products, for example, you’ll come to know that story well as you create space ships and helmets and lasers. Brian Wilk,


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VP of design for Hasbro’s Playskool division, who designed Star Wars line extensions at the firm for 12 years, says he watched the movies hundreds of times. “You have to eat, sleep, and breathe that world. You have to get lost in it and believe it really exists, because the children do. You can’t wreck their fantasy.” As part of her curriculum, Ellis requires students to design a plush toy character, accompanying storybook, and related products. It’s an extremely involved lesson that begins in their first year and ends at graduation. She starts by asking them to delve into their own childhoods, and to ponder questions they wondered about most. To find a universal theme, she says, you have to start with the personal. “If you’re going to give children a strong center, you have to have a strong sense of who you are. What is it from your childhood that you want a child to hold onto? What is the most meaningful thing you can share? That’s your story.” Over the summer between first and second year, students develop the story by answering a long questionnaire about their character. Job, marital status, physical and emotional scars, “aura,” and other attributes are considered. When the time comes to create the picture book, the world surrounding the toy must have complete integrity. “If someone in their story is eating ice cream, the student has to design the ice cream,” Ellis says. One of the pictures in student Graham Wilson’s book featured a house in the background. Wilson says, “Judy asked, ‘Who lives there?’ I said, ‘A bear.’ ‘What does he do?’ ‘He’s a potter.’ So I added a kiln and furnace.”

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Erica Lansner

Clockwise from opposite page, top: Toy Design student Graham Wilson ’11 studied children and their imagination in the Discover Together Program; Simms telling stories in FIT’s new toy lab; a Mott Haven boy with his illustrated story.


nbal Austern studied product design in her native Israel and worked four years in that field before enrolling at FIT. She has bleached-blond cropped hair and wears yellow high-top sneakers and T-shirts featuring gothic punk rock star Amanda Palmer, though her affect is studious. Austern says Simms’s workshop was “a good reminder of how holy toy design is.” Austern began her story by creating Fiona, a little girl who, like Austern, loves tools. “I wanted to create a strong, independent, female role model,” she says. Originally, her story was about how Fiona designs a Rube Goldberg-type of contraption to rescue a treed cat, but over time this specific adventure fell away. “I was drawing it and drawing it, but it wasn’t coming to life,” she says. Instead, the story became about how Fiona designs increasingly intricate devices to help her stay-at-home dad and architect mom. By the end, Fiona’s inventive powers appear limitless. “The point is that she believes in herself and creates her own reality.” Ellis says Fiona has many of the qualities that make a great toy: “Fiona can be played with so many different ways.” Her tools, for example, recall the story Inbal wrote, but kids can use them to make up their own stories. All toy products should have a “curriculum,” Ellis says, meaning it allows for certain “play patterns” to develop. Toy Design students learn

about these in a required child development course; they also spend time observing a preschool class. A good soft toy provides opportunities for children to practice nurturing, and to access their imagination through invented conversations. Ellis says, “When you’re hanging out with Fiona, you’re learning about friendship.” Felipe and Toby, the two little boys in Diana Vasquez’s story, are best friends. There’s only one problem; Toby is a doll. Felipe’s mother tries to interest him in more “manly” toys, but by the end, she accepts her son’s unconventional affection. As she developed the book, Vasquez says, Felipe became the neat, organized character,

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Jinwon Lee ’09 created Oogy, right. In Lee’s story, Oogy’s Adventure: The World of Namuh, opposite, and pages 20-21, Oogy hears of a monster, Namuh (“human” backwards). When they finally meet, Namuh is even more afraid than Oogy.

while Toby was all the things Felipe wasn’t—strong, adventurous. Vasquez, who grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, says her dream toy as a child was an automobile engine. “I just wanted to take one apart,” she says, shrugging. She studied architecture and worked as a store designer for five years before enrolling at FIT. Felipe, she says, was inspired by a close male friend. And Toby? Vasquez laughs, noting that she’s wearing the same patched blue windbreaker Toby wears in the book. Growing up, Graham Wilson ignored the official stories for his branded toys. He played with G.I. Joe, for example, but never watched the TV show, so the figure’s military vocation was irrelevant. “I’d just pretend he was a superhero,” Wilson says. “A lot of kids buy G.I. Joe and play G.I. Joe. But I didn’t do that. That’s probably why I’m interested in toy design.” Initially anxious about moving to New York, the Colorado native studied fine art at the Maryland Institute College of Art before starting the FIT program. He has always wanted to be a toy designer. For his plush toy, he created a squirrel-like beast, Twig. In the story, Twig wants to change into a big bear so he can rescue his village with his brawn; in the end, it’s his small size that brings him victory: “Because he’s little, he can sneak around.” (He also has a superpower—a foe-paralyzing fart.)


Inbal Austern ’11 infused her toy with elements of her own personality: “Fiona is a combination of everything I am, and want to be.” Above: Cover and page from Austern’s storybook, Fiona Fix-it, and the Fiona doll, wearing her tool belt. In the story, the character uses her inventiveness to take on the world.


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Fiona were a real toy, you could outfit her with a lot of nifty stuff. Among the licensed items Austern dreamed up for her tool-loving protagonist is a “snack space ship” loaded with utensils, including an unusual fork with a crank to wind spaghetti. Another cool item (and a parent’s nightmare) is a complicated musical instrument that comes with bongos, bellows, whistles, bird calls, maracas, and a flexible, bagpipelike tone modulator. Vasquez designed a digital camera with a flexible periscope for Felipe; Twig has a special licensed camping set. Line extensions are a major segment of the toy industry. Jinwon Lee ’09, an associate product designer at Hasbro, works on Baby Alive, a doll that, in its various incarnations, bounces on its feet, talks, eats, and/or wets itself. (The toy was first manufactured by Kenner in 1973; Hasbro reintroduced it in 2006.) Though specifics of any toy’s development are kept tightly under wraps, Lee will say that everything she makes originates from the character of Baby Alive. “For me, character development is the biggest part of the work. We have to think about what kind of personality Baby has. That leads to her outfit and accessories, and the design of her face. Does she get nervous about anything? If I use this fabric, will she like it?” Lee earned a graphic design BFA in Korea and worked in magazines there, but it wasn’t a good fit. “I couldn’t see how the audience reacted to my work,” she says. “Also, there was always something child-like about me.” When it was her turn to create a plush character and storybook, she

invented a monster named Oogy. It took almost 100 tries to draw his face right. “He had to be cute, but still a monster,” Lee says. That was just the beginning. “I had to imagine how he moves. Does he run? No, he’s like a sloth—they live up in trees.” The environment she placed Oogy in was just as vividly imagined. “I drew so many tiny trees and plants. I would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at masks or shoes. All these random clues would give me ideas. It was amazing how big the world could get in my imagination. I’ve never gotten that deep before.” What Oogy fears most is a tall, skinny, hairless monster called Namuh—human, spelled backwards. In the end, Oogy meets Namuh, and learns that they have a few things in common, including a fear of monsters. Lee says the story comes from a personal experience of culture shock. “A lot of people assume other people are different, and don’t try to understand them.” She’s learned that by looking closely at what we find alien, we can, if we look hard, see something about ourselves. In real life, the monsters under the bed aren’t like Oogy, of course; poverty, divorce, and even bigger things, like global warming and nuclear disaster, are always lurking about. For Ellis, cultivating a child’s imagination through stories amounts to a kind of activism, because it gives them tools they need to approach difficult ideas. One day, while musing on the problems faced by today’s children, she said, “They have that creativity, and after second grade it starts to fade— and that’s not right.”

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Along the way, Wilk has led the design of new versions of Hasbro toys that range from Star Wars and G.I. Joe to Spider−Man and Transformers figures. He joined Hasbro in 1997 after interning there as a student at FIT, and went on to earn an MBA from Bryant University in nearby Smithfield, RI, while working for the company. “The key is to remember to have fun,” Wilk says of his job. Wilk currently heads design for a major expansion of the Playskool line, whose toys range from Sesame Street characters to the venerable Mr. Potato Head, which made history in the 1950s by becoming the first toy ever advertised on television. The new Playskool lineup is scheduled to arrive in 2012. “FIT did a very good job of training me not to be just a one−trick pony,” he says. “I’ve worked on games, I’ve worked on boys’ toys, and I’ve worked on preschool.” Wilk takes different approaches to these distinctive lines. “In boys’ toys, we relied on recreating a fantasy and imaginative play,” he says. “We used the story to provide a meaningful experience.” For Playskool, on the other hand, “the parents are the target audience,” adds Wilk, whose own sons are ages two and three. Parents “are extremely concerned with two things,” he notes. “Will a toy be fun and engaging, and will my child receive any benefits from this product?”

Erica Lansner

Hasbro vice president Brian Wilk ’97 is still a kid at heart

By John Greenwald


Brian Wilk was a passionate fan of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Star Wars toys as a child on Long Island. He never got the memo that said to grow up. “I was a kid when I started here,” says Wilk, now vice president of design for the Playskool division of Hasbro Inc. in Pawtucket, RI. “Now I’m a kid with less hair.”

While making playthings may be fun, it’s also a serious and secretive business in the highly competitive toy industry, where rivals may not hesitate to poach ideas and talent. Hasbro, a $4 billion company that is the second− largest U.S. toy maker after Mattel, keeps new projects tightly under wraps and declines to say which members of Wilk’s teams have worked on particular hot toys. So how do you create new products for Hasbro, whose toys have entertained generations of kids? Every new toy begins with a concept. Then designers, engineers, and others can lock themselves away for days at a time to hammer out ideas. Developing them can take anywhere from six months to two years. “Everybody’s adding layers and layers, and no one person’s idea ever really happens,” Wilk says. “Every single thing gets drawn out and communicated, and you usually end up in a completely different place than you thought, because things evolve so much.” Take toys pegged to the new 3D Transformers movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which opens in July. Transformers are toy robots—heroic Autobots that battle villainous Decepticons—that kids can convert from action figures into cars and trucks and back again. The new line adds a third transformation to the Autobots’ leader, called Optimus Prime. This Optimus can be converted from a basic robot into a vehicle or a figure with huge, wing−like projections. “There were various renditions with him getting bigger each time we presented it,” Wilk says of the new Optimus, which a fellow FIT alumnus designed. “We used various tools, from good old pencils to drawings done on our Cintiq monitors [tablet computers on which designs can be sketched], and finally 3D modeling software.” Wilk’s Playskool designers bubble over with ideas. “They never stopped playing,” Wilk says of his colleagues. “I want guys on my teams who live to make toys. There’s a lot of Peter Pan syndrome around here.” Wilk’s own role includes keeping a close eye on costs. “I can’t just make $1,000 toys,” he says. “Toys have got to be affordable, so we make decisions on which features are most important for the child and what to fight for.” This calls for zeroing in on features that are most likely to cause delight. “Every feature is important, but there is usually one clear message or development feature that is the main attraction,” Wilk says. For example, designers rejected the idea of eliminating the digital eyes that create playful expressions for Alphie, Playskool’s teaching robot. The eyes help make Alphie “not just an educational toy but a beloved companion,” Wilk says. Wilk loves working in the trenches. He “doesn’t let himself get so caught up in being ‘management’ that he

hue | summer 2011

6/23/11 8:19 AM

Star Wars, Transformers, and other lines trying to knock each other over. But instead of using boards and dice, Wilk embedded rules and instructions in each figure’s base. While the game was hot when it first came out, Hasbro no longer makes it. Nonethe− less, Wilk says, “I still love it as one of my favorite lines that I ever worked on. Nothing is more exciting than looking down the barrel of your figure’s launcher, firing, and knocking your opponent clean off the table. It blows away chess every time.” Before entering FIT, Wilk studied to be an artist, and subse− quently heard friends who went into the art world talk about their one−man gallery shows. This made him wonder if he should be in a gallery too. Then one day in a Toys“R”Us store, “I saw a kid holding a [Hasbro] figure and telling his mom that if he didn’t get it he was going to die, and he started crying,” Wilk recalls. “And I realized that I am in a gallery, I sold my piece, and there’s no other place I’d rather be.”

Opposite page: A new version of Optimus Prime, a figure introduced in connection with the release of the latest Transformers movie. This page: Wilk in the Playskool area at Hasbro.

avoids creating concepts himself,” says Jerry Perez, Hasbro’s senior vice president and global brand leader for preschool and girls’ toys. “I think this keeps him fresh and able to relate to his designers better.” Playskool’s ever−evolving toys will sport new features this fall even as Wilk works on the expanded lineup for 2012. (The fall line was designed before Wilk’s arrival at Playskool.) The new Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will feature a slimmer look along with legs and pants. Other innovations range from simplified Transformers called Playskool Heroes Rescue Bots to the intro− duction of a swivel−trunked character called Elefun to the Poppin’ Park lineup of monkeys, hippos, and other animals that pop up balls for young children to retrieve. New musical and scientific tools for Alphie also are due this fall. Not every new toy becomes a winner. Wilk led the design of a board−like game called Attacktix that featured figures from

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portraiture after enjoying a multi-decade career in illustration, with an emphasis on fashion (Women’s Wear Daily, Lord & Taylor, Bill Blass, Christian Dior). A finalist in the Portrait Society of America’s 2011 International Portrait Competition, Spector has a portrait of actor Eli Wallach on display at the Players Club. His portrait of opera singer Patrice Munsel, which is in the will be displayed at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center next year.

Webb Chappell

news from your classmates

permanent exhibition at the National Arts Club,

Bey with her educational dolls, Queen Nzinga, Coyolxauhqui, Wilma Mankiller, and Isis.

NOT PLAYING AROUND AZIZA BRAITHWAITE BEY, APPAREL DESIGN ’62, MUSEUM STUDIES ’89 Queen Nzinga, the warrior leader of Angola who fought off Portuguese rule until her death in 1663, has been brought back to life—as a doll. Aziza Braithwaite Bey’s 20-inch-tall Nzinga stands proudly with her hands on her hips, a leopard-print cape draped across her chest. Her ankles and neck are wrapped in colored beads and a small crown rests atop her long braided hair. Nzinga is one of four dolls in Bey’s “Great Women Leaders” collection, which she sells primarily to pre-K–12 teachers along with a book of lesson plans on the cultures the women emerged from. The dolls, with their intricate and colorful costumes, appeal to kids on a visual level, says Bey, an associate professor in the division of creative arts in learning at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. “Then they get excited and start to ask questions about these women’s societies.” Besides Nzinga, her collection features Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess, carrying an ankh, the symbol of eternal life; Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec goddess of healing and the moon, in heavy gold jewelry and a woven tunic; and Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to become principal chief of the Cherokee Nation (in 1985), in a traditional “tear dress”—a long ruffled design made of rectangular cuts of cotton. Bey, who earned an AAS in Apparel Design from FIT in 1962, had a long career as a fashion


degree from FIT, an MA in Museum Studies, she began touring schools in Brooklyn as an artist

experience program counselor with FEGS, a

in residence, and continued doing so after graduating in 1989. She was struck by how lessons on

nonprofit health and human services organiza-

women and non-Western societies were left out of K-12 curricula. In these often multicultural

tion. Coritsidis is also an independent career

schools, she says, “so many of the kids didn’t know who they were, because they weren’t taught

coach who offers one-on-one and group

about” their heritage. “I thought, ‘How can we bring their cultures into discussion and give them

counseling based on his own “Seven Steps to

a sense of pride?’”

Employment Success System,” which covers

and visual culture at the Union Institute in 1999. It was there that she began developing her lesson plans and dolls, taking great care to research the costumes. She examined representations of Isis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, learned about beadwork and finger weaving at the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, and spent a week in

is a job-readiness strategist and work-

everything from resume writing to interview techniques.


Mexico studying ancient dyeing and weaving methods. To design Nzinga’s costume, she built upon


the knowledge she gained, in the ’70s, as a teacher and curator at Evelyn Hone College in Zambia.

president of business development at Impres-

Bey’s lesson plans include art-project ideas for engaging with Egyptian, West African, Mayan,

is vice

sions, a marketing communications agency on

and Native American cultures—like making puppets or costumes with classroom materials

Long Island, and an adjunct assistant professor

(cardboard, fabric, construction paper). But the dolls, hand-sewn in 100 percent cotton, are meant

of Advertising and Marketing Communications

to be admired, not played with. “They’re educational tools and collector’s items,” she says. “They

at FIT. She also blogs about marketing communi-

embody the power of women and celebrate the contributions women have made over centuries.”

cations and the media for Patch (, the

—Jenny Brown

F68295.indd 28


designer and curator before her focus shifted to grade-school education. While getting her second

Motivated to fill this gap, she enrolled in the doctoral program in multicultural education


O. Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club, 50 by 32 inches, oil on canvas.

hyper-local online community news platform.

hue | summer 2011

6/23/11 8:19 AM





moved to Boise, ID, eight years ago and founded Transformations Custom Sewing. Working from sketches and current garments, Lilley and her staff produce copies and original designs for both Transformations, a custom sewing shop, created this wedding dress from the client’s design. The entire garment is hand-sewn.

apparel and home decor. When clients need fine fabrics, Lilley sends them to her friend, Diana Turner

’84 (see below). Lilley previously worked at Calvin Klein and Christian Dior and operated a home sewing business

Left: silk habotai and merino wool tunic from Monaco’s fall ’11 collection. Right: the designer.

in Seattle for 13 years.

Designer Susana Monaco was destined for a career in fashion. Her father owned an apparel manufacturing company—named Piccola Susana, in her honor—and she spent


much of her childhood in his New Jersey factory. “I’ve been in that factory my entire


life, sewing for my entire life,” says Monaco, whose eponymous clothing line counts

lives in California, where he

celebrities (Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis) and industry experts (Harper’s Bazaar’s

started his own eponymous

Avril Graham) as fans.

label, now known as

Monaco never thought she’d follow in her father’s footsteps. Though she loved

Gallofornia. He co-founded

working with him, she didn’t enjoy the factory environment. Monaco planned to

Shannon-Gallo Skinwear with

pursue a creative career, and after visiting an FIT draping class, she decided to apply

FIT classmate Toni Shannon,

to the Fashion Design program. She was intrigued by the three-dimensional aspect of

and he also co-designs the

the discipline. “I thought, ‘This is like sculpting.‥. This really is exactly what I want.’”

women’s line Effie’s Heart,

About a year after graduation, Monaco moved to Miami and began designing

designs costumes for theater

merchandise for a boutique hotel store. A slight hiccup with her cotton-Lycra bathing

and film, teaches design at

suits (which shrunk in the wash) led her to experiment with a nylon-Lycra knit she

City College of San Francisco, and sells his patented Getta

read about in Women’s Wear Daily. “It never shrunk, the color never faded, and it Gallo’s Getta Grip Sewing Clips.

Grip Sewing Clips, an alternative to conventional fabric pins, which come etched with original artwork.

always looked beautiful. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is indestructible.’” Monaco began using the superhero knit to make daywear, which earned rave reviews from her friends (who wear-tested her pieces) and sold well in local stores. Missing New York’s hectic pace, she moved back and set up shop in her dad’s factory.


She no longer felt uninspired by her surroundings—quite the opposite. “I had the


skills to make anything I could design, and I had the machinery to do it,” Monaco says.

runs Caledonia Fine Fabrics in Boise, ID. Turner began

Her beautifully draped, versatile separates and dresses landed her representation with

sewing at her mother’s fabric shop in Westchester, NY,

famed showroom Annette B in 1996. After that, her business “exploded.”

put herself through

Today, more than 500 specialty boutiques and department stores in the U.S. and

college managing

20 countries worldwide carry her designs. Her line is priced from $95 to $750 and offers

Georgeou Furs, and ran

everything from bathing suits to outerwear, in fabrics ranging from leather to chiffon

a chain of Benetton

to cashmere. But Monaco remains loyal to the place where she first learned her trade—

outlets in Boise and

approximately 65 percent of each collection is made from her signature knit and is pro-

Seattle before founding

duced by her father’s factory. “It all goes full circle, back to that factory,” Monaco says. — Vanessa Machir

Caledonia with her mom in 1995. Today, the 6,000-square-foot facility

Designer Daciena uses fabrics exclusively from Caledonia.


includes a fabric show-


room, a yarn shop, and

buyer for the Fairmont Store in the Fairmont Copley Plaza

a sewing school. It was

Hotel in Boston. Carman, who previously worked for

featured in the October

Banana Republic and The Limited, also runs Couture

2010 issue of Glamour.

Planet (, which sells handbags made

is the

from 100 percent post-consumer recycled newspaper. She’s currently working on a line of men’s accessories. Coco bag, by Couture Planet.

F68295.indd 29


6/23/11 8:19 AM





associate product

line manager at Foot Locker Inc., where she oversees global private label programs in Australia, Alexei Afonin

Canada, and New Zealand. Brunson is also the author of The Ins and Outs of the Fashion

news from your classmates

Industry—From a Fashion Insider (iUniverse, 2005); founder of the fashion website; and a wardrobe consultant to independent film company New Breed. She is currently establishing a foundation in memory of her mother, a lung cancer victim, and plans to publish her next book, Another Face .‥ of Multiple Myeloma, this year.



her own footwear company, Olsen Haus Pure Vegan, in 2008. Her high-fashion designs, Nick Parisse ’09

manufactured with sustainable, animal-free materials (recycled milk jugs, detergent bottles, and industrial waste), have won attention from Vogue and InStyle, and from

The Alperins in Goose Barnacle.

celebrity customers like Abbie Cornish

New York magazine recently named Goose Barnacle, David Alperin’s new Brooklyn

and Alicia Silverstone. She previously

Heights boutique, the best menswear store in the city—but classifying it as “menswear”

served as creative director for Tommy Hilfiger Handbags, freelanced for Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne, and

doesn’t do it justice. The funky shop sells a hodgepodge of things that inspire Alperin,

The Ewok boot, cotton and resin with faux fur and two-inch heel, $385.

from sweaters to handbags to headphones. A rotating selection of artwork for sale graces the walls. And casual footwear peeks out of cabinets made from antique wooden

worked as a stylist in both print and film.

telephone booths he repurposed from his grandmother’s bar, located across the street.


(The bar closed in 2007.) His family has lived in the neighborhood for four generations; down the street is his older sister Marissa’s jewelry studio, converted from their


grandfather’s old grocery store, where she specializes in earrings, necklaces, and rings

will enter Harvard Business

made of gold and semiprecious stones.

School this fall. For the past five years, Raines has worked

The store represents a propitious detour for Alperin. Just two years ago, he was

as business development manager for Lilly Pulitzer

logging long hours as a vice president at Citibank. When he lost his job in the economic

Signature Stores. She has handled everything from sales

downturn, Marissa suggested he enroll in the Jewelry Design program at FIT, which

and marketing to finance and logistics for the company’s

she herself had completed in 2002. “It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “I never felt

wholesale licensed partner stores, which function as inde-

passionate about finance. My interest was always art.”

pendently owned boutiques selling Lilly Pulitzer products.

He secured an emergency grant from the Department of Labor to go back to school—


but only with Marissa’s help. “The grant was to help ex-bankers change careers,” he says, “and jewelry designer isn’t considered an in-demand occupation. Marissa had to

one of nine finalists

vouch that she would give me a job at her boutique.”

in the 2011 Oscars Designer Challenge; her silver

It turned out she didn’t need to. While at FIT, his attention gravitated toward

satin gown, decorated with

apparel. “The jewelry program was going great,” Alperin says, “but I discovered I was

gold embroidered leaves and

just as passionate about clothing.”

Swarovski crystal beading,

He helped fellow student Christophe Hascoat, Menswear ’00, launch his line, Taylor

was featured in a video on

Supply. Alperin stocked those designs when he opened Goose Barnacle (named after a

the Academy Awards website.

Galician shellfish that his Spanish grandmother served him growing up), soon after

Bischof, who hopes to start

graduating in 2010.

Manhattan, was asked to compete after a contest coordinator saw her work at FIT’s 2010 BFA fashion show.


F68295.indd 30

4 Seasons Photography

her own design company in

Now that the store is taking off, David is ready to put his Jewelry Design degree to use. He’s working on a low-priced, rugged, gender-neutral line using brass, copper, and sterling silver. “Marissa does colorful, high-end stuff,” he says. “I’m doing the opposite.” —Jenny Brown

hue | summer 2011

6/23/11 8:19 AM

LIVING FOR THE CITY NIMA BEHNOUD Graphic Design ’04, Global Fashion Management ’10

realize that the core of my inspiration is here in New York. Recently, I had belts made in Italy. We shipped them to China to be embossed. Then they were sent to Taiwan to be packed and shipped, because shipping taxes are lower there. If this belt were produced in New York, it would cost twice the retail

sources of inspiration

I’ve traveled to London, Hong Kong, and Paris, and I have slowly come to

price. But I have to be in New York to be creative and to design. I want to see my work on the street; I want to see everyone wearing it. When I walk around working neighborhoods like the Garment District, I feel energized by the working people. Every person has a destination and a goal, and they’re all

Matty Brown ’10

going somewhere.

Behnoud, a native of Iran, designs men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. His line, Nimany, is sold by 16 retailers around the world, including Fred Segal in Los Angeles.

F68295.indd 31


6/23/11 8:19 AM

227 West 27 Street New York, NY 10001-5992 RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED

F68295.indd 32

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