The Magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology
VOLUME 12 | NUMBER 2 | SPRING 2019
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ON THE COVER
CONTRIBUTORS This charming map of New York City by Brooklyn artist Ebony Bolt ’14 is filled with sleeping beauties whom she drew while riding the subway. “I used to draw them with their eyes open,” she says, “and they’d be like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and wake up half the car.” A poster version of The City of Dreamers is for sale through the New York Transit Museum’s store. For more of Bolt’s affectionate portraits, turn to “Dream On,” page 18.
The Magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology Hue is for alumni and friends of FIT, a college of art and design, business and technology. It is published three times a year by the Division of Communications and External Relations, 227 West 27th Street, Room B905, New York, NY 10001-5992, (212) 217-4700.
Vice President for Communications and External Relations Loretta Lawrence Keane
Assistant Vice President for Communications Carol Leven
Editor Linda Angrilli
Managing Editor Alex Joseph MA ’15
Staff Writer Jonathan Vatner
Editorial Assistant Laura Hatmaker
Photography Coordinator Smiljana Peros
Art Direction and Design Gary Tooth/Empire Design Studio Hue online: hue.fitnyc.edu Email: firstname.lastname@example.org FIT Newsroom: news.fitnyc.edu
ACCEPTANCE LETTERS COME TO LIFE
This spring, successful applicants got a digital treat with their acceptance letters: a postcard embedded with an augmented-reality video. In it, current students introduce themselves and share their enthusiasm for FIT. To watch the video, download the Arilyn app on your phone or tablet and use it to scan this image.
Like the FIT Alumni page on Facebook and follow @FITAlumni on Twitter. Use the hashtag #FITAlumni when posting. Email the Office of Alumni Engagement and Giving at email@example.com and let us know what you’ve been up to.
VISIT US ONLINE Visit Hue’s revamped website, hue.fitnyc.edu, to read stories before they’re printed and to see bonus photos and video, including: a cool video co-created by Hue and Thaddeus Coates ’20
Printed by Maar Printing Service on Rolland Enviro Print. This paper is: Ancient Forest Friendly Made with 100 percent post-consumer waste fiber Processed Chlorine Free Produced using biogas energy Environmental savings as compared to paper using 100 percent virgin fiber: 136 trees preserved 131,195 gallons of water saved 13,422 lbs of waste not generated 44,099 lbs of CO2 not generated 113 MMBTUs of energy not consumed 57 lbs of nitrous oxide gas prevented
Diana McClure is a writer, photographer, and cultural producer based in New York City. Her art and culture writing has appeared in Art Basel magazine, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, Cultured, Photograph, and Afropunk.com.
a New York Daily News mini-documentary about subway illustrator Ebony Bolt ’14 a walkthrough of a virtual reality artwork created for patients at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore a video lookbook of couture garments by Grace Chen ’96 (pictured)
Alan Wechsler is a freelance writer based in Albany, New York. He covers a variety of topics, including education, the outdoors, travel, and the environment, for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TheAtlantic.com, and others.
SPOTTED! Elke Herold, associate coordinator in the dean’s office of the School of Art and Design, found herself in Philadelphia shortly after reading the Counter Culture story in the winter 2018-19 issue of Hue, about Brit Reed ’13 and her handbag atelier, Tesoro. Herold stopped in and posed with Reed for this photo. “It’s a beautiful store, and I felt proud to see our former student become so successful,” Herold says. “Of course I had to buy something!”
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Kam Mak’s Stamp on History A dozen stunning artworks, 55 cents apiece
11 Exhibitionism Thirty-three of The Museum at FIT’s most influential shows revisited 12 The Virtual Cure Pain relief through immersive art 16 Taking St. Tropez Worldwide Estefania Garcia-Correa ’15 launches Vilebrequin stores across Latin America
Departments 18 Dream On The prowess and process of an “extroverted introvert” 20 Uncommon Pursuits Five grads who took the road less traveled
4 Hue’s News 10 I Contact 28 Alumni Notes 31 What Inspires You?
24 No Dragons, Please Chinese designer Grace Chen, Fashion Design ’96, means business
Above: New Year’s Traditions When Illustration Professor Kam Mak was a child, his mother hung little red lanterns in the windows for Chinese New Year. His painting of those lanterns became the first in a 12-stamp series for the U.S. Postal Service, themed around the holiday. Take in all 12 of these beautiful creations in “Kam Mak’s Stamp on History,” page 8.
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The Style Shop and the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design Department created a pop-up shop made of used shipping pallets.
FIT’s gala was held underneath the blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History.
DISPATCHES FROM FIT’S SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS AND DESIGN CONFERENCE On April 3 and 4, nearly 1,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college attended FIT’s 13th Annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference, which convened thought leaders across the creative industries to discuss recent and future breakthroughs for preserving our planet. This year’s theme was Innovation in Sustainability, and programming focused on cutting-edge research and technology for reducing our environmental impact and taking steps toward healing the earth. For the first time, the conference was held in conjunction with the FIT Foundation’s Annual Awards Gala, which took place April 3 at the American Museum of Natural History and raised more than $1 million to benefit college initiatives. Again and again, conference presenters stressed that our chance to mitigate the effects of global warming and environmental destruction is running out. Anastasia Khoo, chief marketing officer of Conservation International, said that current estimates give humans 10 to 12 years to reduce carbon in the atmosphere before global warming reaches a point of no return. She spoke with Francisco Costa, Fashion Design ’90, former creative director of Calvin Klein Collection, about how they work together to sustainably derive unique ingredients from the Amazon rainforest to
Levi’s sustainability czar Paul Dillinger with President Joyce F. Brown.
produce his new beauty brand, Costa Brazil. Selling these ingredients provides income for some of the 200 indigenous tribes in the Amazon, and Conservation International is planting 73 million native trees at the headwaters of the Amazon River to speed reforestation. Michael Beutler, director of sustainability operations at the luxury conglomerate Kering, described the company’s pioneering Environmental Profit and Loss methodology, which puts an economic value on the impact of creating products from leather, wool, gold, and other natural
materials. “We’re backing up our business with real analytics and data to make sure we’re taking care of the environment,” he said. In one of two lectures supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Christina Agapakis, a biologist, writer, and artist, discussed how genetically modified microbes can help grow crops without fertilizer, dye garments without toxicity, and produce animal proteins from Francisco Costa ’90. yeast. She acknowledged that GMOs, especially when present in food, are a contentious topic, but believes that transparency in labeling and open conversation could help change minds. Paul Dillinger, the dynamic vice president and head of global design innovation for Levi Strauss & Co.—one of the biggest names in sustainability today—capped off the conference by sharing some of the company’s experiments in reducing the massive environmental impact of denim production. For example, they are creating a soft, cottony fabric from eco-friendly hemp, sourcing a partially recycled natural fiber called Refibra, and creating clothes entirely from one fiber, buttons and all, to make them easily recyclable. Levi’s is also teaming up with Stacy Flynn, Textile Development and Marketing ’98, to make jeans from Evrnu, a new fiber created from discarded clothing. “There’s no one single solution,” Dillinger said. “Right now there’s just got to be a lot of trials.”
The conference was organized by the president’s Sustainability Council and chaired by council members Ann Cantrell, assistant professor of Fashion Business Management; and Melanie Copple, director of strategic philanthropy; as well as council co-chairs Suzanne McGillicuddy, assistant dean of students; and Karen Pearson, associate chair of Science and Math.
In January, Eric Daniels, chair of Interior Design, presented on design thinking and disruption at Innova-Con, a conference held by the International Association of Innovation Professionals and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 4
Permeable/Resistant, a solo show last fall at the Thomas Erben Gallery in Chelsea, featured recent work by Fine Arts faculty member Harriet Korman, in which, according to the gallery, she “continues her celebrated engagement with color, geometry, the picture plane, paint, and her handling of it.”
Michelle Handelman, acting chair of Film and Media, won a 2019 Creative Capital Award for her queer multichannel video installation with live performance called Delirium, one of 50 projects chosen from 5,200 applications. She will receive $50,000 in funding and $50,000 more in career development services.
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WE’RE #1! from CEOWORLD A recent ranking 109 FIT atop a list of d magazine place nhio fas ing de offer colleges worldwi at re mo n ar Le . related programs ld. fitnyc.edu/ceowor
BUSINESS STUDENTS WIN MAJOR RETAIL COMPETITION
IMPACT: Creativity for Civility, Diversity, and Inclusion, an interdisciplinary project supported by the FIT Diversity Council, comprised five exhibitions throughout campus this spring semester. Focusing on the importance of creativity in engineering social change, IMPACT is the most recent phase of the project Impactful Language, which began with a poster exhibition at FIT and continued with a student collaboration with Italian communication research center Fabrica. One exhibition, The Future Is Inclusive, in the Pomerantz Center’s Art and Design Gallery, showcased diversity-themed artworks in diverse media. Modern Passage was a series of interactive video portraits of Fashion Design MFA students, first wearing the traditional costume of their native country, then morphing into their current style. Creative Technology and Design faculty developed the video with the Molecule, an innovation design studio in New York. IMPACT was initiated by Communication Design Pathways faculty members C.J. Yeh and Christie Shin, co-coordinators of the Creative Technology and Design subject area. “These exhibitions demonstrate not only that FIT is an innovation center and a creative hub, but that its community members understand that it’s their responsibility to help others,” Shin said. “As creatives, we strive to produce transformative work that fosters and promotes positive social change.”
A 1970 evening dress and overskirt by Traphagen alumnus James Galanos, using a textile design by Tzaims Luksus.
The third edition of Fashion Entrepreneurship: Retail Business Planning, a textbook co-authored by Ann Cantrell, assistant professor of Fashion Business Management, was published in February.
The Traphagen School: Fostering American Fashion, an exhibition that ran in March at The Museum at FIT, explored the legacy of one of New York’s first fashion schools, operating from 1923 to 1991. The show described founder Ethel Traphagen, the philosophies of the school, and its lasting influence, and displayed the work of illustrious alumni Geoffrey Beene, Anne Klein, Luis Estévez, James Galanos, and Antonio Lopez. Also included were never-before-seen garments from Traphagen’s study collection, as well as photographs, publications, and advertisements that chronicled the school’s experimental environment. The exhibition was curated and organized by students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice MA program in the School of Graduate Studies. For the 2018–19 academic year, FIT was included— for the first time—on the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the highest number of Fulbright U.S. Scholars.
For this year’s National Retail Federation Foundation Student Challenge, in collaboration with innovative retailer Story and professional-services firm KPMG, 25 teams from NRF member schools created a retail strategy, including a 30-page presentation and 90-second pitch video, for their choice of Home Depot, IBM, or Kroger. Fashion Business Management students Angela Flegert, Alin Intravisit, and Caroline McCormack, and Advertising and Marketing Communications major Lara Voronkov came in first place for their concept of experiencing the store through the five senses, along with a “sixth sense” driven by artificial intelligence, which was created in partnership with IBM. The students brainstormed creative events ranging from a soothing aromatherapy session to being transported through a virtual reality world. For winning first prize, each student on FIT’s team won a $5,000 scholarship and a $1,500 travel award.
Winning students Caroline McCormack, Lara Voronkov, Alin Intravisit, and Angela Flegert. The new Two Ten FIT Sam and Libby Edelman Scholarship provides a total of $25,000 annually for first-year students and those in Continuing and Professional Studies “with a passion for footwear.”
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Tracking Cotton with DNA, from Dirt to Shirt
Dairy Youth Showmanship by Brad Paris, portraying a young person with a cow at the Dutchess County Fair, comes from a series about members of 4-H, a youth empowerment program.
On View: Expressions of Civility
Civility—and the ability to reconcile our differences for the greater good—is at the very root of a democratic society. The 2018–19 faculty and staff exhibition, Expressions of Civility, on view through October, explores the meaning of civility in a world that is increasingly intolerant. Artworks from many media—illustration, photography, textiles, sculpture, fashion, video, writing, even performance—model civil behavior in literal and metaphorical ways. For the first time, the show includes student work.
Because of the complexities of cotton sourcing, textile and apparel companies often don’t know where their cotton was grown. This becomes an issue when companies want to prove that they use organic cotton—or that they don’t use cotton from countries such as Uzbekistan, where forced and child labor are common. An innovative technology called CertainT, created by Applied DNA Sciences of Stony Brook, New York, can solve this problem. The company creates a unique DNA signature, about 200 base pairs long, and sprays this DNA onto cotton at the ginning stage. Applied DNA Sciences tests for this signature in the final product, to ensure that inferior cotton wasn’t substituted at any point. Already, the company has tagged 200 million pounds of cotton, and linens manufacturer Himatsingka uses this technology on sheets sold at Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond. “CertainT tells the customer that the product they’re buying is the product that’s advertised,” says John Shearman, executive director of marketing for Applied DNA Sciences. Before this technology could be applied to denim on a large scale, Applied DNA Sciences needed to know that the DNA tag would not be stripped off when the denim went through acid and stone washes. Sean Cormier ’92, associate professor of Textile Development and Marketing, studied the effect of harsh washes on tagged cotton denim. In the quality assurance course Cormier teaches in the textile testing lab at FIT, students sprayed on the DNA and performed these Sean Cormier in the textile testing lab. washes. When Applied DNA Sciences tested the samples, the marker had remained. The results were published in the September/October issue of AATCC Review, the magazine of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. “Denim has the most abrasive treatments out there,” Cormier says. “If we could do this with denim, we could do it with any other fabric.”
Poetry of Family The Miracles, the third book of poetry by Amy Lemmon, chair of English and Communication Studies, debuts in May from C&R Press. The poems, glimpses of Lemmon’s children and their father, who died in a senseless accident, make heartbreaking leaps in time, finding beauty and solace in small, perfect moments. Lemmon’s poem “I take your t-shirt to bed again” appeared in the 2013 edition Brandon Saloy, Graphic Design ’18, was commis- of The Best American Poetry series, and “DON’T GIVE UP” is on display in FIT’s sioned to create the book cover. Expressions of Civility exhibition.
MUSIC TO OUR EARS
Michelle Obama set the internet aflame when she appeared at the start of the Grammys to talk about the power of music in her life. She rocked a sparkly jumpsuit by Sachin & Babi, the fashion brand created by Sachin Ahluwalia, Fashion Design ’96, and Babi Ahluwalia, Textile Development and Marketing ’96, who met at FIT.
Gift of Brother Equipment Aids Art and Design Students Brother, the Japanese manufacturer of printers and sewing machines, donated about 25 sewing, cutting, and embroidery machines to FIT, to be used by the School of Art and Design—particularly Fashion Design fourth-years preparing their final garments for the Future of Fashion runway show. The digital embroidery machines can create complex, multicolored patterns based on digital files, and the cutting machines can slice through thick materials like leather with precision.
Fabric In Fashion, which closed May 11 at The Museum at FIT, explored the role of textiles in forming the silhouette in Western fashion over the last 250 years. It looked at how fibers and weaves build the materiality of fashion and the cultural influence of fabric. 6
Film, Media, and Performing Arts faculty member K. Meira Goldberg’s book Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco (Oxford University Press) examines how the politics of blackness figure in the flamenco dancing body, and asks what flamenco can tell us about the construction of race in the Atlantic world.
Artists and Designers: Realities and Imaginations in Labor and Business History, a conference funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was held April 12 to teach students the histories of their careers and the place of those careers in the development of capitalism.
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FIT PARTNERS WITH STONY BROOK ON RESEARCH
When Ruth Carter won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Black Panther, it was also a victory for head tailor Kevin Mayes, Fashion Design ’81. In addition to perfecting those muscle-hugging bodysuits, he also worked on costumes for Selma (2014) and the 2016 TV miniseries Roots. Kathleen Granados, Fine Arts ’09, and Ruben Marroquin, Textile/Surface Design ‘09, were among FIT’s springsemester artists in residence in the “floating” classroom above the new Art and Design Gallery.
PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Faculty from FIT and Stony Brook University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, also a SUNY institution, joined forces on collaborative research at the intersection of design and engineering. The schools awarded seed grants to explore three projects: Ajoy Sarkar, associate professor of Textile Development and Marketing, and Carlos Colosqui from Stony Brook studied materials that can selectively absorb and repel water and oils, technology that could be used in performance athletic gear. Theanne Schiros, assistant professor of Science and Math, and Asta Skocir, associate professor of Fashion Design, partnered with Stony Brook’s Gary Halada to design a cellulose-based fiber that can break down into feedstock after its useful life, resulting in a zero-waste material. Karen Pearson, associate chair of Science and Math, and Vladimir Samuilov from Stony Brook analyzed a soft, flexible conductive textile that could store electricity in clothing, to enhance wearable technology. “The project represents promising opportunities for FIT faculty to engage with other academics outside their own disciplines,” said Joanne Arbuckle, deputy to the president for Industry Partnerships and Collaborative Programs, adding that we are using the strength of two SUNY institutions to bring science and design together.
HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU SPEND ONLINE?
In the course Your Digital Life: Online Literacies for a Networked World, Katelyn Burton Prager, assistant professor of English and Communication Studies, encourages students to think critically about what they learn and do online. The first assignment requires students either to give up their phones and computers for 24 hours or to log their technology use over the same period, then create a visual representation of what they learned. Some students are surprised to discover that they spend up to 19 hours on their phone in a single day. “I want them to think more critically about the ways they’re engaging with this technology, because they use it so much,” Burton said. The above infographic by Antonia Ridderstraale, Direct and Interactive Marketing ’19, is a playful depiction of her time spent online—including a tumble down the stairs while looking at her phone.
For the Driving Creativity contest, offered by Kia Motors America and Ad Age Studio 30, students from across the U.S. were asked to design a print advertisement for the sporty new Kia Stinger. Contest organizers narrowed down the field to six finalists—including four Advertising Design students from FIT—and Ad Age readers chose the winner: Courtney Bott ’19. She won a trip to the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, a $10,000 scholarship, and an additional $5,000 for FIT.
Arsho Baghsarian: A Life in Shoes (Schiffer Publishing) by Helene Verin, a Career and Internship Services faculty member, profiles the woman shoe designer who was the creative genius behind Christian Dior, I. Miller, and Stuart Weitzman.
The Faculty Senate Library Committee and the Gladys Marcus Library created FIT Authors (authors. fitnyc.edu), a website that showcases the creative and scholarly books of faculty, staff, and alumni.
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STAMP ON HISTORY
The Illustration faculty member wraps up a 12-year commission for the U.S. Postal Service
by Jonathan Vatner
In 2006, Ethel Kessler, an art director for the U.S. Postal Service, approached Kam Mak, professor and assistant chair of Illustration at FIT, to create a series of 12 annual stamps themed around the Chinese zodiac, to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Having seen a book Mak had illustrated, My Chinatown: One Year in Poems, she hoped he would bring authenticity to the project. The final stamp was released this year, on Feb. 5, to mark the start of the Year of the Boar (or Pig). “It was more than a job,” he says. “I got to tell the story of my culture through these stamps.” Mak’s first idea was to portray the animal associated with each year in the zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, and so on. But the animals had already been done, in a stamp cycle the USPS commissioned from 1993 to 2004, to honor the contributions of Chinese Americans in the history of the United States. The artist, Clarence Lee, brought each beast to life in exuberant, stylized simplicity. Mak thought back to his childhood memories of Chinese New Year celebrations—boisterous drumming, early spring flowers, the ubiquitous red money envelopes, fireworks lighting up the sky—and proposed a series based on those traditions. He depicted each in richly layered oil paint on 16-by20-inch gesso panel. Because the zodiac needed to be acknowledged,
Lee’s animals are reproduced in the upper left corner of each stamp, in gold. For the Year of the Rat, in 2008, Mak painted the small red lanterns that his mother used to hang in the window as the new year approached. For the Year of the Rabbit, he painted gleaming, piquant kumquats, eaten for good luck. The Year of the Dog stamp, released in 2018, portrays the three spiral stalks of lucky bamboo, representing blessings for a long life, good fortune, and happiness. His painting for the Year of the Boar depicts a sprig of luscious peach blossoms, among the first blooms of spring. These paintings capture vivacity and movement in saturated color; even his inanimate objects feel irrepressibly alive. He is fondest of his Chinese narcissus for the Year of the Tiger, because it reminds him of his grandmother in Hong Kong. “I would help her plant narcissus bulbs, and she would tell me, ‘If this blooms on the first day of the new year, you will have luck for the rest of the year.” When he immigrated to New York City at age 10, she stayed behind, and died later that year; he never saw her again. “She treated me like a prince,” he says. “She was everything to me.” In creating the first artwork, the red lanterns, he learned an important lesson: when painting for such a tiny medium, less is more. Those lanterns, shrunk to the size of a stamp, looked like cherry tomatoes. Art director Ethel Kessler solved the problem by zooming in on the image, and revealing Mak’s sensuous brushstrokes. All 12 stamps were packaged in a limited-edition commemorative book, individually signed by Mak. Also, the stamps were on display during the Future Is Inclusive exhibition, in FIT’s Art and Design Gallery, Feb. 12 through March 5. The original paintings are the property of the Smithsonian and are held in the National Postal Museum. “I’m proud that an institution as big as the U.S. Postal Service is recognizing who we are,” he says. “Not every day do Chinese Americans see something in the culture that they can identify with. The stamps really brought the community together.”
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Celebrating the Lunar New Year, in stamps
Mak has created an annual Lunar New Year stamp for 12 years. The final stamp, for the Year of the Boar, was issued in January.
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i contact: student
MR. POSITIVITY Thaddeus Coates, Advertising and Digital Design ’20
Last fall, you were the breakout star of American Eagle’s advertising campaign for their new Ne(x)t Level Jeans, which they describe as “for the guy who wants extra room in the thigh.” Out magazine called you “The Black Queer Plus-Size Model We Need.” How did the campaign happen? On Twitter I was like, “I want to model for ASOS”— this big online company, with a lot of “models of size.” One of my online friends said he could hook me up with casting calls, and I went to one for American Eagle. There I met Lauren, the lady who changed everything. She gave me two pairs of jeans. Trying on jeans is daunting for me usually, but this was like when Cinderella put on that glass slipper. I was excited—not because I was getting cast, but because my jeans fit. What was the photo shoot like? It was in this studio in Brooklyn. I met all these professional models from all over the world. They did my beard, I felt all fluffy and fresh. I ate some trail mix and there was an omelet station and someone asked what did I want in my omelet. And then I’m, like, dancing on a tarp and they’re like, You can pick the music, so I put on 99 Percent and then the Backstreet Boys. It was a moment of clarity— distinct clarity. How did it feel when you saw the ad? I was like, “I belong!” I don’t mind being the face of something revolutionary.
What’s your favorite thing about the Advertising and Digital Design major? For Adjunct Assistant Professor Rocco Piscatello, we had to create an icon set—it’s a system of symbols that can function in a given environment— and I did one for a frozen yogurt company. I made up all these characters and I created animation. It wasn’t even like homework.
Tell me about this self-portrait you made with Ellen Marsz, Photography ’20. I’ve been working with a lot of self-love, a lot of body positivity. There’s a pink tree. I always have this overarching theme of birds and clouds. They’re pretty happy, because I’m pretty happy.
Were you always so optimistic? I’ve held on to it. I’m like, “People don’t always view the world like a glass half full?” Some people, their ray of light goes out. I’m at my best when I’m radiating positivity.
Ellen Marsz ’20/Thaddeus Coates ’20
Now you’re represented by Bridge Models, an agency that aims “to bridge the gap between ‘standard’ and ‘plus size’ in the fashion industry.” How did the partnership come about? After the American Eagle spot ran, Teen Vogue ran a story on me. Paper picked it up, too. So I knew I had something. I thought I could make more if I had an agency behind me. I Googled “male modeling agencies for guys of size.” I followed Bridge, and they DM’d me: “Congratulations on your American Eagle campaign!” So I said, “Hmm.” Charlotte from Bridge told me, “We’re like a ‘mom agency’—we take care of you like a mom.” And I was like, “This is it!” And then—boom!—I was a Bridge model. So then I got Target’s Goodfellow & Co campaign, which is their elevated menswear line, and their Warp and Weft campaign for print and e-commerce—it’s an inclusive denim line.
10 Spring 2019
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50 Years OF FASHION
The Museum at FIT celebrates its silver anniversary with a retrospective show BY RAQUEL LANERI
Museums have collected and exhibited costumes for more than 100 years. But none had done so with the kind of style, wit, and imagination that have characterized The Museum at FIT ever since it first opened half a century ago. That’s evident in Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT, which ran from February 8 to April 20. It reprised 33 of the museum’s most influential, groundbreaking shows, starting with an unconventional retrospective of vaunted Hollywood costumer Adrian, staged in 1971 as a live runway presentation. “The Museum at FIT has always been remarkably independent, and, as a result, we have created many envelope-pushing shows,” says Valerie Steele, museum director and chief curator.
Top left: A silk satin and lace hat by John Galliano and Stephen Jones for Christian Dior, fall 2000. Top right: MFIT’s 2001 show London Fashion included garments by Ossie Clark, Boudicca, and Vivienne Westwood. Above: Fashion and Surrealism (1987) was one of the museum’s most influential exhibitions. This tableau features a Charles James dress, Pierre Cardin shoes, a hand-painted suit by Larry Shox, and an illustration by alumnus Antonio Lopez.
The museum was founded in 1969 as the Design Laboratory at FIT. From the beginning, it showed fashion in a new way— one that “was not chronological and antiquarian, but really fashionable, and often with dramatic sets,” Steele says. While it had some smaller shows, like the Adrian catwalk, its first major exhibit was Paul Poiret, King of Fashion (1976), a look at the early-20th-century designer who brought Orientalism to Paris couture. The show didn’t just resurrect the long-forgotten Poiret— with 75 luxurious looks, featuring harem pants, feathered turbans, and bejeweled cloaks, many loaned by Poiret’s widow. It also stunned visitors with its mise-en-scène, a recreation of the couturier’s legendary Arabian Nights–themed 1,002nd Night party held in his Parisian garden. Using photographs, as well as the actual clothes—a catholic mix of couture, avant-garde, and ready-to-wear (including graphic tees and disposable paper dresses)—Exhibitionism brought this and many of the museum’s other presentations back to life. Highlights included the cerebral Fashion and Surrealism (1987), the rigorously academic The Corset (2000), and the fantastical Fairy Tale Fashion (2016). And like fashion, the museum itself has evolved. What started as a showcase for sartorial masterpieces (with solo shows on Poiret and Givenchy) eventually became a place to examine what Steele calls “fashion’s role in visual culture.” Lately, the exhibitions have used fashion as a lens through which to explore social issues, such as climate change (Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme, 2017), race (Black Fashion Designers, 2016), and gender (A Queer History of Fashion, 2013). Steele says that such boundary pushing is the result of the diverse interests and backgrounds of the curators, educators, exhibition designers, and others involved in each show. “Making an exhibition is a lot like making a film: You need a good director, techies, creatives, all working together,” Steele says. “I never fail to be amazed at the creative ideas they come up with.”
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The role of fine art in managing pain BY JONATHAN VATNER
The pediatric oncology ward at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, in the Norwood section of the Bronx, is a surprisingly cheerful place. On a recent afternoon, children in hospital gowns gather in a playroom full of toys, smiling nurses pop in and out of rooms, and a visiting trio of young women in hijabs pulls a wagon full of presents for the patients. One team of visitors from Montefiore’s Children’s Hospital Innovation Lab (known as the CHILZone) has come with a virtual reality headset to share an immersive fine art experience with some of the children. They first drop in on Anna, a 14-year-old who has been recuperating in the hospital for a month. Her room is decorated with posters from Riverdale, her favorite show, and of Demi Lovato, her favorite singer, as well as with encouraging notes from her classmates. Chemotherapy has taken her hair. A Montefiore graduate student helps position the headset over Anna’s face, and immediately she starts looking around
THE VIRTUAL CURE 12 Spring 2019
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the invented world in wonder. “I’m in a diner,” she says, turning her head as far as it will go. “It looks like Riverdale. There’s a lot of taxis outside. There’s a Con Ed truck. Two girls look like they’re gossiping in the street.” The VR headset makes her feel as if she’s inside a three-dimensional painting of nearby Fordham Road at Grand Concourse, a familiar sight for many patients, most of whom hail from the area. The immersive environment—complete with colorful street denizens, cars, and shops with intricately rendered interiors—was commissioned by Montefiore’s Fine Art Program and Collection and constructed by artist Tom Christopher and student interns from the Fine Arts Department at FIT using the virtual reality painting software Google Tilt Brush. This is more than just a beautiful, innovative art project. It’s the first step in an attempt to use VR artwork to reduce physical pain as well as—or better than—narcotics.
t Montefiore, hospital art isn’t bland decoration; it’s selected specifically to aid healing and tailored to each patient population. “You can’t just go into a stroke patient’s room and say, ‘Oh, great, the couch is red, so let’s hang a blue-and-white Mel Bochner,’” explains Olivia Davis, curator of Montefiore Health Systems and project manager for the Montefiore Fine Art Program and Collection. “For stroke victims to piece together memories, they need to see more abstraction, with just a hint of figuration. And you don’t want someone in a coma to awaken to a huge, glaring painting of a flower.” As she considered what type of art to hang in children’s wards, Davis noticed that the patients and their families were constantly looking at screens. “I realized no matter what I put on the wall, it couldn’t compete with the technology of our daily lives. So I started to investigate the virtual and augmented reality art worlds.”
“I realized no matter what I put on the wall, it couldn’t compete with the technology of our daily lives. So I started to investigate the virtual and augmented reality art worlds.” –Olivia Davis, curator at Montefiore Health Systems Most of the available virtual reality art showed nature scenes, “things a child from the Bronx might not relate to,” she says. “Someone from Mott Haven has probably never been camping.” She thought a nearby streetscape would be more likely to spark their imagination. In early 2017, she invited Tom Christopher to paint a lushly detailed virtual-reality landscape that patients could explore. She chose Christopher partly because he had no experience working digitally: She was curious to discover what an analog painter might do with the technology. “We wanted to see the hand of the artist in the painting,” she says. “VR should be a tool for artists, not something to replace art.” Creating a city block to scale in virtual reality would become the biggest single artwork that Christopher had ever done. For help figuring out the digital component, he called his longtime colleague Thomas McManus, associate professor of Advertising Design. In the ’90s, McManus, then an art director at TBWA Worldwide, had worked with Christopher on one of Absolut Vodka’s iconic ads. “Absolut Christopher” is a riot of impasto brushstrokes.
Opposite: Nyrie, a patient at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, explores a virtual reality world created in part by FIT. This page: Two-dimensional images taken from the virtual reality artwork of Fordham Road in the Bronx don’t capture how immersive it feels when someone puts the goggles on.
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“We’re not creating artwork, we’re creating information: Where’s his thumb? What’s he holding onto? Where’s his foot? This work is revitalizing classical drawing.” –Tom Christopher, artist
“What do you know about virtual reality?” Christopher asked. “I was about to ask you the same thing,” McManus replied. Coincidentally, McManus had been researching VR technology and was looking for ways to build it into the curriculum. Together with James Pearce, technical manager in FIT’s IT Department, he acquired two HTC Vive VR systems—each with a supercharged MSI gaming computer, headsets, controllers, and signal towers. Students and faculty in a range of departments lined up to try it out, and one of the setups is now being used in the sculpture studio as a new medium for Fine Arts students to explore. “Advertising is jumping on this technology like crazy,” McManus says. “This is big news, and it’s a big deal.” McManus brought the Montefiore project to then–Fine Arts Chair Joel Werring, who selected five students to intern with Christopher on the piece. For six weeks in summer 2017, they spent hours each day on a Fordham Road street corner, sketching everything they saw, even pigeons. Christopher pushed them to mimic life with exacting detail. “We’re not creating artwork, we’re creating information,” Christopher says. “Where’s his thumb? What’s he holding onto? Where’s his foot? This work is revitalizing classical drawing.”
Christopher and the FIT interns sketched exhaustively to get body positioning and the environment just right.
Pearce trained Christopher and the interns on FIT’s equipment in the Faculty Research Space on campus. Creating a three-dimensional landscape from two-dimensional sketches required memorizing every angle of each object, building, and person, then putting on VR goggles and sculpting with digital swaths of color in the virtual space. Eventually, Montefiore’s CHILZone bought an identical VR system for the team to use in Christopher’s studio in Croton Falls, New York. The vast Fordham Road VR experience has the feel of a Tom Christopher painting: bright colors and wild, joyful movement. Moving around in it and leaning in to see close detail is a singular pleasure. A woman in colorful island regalia protects herself from the sun with an umbrella. A passenger in a Boro Taxi watches a video screen. A plant vendor texts from a wheeled stool. A sandwich board advertises a spiritual advisor, and neon seafood signs invite passersby into a fish market. A crossing guard beckons a pedestrian while halting two cyclists. The painting invites visitors to wonder about these people and their surroundings. After two of the interns, Joseph Irizarry and Stephanie Held, graduated in late 2017, Montefiore hired them to keep working on the VR art. The other three, Amanda Conticchio, Jessica Baker, and Angela Rosado, stayed on until they graduated in 2018. Once the team finished the Fordham Road environment, the hospital approved a second grant to recreate the main conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden in VR. Again, the students sketched exhaustively and sculpted plants, visitors, and gardeners in vivid color. Next up, if funding permits, Christopher, Irizarry, Held, and a new cohort of interns will attempt the Bronx Zoo. Pearce is researching new VR painting technology for that project. He says that Tilt Brush was not designed for artworks the size of a city block; even with a powerful computer, the piece takes 20 minutes to load. “The paintings are so huge, it’s obviously beyond what the creators of the program intended,” Pearce says. “The technology hasn’t caught up to what we’re doing.”
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“This is one way our students can leave a meaningful impact on our society.” –Joel Werring, associate professor of Fine Arts
nother patient in the pediatric oncology ward, an 8-year-old girl with dreadlocks named Nyrie, is extremely enthusiastic about her time in the VR environment. She knows Fordham Road well, as her mother often takes her to shop there. “It was so cool,” she raves. “I saw lots of people. There were stores and a newsstand. It was the best.” Nyrie’s and Anna’s excitement, though important, is only what enables the true potency of the artwork and the purpose of the commission. For the past 20 years, researchers have studied the power of virtual reality to ease pain in hospital environments. Davis recalls a 19-year-old man who recently came in with gangrene and had to undergo an excruciating skin grafting procedure. After 30 minutes of virtual reality, he was feeling no discomfort. The artwork she commissioned is meant not only to inspire but also to act as a powerful analgesic. “Lately, I’ve been in a lot of pain,” Anna says. “It was nice to put on the headset and relax.” Most of the available data on virtual reality and pain relief are based on experiments with a game called SnowWorld, in which the player shoots
snowballs to vaporize penguins and snowmen. Instead of plugging patients into a mindless video game, Davis hypothesized that immersive art could stimulate the creative mind while still reducing pain. Anna and Nyrie are two participants in a study to test the efficacy of the cityscape created by Christopher and FIT. Montefiore researchers are comparing patient pain levels before and after a few minutes of immersion. To get an objective reading, a NASA scientist measures vital signs using an Empatica wristband, commonly used to alert epilepsy patients when a seizure is coming on.
Top left: The artists created a second VR artwork of the New York Botanical Garden. Above right: The project was exhibited in The Future Is Immersive in FIT’s new Art and Design Gallery in the lobby of the Pomerantz Center, March 15 to May 2. Other images: Because the work is three-dimensional, every angle provides an exciting view.
This research isn’t just underscoring the importance of art in healing; it’s a step toward righting an American tragedy. Currently, opioids are the most potent treatment for pain, but giving them to children can trigger a lifelong, and life-ruining, addiction. Davis hopes that this study and others will help scientists create a medicationfree “pharmacy” of virtual reality experiences, prescribed and dosed for each patient’s needs. “Can you completely replace what OxyContin does to your brain with VR?” Davis asks. “We want these devices to be the new frontline of defense for the opioid crisis.” Werring expects more collaborations to empower students to do good while honing their craft. “Having that mixture of art and science, medicine, and technology adds value to a fine arts education,” Werring says. “This is one way our students can leave a meaningful impact on our society.”
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TA KIN G
St. WORLDWIDE Tropez Estefania Garcia-Correa, International Trade and Marketing for the Fashion Industries ’15, is helping create a global presence for the swimwear company Vilebrequin BY ERIN PETERSON
Estefania Garcia-Correa ’15 had dreamed of working in the fashion industry since high school. So in 2016, when she learned that she was being considered for a business development role at Vilebrequin—a luxury French swimwear brand known for its bright colors and whimsical patterns—less than a year after graduating from FIT, she left nothing to chance. For her interview, she didn’t just prepare polished answers about her background and goals. She handed her interviewers a 90-day plan that showed exactly how she would approach the company’s growth opportunities in Latin America, including an idea to add a store in the exclusive resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay. She gathered statistics on economic growth, details on the complex importation process, and informal insights from Latin American friends from FIT. Any reservations Vilebrequin’s team might have had about hiring someone so young for a key position vanished. “They weren’t expecting a plan,” Garcia-Correa says. “They saw that I was serious.” She got the job. Today, as business development manager for Latin America, Hawaii, and Canada, she’s been a guiding force in developing Vilebrequin’s new franchise stores in six locations, including in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and— yes—that Punta del Este store she’d recommended. In recent months, she’s added several more locations to her portfolio and is poised to help make the company’s global footprint even bigger.
When Garcia-Correa and her family moved from her birthplace of Caracas, Venezuela, to Florida just before her 15th birthday, she already had her sights set on New York City. She was fascinated by fashion and international relations, and New York was a hub for both. As a high school student, Garcia-Correa attended an open house at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to learn the basics of draping and sewing, essential skills in a designer’s toolbox. “I realized, oh my God, I have no patience and zero talent for this,” she recalls. “It was definitely not for me.”
Nick Parisse, Photography ’09
Pairing fashion and finance
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Though her future would not be in design, she still loved fashion, so she gravitated toward the business side. “I love relationships with people, I like math. I liked the idea of creating a business plan and setting up sales projections,” she says. That pivot led her to FIT, with its combination of fashion- and business-related coursework. While she excelled in the classroom—earning the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence on her way to a degree in International Trade and Marketing—she also made waves outside of it, becoming president of the college’s Latin American Student Organization. After graduation, Garcia-Correa spent a few months as an international sales associate at Perseus Books. From there, she moved to Vilebrequin, where she’s received a steady stream of promotions and new responsibilities. This work requires her to spend plenty of time burrowing deep into spreadsheets and government regulations to build business plans and profit-andloss projections. She also studies a variety of macroeconomic trends, duties, and even corruption statistics as she determines how to expand Vilebrequin’s footprint profitably. Above: Vilebrequin’s store in the JK Iguatemi mall in São Paulo, Brazil, was re-merchandised to GarciaCorrea’s specifications. Right: She also consults on product design, as with this print, a collaboration with the band Queen.
“I liked the idea of creating a business plan and setting up sales projections.”
Once a new store is ready to open, she teams up with the company’s visual merchandisers to teach managers and sales associates how to bring Vilebrequin’s French Riviera retro vibe to life. Associates learn to fold bright merchandise crisply, giving it plenty of room to breathe on generously sized shelves in the airy and elegant stores. She also has a chance to work her fashion sense, frequently collaborating with the creative, design, and production teams to offer input on upcoming collections. For example, in early 2018, she and a handful of others at Vilebrequin zeroed in on a print in the spring and summer 2019 collections developed from a collaboration with the band Queen. They decided— based on previous sales, current inventory, and customer feedback—to make the swim trunks and T-shirts one of the centerpieces of that season’s collection. “At the time, we didn’t know that Bohemian Rhapsody would be such a success, but based on how our markets reacted to [a previous] Rolling Stones collaboration, plus the color and fit of these styles, we knew it would be a hit,” she says. It has become a bestseller in many countries. For Garcia-Correa, the most powerful moments happen when her original idea becomes a brick-andmortar reality. The final moments before eager customers arrive in a Latin American store that she dreamed up in her New York office can feel electric. “That’s my favorite,” she says, “when I stand there and see that it’s all done.”
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Artist Ebony Bolt, Entrepreneurship ’14, Illustration ’11, draws inspiration from the subway
“I’m an extroverted introvert,” says artist Ebony Bolt ’14. In conversation, she has effortless charisma, but her preferred practice is sketching strangers who pose unwittingly before her pen. Bolt draws them surreptitiously on the subway, usually while they’re asleep. She’s filled many small black accordion-style notebooks with panoramas of snoozing faces. “It’s easier for me to draw people in the wintertime,” she says. “In the summer, they’re awake and alert.” An inveterate subway traveler, Bolt sees the train as both muse and gallery. She’s been “bothering the MTA for years” to display her work on a poster or in a station. “They have the best real estate—a lot of people take the train,” she explains. In 2017, she was a finalist in a competition to create a permanent installation for the Nostrand Avenue LIRR stop, in Brooklyn; though she didn’t win, an MTA art curator helped Bolt secure a teaching fellowship at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers. The museum exhibited three of her surface designs, printed on acrylic and displayed over custom light boxes. “My ultimate goal is to have my work printed on glass. I grew up in the Baptist church, and stained glass windows are so opulent,” she says. The East New York native developed her distinctive sketching practice in response to a suggestion from her teacher, Bil Donovan ’78, adjunct associate professor of Illustration. He appreciated her work but felt she needed more confidence. “You’ll feel better when you create consistently,” he told her. She perfected her craft on her commute to and from FIT. She’s used her BS in Entrepreneurship to create her website and market her skills. For now, she still has a day job—as a CAD artist for the wholesale fashion company Golden Touch Imports. Last fall, the MTA began selling a poster of her drawing, City of Dreamers, a rendering of New York’s five-borough map, filled with an eclectic assemblage of her trademark dozing denizens. (You can see it on the cover of this magazine.) She also created a wallpaper for the MTA’s Holiday Train Show. This time, the curators had a request: “They wanted me to put smiles on their faces and open their eyes.” No problem, Bolt told them. She drew her fellow travelers the usual way—napping— and added the open eyes and smiles later. —ALEX JOSEPH 18 Spring 2019
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Ebony Bolt says, “People ask, ‘What’s your real name?’ And I’m like, ‘That’s it.’”
Clockwise from top left: Bolt sketches in accordion notebooks; “Folk,” a repeat created from a stealth portrait; Bolt on a recent visit to FIT; the flora and fauna in this sketch were inspired by a trip to Costa Rica; she opened her subjects’ eyes when creating this wallpaper for the MTA’s Holiday Train Show.
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Uncommon Pursuits These alumni have found themselves off the beaten path in their career—and they like it
Lyn Slater became a hot influencer at age 64
Courtesy of GoDaddy
Influencer Lyn Slater, who studied at FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies, has half a million followers on her blog, An Accidental Icon. Hue sat down with her for a brief discussion of her ideas, and how she turned her social media project into a hit. What follows is an edited version of that conversation. Hue: You have half a million followers on your Instagram account and related blog, An Accidental Icon, that document your life as a 64-year-old fashionista. What’s the secret to online success? Slater: Break all the rules. When I launched in 2014, I looked at what was out there and did the opposite. Most blogs were busy—lots of ads, stuff all over. I only posted three times a week. Initially, all my posts were in black and white. And I had no target market! My target is basically anyone who’s interested in fashion. Categories limit you. People find you interesting in part because you’re a professor at Fordham University, yet
you’re killing it in what many see as a young person’s game: social media. I never write about age or ageism. I don’t have to; just look at my photos. My biggest demographic is women age 24 and 25. They’re anxious about aging, but they see that I just started a new career at age 64 and I’m having a ton of fun. What they appreciate about me, even more than what I wear, is my attitude. What I wear amplifies that attitude. How did you get so many followers? I earned every single follower. For the first two years, whenever I got a new one, I sent them a rose emoji. Growth has been organic, except for two big spurts. When Huffington Post featured me in a video and it got picked up by Bored Panda, I gained 100,000 followers in 48 hours. Then a BuzzFeed video about me got 47 million views. But your engagement rate is in ratio to your numbers. So if you have a lot of followers who don’t engage, it doesn’t help. I get a lot of good, meaningful comments. A lot of smart people follow me.
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You’ve done very well for yourself. Why did you need FIT’s Continuing Education classes? My vision of continuing ed is that it’s an exploratorium for people looking to reinvent. When I came to FIT, I was disillusioned with academia and I needed a different way to express myself. I’d done it through art and photography, but nothing expressed the core of me. The FIT programs were affordable; they allowed me to explore. As an academic, your specialty is the intersection of social welfare programs and the law. How did you get into this line? Through my work with women and children. I have a macro approach to social welfare programs. Problems are not just about individuals, but structures. That led me to work with lawyers—to push for change through class action lawsuits, hearings, and court proceedings. Eventually I earned a PhD in social welfare. Women and children are embroiled in a lot of systems— educational, welfare, legal—so it makes sense for them to have a lawyer and a social worker. Is there any connection between this work and fashion? As a social worker, I reviewed hundreds of psychological reports that began with a sentence describing how a client was dressed or groomed. Judgments began to be made about that person. “She’s disorganized”—and the result might be as extreme as losing your child. Lawyers would say to me, “Tell her to wear a suit to court,” but if clients wore something they weren’t used to, they looked shifty. I have always intuitively understood the power of clothes. In interviews, you’ve said that as a society, we don’t talk enough about how fashion can be productive. Is your success an example of that? All the old ways we do things are collapsing. Things like Congress are not working. But I’m not afraid of that. In fashion now, you don’t need anything except a site. If you’ve got a half million followers, you can be a player. It’s a time for creative and clever people to succeed. Slater received the first Certificate of Achievement in Professional Development from FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies (CCPS) at last fall’s meeting of “The Network.” The Professional Studies and Enterprise Studies and Digital Design units of CCPS sponsor “The Network” meetings three times a year as an opportunity for past and present students of the Business Certificates Group (Omni-Channel Retail, Brand Management Experience, and Data Analytics). For more information, contact FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies. —ALEX JOSEPH
Mia Cusumano, Fashion Merchandising Management, gives actors their big break
In your talk at FIT in November, you said you were earning enough with Accidental Icon to leave academia. How were you able to monetize your online presence? I have been hired for campaigns, commercials, and content creation for brands on Instagram.
Nick Parisse ’09
According to freelance casting director Mia Cusumano, confidence equals currency inside an intimate, unadorned audition room. “All I want to do is make an actor feel safe,” she says. “If they trust you, they trust themselves.” In a sparse environment, usually furnished with just a table and three chairs, Cusumano and her casting partner, Meghan Rafferty, also serve as acting coach and director. The three work together to bring the scene to life. A typical session has Rafferty behind the camera and Cusumano reading with the actor. The duo shape a take until tone and nuance are perfect, revealing the performer’s capacity to convey a visceral understanding of the role. Their most memorable audition was for the ABC series Body of Proof. Molly Price, known for her role as Faith Yokas in the NBC drama Third Watch, was trying out for the role of a mother whose son may have been responsible for her husband’s death. Even without props or a supporting cast, she portrayed the depth and protective fierceness of a mother’s love, embodying pain, angst, and hot fear. She nailed it in one take. “There was something so beautifully raw and broken in her that the two of
us were left weeping,” Cusumano says. Price got the part. Cusumano got her start in the industry through an FIT internship at ABC. Years later, the network hired her for a temporary assignment. The threemonth gig turned into 15 months of learning the nuts and bolts of the trade. She works for production companies, directors, networks, and studios. She sources talent from a cache of files on past auditions and by posting online to Breakdown Services, a website where agents and managers are alerted to new projects. Paterson, the Phil Spector biopic, and The Leftovers top Cusumano’s list of high-profile projects. With films like these, directors and producers wrangle the stars (Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, and Ann Dowd, respectively), based on lists of recommendations from the casting director, who then casts the remaining roles. With actors at any level, however, the audition process is immensely rewarding. “It’s wonderful, actually,” she says. “I see upand-comers. I’m the one who gets the most raw performance from an actor.”
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Dave Ortiz, Fine Arts ’91, operates the only vodka distillery in Manhattan Stefanie Bishop, Interior Design ’10, pushes her body to the limit
On a Friday in February 2010, Stefanie Bishop left class at FIT early and drove to an event in Pittsfield, Vermont, called the Death Race. Bishop had been a competitive triathlete since 2005, but was looking for a new challenge. The Death Race offered it. Held in the Green Mountains, the event involves 24 hours of diabolical tasks, both physical and otherwise. Its slogan: “You may die.” During the race, she split wood for hours, built a wheelbarrow to carry the wood up a snow-covered mountain (constantly bogging down in the snow), fought an Olympic wrestler, and memorized a sequence of 21 numbers while running four miles. Bishop (the sole competitor to remember the sequence) won the race. A Long Island native and former Wall Street analyst, Bishop has found a career in extreme racing. In 2016, she became the top female competitor in the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour obstacle course, in Lake Las Vegas, named for its namesake mud crawl. She’s competed all over the world, from canoe races on the lakes of Canada to foot races in the mountains of Patagonia. “I work better when I have to endure something over a long period of time,” she says. “There’s something that clicks
in my mind, and I fall into the state of flow and just do it.” She’s paid for her passion for extremes. Over the years, she’s faced Lyme disease and a foot injury. And she had to take most of 2018 off due to a stress fracture in her leg that occurred while attempting to defend her Toughest Mudder title in 2017. “I’ve never had a pain like that before,” she says. Still, Bishop says it’s not about the suffering … well, not entirely, anyway. She also loves the people she meets, the network of friends from all over the world with whom she’s bonded during these limit-pushing experiences. And of course, it’s the challenge. “It’s my desire to see how far I’m able to go,” she says. So what’s next? As soon as her most recent injury is healed, she plans to run her first “official” 100-mile ultramarathon. (She says she’s run 100 or more miles in other races, but with other obstacles along the way.) She also wants to pursue more adventure races (where physical challenges are combined with scenic wilderness) and mountain biking races. “The mind has immense power, and the ability to use it successfully to get through these events and challenges has helped me through many other aspects of my life.” —ALAN WECHSLER
Dave Ortiz insists running Manhattan’s first distillery since Prohibition isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. “Basically everything starts with ‘Is it going to be a fire hazard?’ and then I work backwards to get things done.” Ortiz, owner of Our/New York Vodka, a distillery and lounge a block from FIT, is the local partner of Our/Vodka, a global network of seven locally produced small-batch vodkas, based in Stockholm and owned by French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Ortiz grew up in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he got involved in the streetwear scene. After becoming the first employee of skate brand Zoo York in the early ’90s, he opened the sneaker boutique Dave’s Quality Meat (famous for their exclusive Nike Air Max 90 “Bacon,” a pork belly–colored sneaker). After selling the company to Vans in 2010, he focused on his art, expanding into screen printing, and even receiving a commission from Goya Foods for a National Puerto Rican Day Parade float. Our/Vodka reached out to Ortiz in 2013 based on his New Yorker cred and marketing genius. “I thought they wanted me to design a label or a box, maybe throw a party, and if I was lucky, they would write me a check,” he says. Initially, he balked when asked if he’d run a distillery. “Why would I? I’m not in the alcohol business. I don’t even drink!” However, he was intrigued by the idea of using local ingredients, including corn from upstate and New York City tap water, to make the vodka distinctive. He said yes. But the New York City Fire Department said no. Vodka is made by fermenting a grain mash and distilling it, or boiling off the alcohol (also called ethanol) and collecting the condensation, to purify it. After multiple distillations, the “rectified” spirit is mixed with water in a
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—JULIANNA DOW, FASHION AND TEX TILE STUDIES
Mikahla Insalaco Jestes, Fashion Merchandising Management ’04, heals humans—and horses—with acupuncture
two-to-three ratio. Even Our/New York’s 60-gallon copper still, used for the final distillation, would require storage of large quantities of the highly flammable liquid. “It wasn’t even that it was against code, it was that there was no code,” Ortiz recalls. “It was illegal to store ethanol on the island. Full stop.” The FDNY suggested the team find a location in Brooklyn; a handful of distilleries already operated there. “But we wanted to be the first—we wanted bragging rights,” Ortiz says. “We worked with the fire department to write a new code, because we knew other people were going to want to do this. We were persistent.” Three years and 288 meetings later (he counted!), construction began at 151 West 26th Street, the former site of a sculpture supply shop that Ortiz frequented as an FIT student. The build took another year and a half. “And then the inspections started—fire chiefs and all sorts of people coming in and making sure boxes were checked,” he says. “Safety is the highest priority.” Our/New York opened in spring 2018. Beyond the ethanol storage containers and the copper still, the bottling setup, and the water filtration system that prepares that renowned NYC tap for vodka production, Ortiz designed the tasting room to reflect New York City. He painted the walls using a graffiti-inspired drip technique, and the wall behind the bar is made of reclaimed wood from Brooklyn carved to mimic SoHo’s cast-iron facades. He makes sure the cocktails all have a New York twist, too. Want a dirty martini? At Our/New York, ask for the “East River.”
A few days a week, Mikahla Insalaco Jestes treats human patients at Points in Balance, her acupuncture clinic in Sykesville, Maryland. The rest of the week, she visits other members of the animal kingdom in barns, stables, and homes. These patients, horses and dogs and the occasional cat, present with many of the same symptoms as humans: aches and pains, digestive distress, arthritis, and anxiety. As soon as the first needles go in, they calm down, sometimes even falling asleep. Insalaco says that when it comes to acupuncture, animals aren’t that different from humans. Acupuncture is based on the idea that illness is caused by disruptions in the flow of the body’s vital energy, called qi. “Animal anatomy is of course different from people’s, but the same meridians are present,” she explains. She often gives racehorses acupuncture to bring their bodies into alignment for a race. (In some states and some other countries, acupuncture is seen as an unfair advantage and is prohibited on race day.) She says it also eases soreness and relieves stress, and can address what’s called obscure lameness, a subtly abnormal gait that doesn’t have a clear cause. “A vet might say something’s off, but [the cause] hasn’t quite revealed itself,” she says. “That’s where acupuncture can dovetail so nicely with Western veterinary medicine.” She also uses myofascial release, a type of massage, on horses. “Just because they are big doesn’t mean it takes brute strength to shift stuck muscles and energy in their bodies.” In 2018, to enhance her practice, she developed a line of CBD tinctures, balms, and gummies called Purity CBD. Since animals have an endocannabinoid system similar to a human’s, she offers a formulation for pets, as well. The products are derived from a hemp extract from Colorado; this year, she and her husband plan to grow it on their farm. Insalaco has ridden horses since she was 4 years old. She came to FIT to study merchandising after working as a buyer for a Maryland retailer that specialized in horse equipment and equestrian fashion. While contemplating a career change, she came across a description of acupuncture that resonated with her. “I was fascinated by the concept that the body has the ability to heal itself.” After three and a half years of study, she received a master’s degree in acupuncture and a certification in treating animals. Her experience with horses gives her special insight into their maladies. Along with a veterinary diagnosis, sometimes riding a horse can give her insight into its needs. “One cool thing about treating animals is they’re unbiased,” she says. “There’s not a placebo effect as we have with people. Either the treatment is helping, or it’s not.” —JONATHAN VATNER
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No Dragons, Please Grace Chen, Fashion Design ’96, defines contemporary Chinese style B Y ALEX JOSEPH
of couturiere Grace Chen ’96, and in her hands that encounter is dynamic and transformative. Her namesake house is based in Shanghai, but you won’t find traditional garments like cheongsams, or images of dragons or pagodas in her line. She has a deep knowledge of Chinese history and craft, but she’s equally at home with references to the Bauhaus and the golden age of Hollywood. If global identity is the future, Chen’s ingeniously blended aesthetic illustrates how that might look. During a visit to FIT last year, Chen sat down with Hue for a conversation about her experience at the college, her business, and contemporary Chinese style. As the country forges its identity in the global economy, its fashion is also changing. The days of clothing “made in China” (but designed elsewhere) may be ending. According to The Economist, an estimated two-thirds of the richest self-made women in the world today are Chinese, and as Chen points out, most Western fashion suits them awkwardly. Newly ascendant, Chinese couture is stepping in to fill the void. Her clients include actor Qin Hailu; Gina Qiao, senior vice president of the tech firm Lenovo; and, allegedly, China’s first lady Peng Liyuan. Prices range from $3,000 to $12,000 per dress, or more. Chen already had a fashion design degree from Beijing University when she arrived at FIT in the mid-’90s, and she took to the American industry avidly. After graduation, she worked for Halston in New York, then for Japanese designer Tadashi Shoji in L.A. Of the celebrities she outfitted—Oprah Winfrey, Helen Mirren—Chen says, “For me, they are just women. They all worry about their legs, waists, and face. My job is to make them more beautiful than they are.” In 2009, she founded her company in Shanghai; an early collection, “Little Red Dress,” caused a sensation. In 2016, the designer opened a new space in an Art Deco mansion in Shanghai’s French Concession district. The prestigious architecture firm Kokaistudios renovated the space to encompass a showroom, gallery, fitting rooms, offices, dining room, and a library, as well as a VIP suite for a full lifestyle experience. With that bold stroke, Grace Chen Couture had arrived.
Turn the page for a Q&A.
Portrait and students by Nick Parisse, Photography ’09. Other photos courtesy of Grace Chen
East meets West in the designs
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Opposite: Chen wears an outfit of her own design. “Yeah, it’s quite Rolling Stones,” she says. Top: A coat from her spring 2019 “Voyage” Collection. Left: “Making a team [for your firm] is the hardest thing to do,” Chen says. “I’m not good at braiding or embroidery, but I know the standard. You have to know how to find these people.” Above: Students took a selfie with Chen when she visited FIT.
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A conversation with Grace Chen When you came to New York to study at FIT, did you experience culture shock? Never. I feel like this was my home in a former life. What was it like to leave China? At that time, it was very difficult to get a passport or visa, to get out of the country to study. It was actually a groundbreaking thing. I understand that FIT helped you particularly with the business side of fashion. The school has a sensibility about product, management, production; that’s more difficult than design. I mean, people ask me how you get inspiration, but you either have the creative part or you don’t. I’m a realist, not just an artist. At FIT you learn how to make your dream into a brand. That’s what you need to learn. How is the American industry different from China’s? In America it’s divided into many different areas focusing on people’s lifestyle, and it’s complicated by demographic difference, and even divided by body types. So it’s an intricate system, but it’s very functional. That’s what China doesn’t have. China has manufactured mass fashion for years. What’s missing? Production-wise, yes, over the last 20 or 30 years there are a lot of really great factories, no less than in Europe or America. But how do you make a product relate to people’s life? Like, say, a professional woman—work wear? In China, it’s very difficult to find this kind of clothes. Why is that? Because it’s much more difficult to make than casual wear. First, the design has to be simple, and it’s more difficult to design simple things than complicated stuff. You have to have really good taste, technology, and patternmaking skills. It has to be beautiful, easy, and comfortable to wear. A good brand can do that, and we don’t have that. You told CNBC, “It’s time for China to find its fashion identity.” What did you mean? This is what brought me back to China to establish this brand. Why is it always Paris trends, London, or Tokyo? Can Chinese wear them nicely? Obviously not! The body, the posture, the whole meaning behind that fashion is completely wrong. Maybe something like Nike shoes, Gap, all these casual things, I guess it’s fine. But if you really want to wear fashion in a meaningful way, to represent yourself, your background or lifestyle, it will be much more than that. So I have two challenges—good clothing for Chinese and good style coming from China for the world.
Your mansion in Shanghai looks fabulous. What does it signify? In China, I can’t just focus on the clothing itself. I have to educate the customers. In New York, when you see a woman in a Grace Chen dress, immediately you have a picture of her lifestyle: She will have a grand house in Connecticut or an apartment on Fifth Avenue. But in China, nobody would know. That’s why I need a mansion: to demonstrate the lifestyle of a Grace Chen woman.
Courtesy of Grace Chen
How does that translate into an aesthetic? Our style has a softness. It goes with the person. It’s kind of like penetrating into you, instead of just a shell outside of you. We use a lot of fringes, a lot of tassels. This is typical Chinese philosophy; you use soft to conquer the hardness. The soft is more powerful than hard. But meanwhile, it has a strength. Part of that strength is Western, and part of it is Chinese women’s inner strength.
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Chen has described her clothing as “feminine and powerful.” (A photo of a battleship inspired an earlier collection.) The look of her spring 2019 “Voyage” line, she says, is “spiritual free-spirited wanderer.” Many of her designs are rendered in bias-cut silk charmeuse.
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1994 Tricia Carey, Fashion Buying and Merchandising, is director of global business development for denim at Lenzing Fibers, a $2 billion company that produces sustainable fibers made from wood pulp, such as Tencel and EcoVero. She works with retailers and brands to ensure Lenzing’s fibers are specified throughout the denim supply chain. She also educates apparel brands on Refibra, made from 30 percent cotton waste. Carey is also on the advisory board for FIT’s Textile Development and Marketing Department.
John Robb, Menswear, has produced a men’s clothing line called Inseam with his partner, Jeff Diaz, since 2001. The clothes, inspired by military and work uniforms, are manufactured in Everett, Massachusetts. Robb handles patternmaking and the website; Diaz focuses on fabric and color, as well as the finances. They created the brand for gay men but are adjusting their designs and marketing to appeal to a broader audience.
1989 Joanie Accolla, Display and Exhibit Design, is co-founder and creative director of the Healing Headbands Project, which brings the healing power of laughter into children’s hospitals and other organizations such as the Girl Scouts and Kiwanis Club. In each Laugh, Create, Heal workshop, Accolla and co-founder Barbara Grapstein lead laughter exercises, then guide the children in painting artworks that are scanned and printed onto stretch microfiber, creating a keepsake headband. Parents are encouraged to participate, though there’s a learning curve: “Children are natural laughers. With adults, you have to help them remember.”
Inseam’s Makers apron No. 2 and Hudson herringbone shirt.
Accolla leads children in a laughter exercise.
The LiLi Afro Belle dress, from the fall/ winter 2018 Mwitu collection, is made from African wax fabric in floral and psychedelic record prints.
The Joséphine Baker dress, a cappedsleeve sheath mesh gown with a double split over a strapless spandex bodysuit.
1987 Malacia Anderson, Fashion Buying and Merchandising, is the owner and designer of Li Li’s Creations, wearable, vintage-inspired women’s wear handmade from African wax prints, sold on Etsy and her own website. Her marketing comes via her popular Instagram feed, where she posts daily snaps of herself and her friends wearing her designs. “I made things that looked nice on me,” she says, “and everybody liked it.”
Shari Henry, Fashion Design, is a Washington, D.C.–based designer who designs custom urban streetwear for men and women, inspired by the movies Black Panther and 300 and manufactured by a local collective that she oversees. She launched her eponymous brand in September 2018. She is also part of Macy’s Fashion Incubator, which provides emerging designers mentorship and workspace in the store.
1976 Elaine Grynkewich Drew, Fashion Design, self-published the novel Courting Trouble, a feminist take on the Cinderella story set in the year 801. She wrote it while living in England in the ’80s, but it went unpublished until she reread it in 2018 and couldn’t put it down. In writing it, she blended in myths like the Beowulf story and humanized Drew painted the cover of Courting characters by Trouble with gouache. modeling them on people she knew—and then killing off those she didn’t like. “I may have to write another,” she muses.
Nicholas Valentine, Fashion Buying and Merchandising, owns Broadway Tailors in Newburgh, New York, founded by his uncle circa 1950. He and his four employees do alterations, rent and sell tuxedoes, and sell custom suits and shirts. He also teaches sewing to the local workforce, as the area recently welcomed three factories that moved from New York City. Due to the dwindling number of tailors in the area, his customers drive up to an hour for his services, but he is confident that the profession will survive. “A machine can sew a buttonhole or set a pocket,” he says, “but when it comes to a wedding gown, someone needs to do the alterations by hand.”
Beth Vetter Costello, Graphic Design, self-published The Art of the Process: Establishing Good Habits for Successful Outcomes, a workbook that guides students and professionals in taking on clients. Costello also does freelance logo design and teaches graphic art classes at Nassau Community College.
Rori Rosas Fallacaro, Marketing: Fashion and Related Industries, teaches courses in retail, sourcing, and textiles at Southern New Hampshire University. She is also a territory supervisor for Hallmark Cards, overseeing the execution of greeting card displays at area stores. She had a 16-year career in sales, customer service, and human resources at Macy’s; prior to that, she owned a New York textile design studio called Pina Pina.
Danilo Hess, Photography, has shot for the international editions of Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, and has received commissions from Nike, Converse, Ralph Lauren, and many more. He prepares extensively for each project, creating separate concept boards for location scouting, casting, hair, makeup, and styling, so that when he arrives on set, he can focus on executing his vision.
Hess’s favorite shoot was for John Varvatos’s spring/summer 2019 collection, shot over three days in Miami and Key West.
Nicole Rutsch, Advertising and Marketing Communications, is the Brooklyn Fraulein, a healing chef who marries food with spirituality. Formerly a caterer to fashion events, she recently shifted to smaller gatherings in the wellness industry. This spring, Rutsch founded a cannabis lifestyle brand called Hint of Greens, encompassing retreats and products such as CBD tincture, bath salts, and tea blends. “Cannabis has been a little bit abused— it has such a strong male presence,” she says. “We want to bring out the goddess.” She is also launching an eight-week online coaching program that teaches intuitive eating.
Rutsch serves these beet-and-oat smoothie bowls to balance and strenghten our connection to the earth.
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MOVING THE LINE ONLINE Cynthia Gale, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’84, and Glenn Gale, Advertising Design ’82
2011 Andrea Pitter Campbell, Fashion Design, owns Pantora Bridal, an inclusive bridal studio and salon in Brooklyn. The showroom offers more than 300 of Campbell’s designs, ranging from $1,800 to $8,000; the line is also sold in boutiques in Houston, Nashville, and New Orleans. While she designs for any bride, she specializes in silhouettes that celebrate curvy bodies and shades of illusion lace that match darker skin tones. She has dressed Black-ish actor Marsai Martin, TV producer Mona Scott-Young, and reality television star Kimbella.
2013 Nivedita “Nivi” Sreenivas Murthy, Fashion Merchandising Management, founded Ikkivi, an online marketplace for sustainable and ethical Indian fashion. The site features 28 designers who stand by at least two of Ikkivi’s core values: handcrafted, natural/ organic fabrics, fair trade, minimal waste, use of traditional/local techniques, and vegan. An expert in data analytics, Murthy also founded OnItsOwn, an app that solicited consumer feedback on forthcoming products to help fashion designers and buyers make more efficient production and purchasing decisions.
The Gales at FIT circa 1984 and at the Design Entrepreneurs Collaborative in 2019.
—R AQUEL LANERI
The Aretha gown from the 2019 Storm collection, a mermaid silhouette with a plunging neckline using Campbell’s “Forgotten Skin Tones” illusion mesh, 3D floral accents at the shoulder, and a ruffled bottom.
Ikkivi sells this cotton crepe evening dress by The Loom Art.
Meghan Conway, Fabric Styling, Fashion Merchandising Management ’09, co-founded Wyld Womyn, a women’s health community center in Beacon, New York. Formerly co-owner of Daya Yoga Studio in Bushwick, she opened Wyld Womyn in 2018 with her business partner and fellow doula, Alyia Cutler. They offer a wide range of classes and services, from lactation and fertility support to sex education for teens to guitar instruction and macramé. “Communities used to help each other, and we’ve lost that,” Conway says. “This is our way of bringing it back.”
Julia Sinelnikova, Fine Arts, creates immersive multimedia installations, inspired by light shows at warehouse raves, that examine the corrosion of privacy and internet security. Rootkit, a 2018 solo show at Superchief Gallery in New York about cyber warfare, employed five projectors, LED screens, hand-cut Mylar sculpture, and a play inspired by Snow Crash, a 1992 novel about a computer virus that causes brain damage. Her recurring show Surveillance Video Experiments incorporates live webcam streams of the audience and a date-stamped archive of their faces.
The homey interior of Wyld Womyn.
Part of the Rootkit installation.
Jewelry designers Cynthia and Glenn Gale met at FIT when the two crashed into each other during an aerobics class. “All the girls had memorized the technique, so I was always two steps behind,” Glenn explains. “And I stood right behind Cynthia.” “He was like one of those creepy guys,” Cynthia says, laughing. “But he asked for my number, and I gave it to him.” They fell in love, married, and launched Cynthia Gale New York, a line of handcrafted sterling silver jewelry. Now, nearly 35 years after that first collision, they’re back at FIT. The couple recently traded their 2,500-square-foot showroom for a spot in FIT’s Design Entrepreneurs Collaborative, run by the FIT Design Entrepreneurs program to give emerging—or, as Cynthia puts it, “transitioning”— designers shared studio and showroom space at under-market prices. Christine Helm, who coordinates FIT Design Entrepreneurs, says of the collaborative, “It’s a collegial environment where designers can share resources and help each other cope with the ever-evolving world of fashion.” “Our whole business is changing,” says Glenn, who is in charge of production and finance. (Cynthia handles design and sales.) “We’re not doing trade shows, and we don’t have reps anymore—we’re all online.” It’s a far cry from the brand’s early days, in the early 1990s, when Cynthia would borrow her dad’s car and drive to boutiques to sell silver jewelry purchased in Indonesia. “I had gone to Jakarta for the first time for a modeling job, and I just remember getting off the plane and going, ‘Wow! Wow!’” In 1995, Cynthia started developing her own New York City–inspired designs, using centuries-old silversmithing techniques, such as repoussé, in which parts of the metal are raised in relief by using a series of hammers and punches. “It gives the metal a tactile depth and a timeless quality,” she says. A big part of their business is producing custom merchandise for museums like the Barnes Foundation, stores like Barnes & Noble, and even the Grateful Dead, for whom the jeweler produces high-end versions of the band’s iconic Steal Your Face and Dancing Bears motifs. Some fans have The “Steal Your Face” bracelet, made even commissioned her to design their of sterling silver, enamel, and a woven funerary urns. leather cord, is part of the Grateful By moving the brand online and by Dead Collection. taking advantage of FIT’s resources, Cynthia Gale New York hopes to expand its signature line. “I’m doing more socially relevant jewelry and introducing individual pieces as opposed to very large collections,” Cynthia says. “People are buying differently now—they’re buying online, buying pieces that mean something to them.”
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alumni notes Alexis Mazza, Accessories Design, Jewelry Design ’13, is a sixth-generation jewelry designer who vaulted into the industry when her line, LexiMazz Designs, won the 2017 Emerging Designer Competition at the Centurion Jewelry Show in Scottsdale, Arizona. She favors minimalistic loops of gold studded with diamonds and long, slender chains that drape elegantly down the chest and back. She’s twice been featured in British Vogue and showed at London Fashion Week in February. The jewelers in her family are notable enough that Assistant Professor Michael Coan mentioned them in a jewelry history course. Mazza recalls, “My friend turned to me and said, ‘Alexis, that’s you!’”
Emily Newcomen, Direct and Interactive Marketing, Illustration ’15, assists in managing Marvel Comics’ variant cover program, in which she works with comic artists to create special edition covers for retailers. The most popular heroes for variant covers are SpiderMan, Venom, Cosmic Ghost Rider, and the X-Men. When The Amazing SpiderMan relaunched with issue number one in summer 2018, Newcomen’s team produced a whopping 80 variants.
TAKING IT OUTSIDE
Melissa Brasier, Interior Design ’10, and James DeSantis, Interior Design ’10
Courtesy of Bravo
Brasier, Magee, and DeSantis meet with a client.
A 14K gold and diamond ear climber from Mazza’s award-winning Holy Chic collection.
2016 Michelle Moore, Textile/Surface Design, is a freelance surface designer based in Kingston, New York. When a design studio gives her an inspiration board, she creates five- to eight-piece collections using watercolors, mixed media, or an iPad. She’s paid when a pattern is sold. Her most successful repeats contain multiple motifs, so that one design can be broken up for numerous applications. “It’s very rewarding for a little doodle to turn into something in the mass market,” she says.
Newcomen helped produce this variant cover illustration, by Russell Dauterman with colors by Matthew Wilson, for the February 2019 issue of Marvel’s Love Romances.
2017 Alfeya Valrina, Accessories Design, designs and produces an eponymous line of structured handbags with a small team of artisans in her home country of Indonesia. The collection, which began as a class project, is inspired by the baskets carried by mbok jamu, traditional Indonesian herbalists who peddle their remedies on foot. She sells the bags through her website and the Brooklyn boutique Sincerely, Tommy.
The roster of alumni making it big on reality TV just grew by two. Backyard Envy, an addictive unscripted show that debuted January 17 on Bravo, follows the Manscapers, a three-person New York City landscape design firm, as they meet with clients, work their magic on derelict gardens and barren rooftops, and confront disasters, large and small. At the end of each episode, the transformed spaces are revealed in a series of extremely satisfying before-and-after shots. Melissa Brasier and James DeSantis met in the Interior Design program at FIT and have been best friends and business partners ever since. DeSantis also worked as a senior project manager for Ralph Lauren designing store interiors. In 2014, they teamed up with close friend Garrett Magee, a graphic designer and budding horticulturist, and the Manscapers was born. Today, Brasier oversees construction, DeSantis handles the client relations, and Magee is the plant expert. Hue caught up with Brasier and DeSantis during their publicity tour for the show. Hue: You’re trained as interior designers. How did you make the transition outside? Brasier: The three of us were doing work on James’s backyard in Brooklyn, and people said, “Why don’t you do this for money?” It started off as a side project. Within a year and a half, we transitioned to full time. Was it hard to learn landscape design? DeSantis: It helped that we had drawing, rendering, and presentation skills from FIT. We still use those on a daily basis. Only two of you are men. Why are you called the Manscapers? DeSantis: We started as a gay-focused company hiring almost exclusively gay men to execute our labor, and we marketed toward a gay fashion and design clientele in New York City. We’ve obviously since expanded. A name change is a possibility … but stay tuned. How did the show come about? DeSantis: A British producer friend of mine knew about our business and how we worked together. He said, “I think this is a TV show.” There weren’t any outdoor design shows that are interesting and cool. Gardening is so granny. We had one meeting with Bravo, and they loved it and developed the series. The pilot did really well in focus group testing. It took almost two years to get the show made, but every step was a yes. What has the response been so far? Brasier: We’ve been flooded with people reaching out to hire us. DeSantis: Our producers are World of Wonder, who do RuPaul’s Drag Race. They have a team that monitors all the social media, and they were like, “Oh my god, the response on Twitter is the nicest we’ve seen from any show.” People are
Moore’s watercolor Leafy Greens was used on a pillow by Lemon Head Prints.
The Joe Joe Bag is crafted from scrap leather pieces.
usually vicious on Twitter. To me, that’s a win. —JONATHAN VATNER
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WORK THAT LOOK!
FITâ€™s hallways are veritable runways, with a diverse group of high-achievers showing off their own forward designs and enviable acquisitions. The @fitnyc Instagram page now spotlights one phenomenal ensemble every #FashionFriday. Our favorites from this semester feature bright colors, relaxed silhouettesâ€”and, of course, more than enough confidence to pull them off. Photos by Smiljana Peros.
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