Where did it all start for you?
I never wanted to work in corporate America. In college I became a volunteer for VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, which is basically the domestic Peace Corps. I was assigned to the crisis counseling center called Together, Inc. I answered a 24hr help phone line. It was a very “hippie community”.
How did you arrive at the CFDA?
Lisa Smilor, our Deputy Director, and I had worked on projects when I was at Design Industries Foundation fighting AIDS.
The search committee wasn’t finding anyone they felt was right for the job and Lisa suggested they contact me. I was really happy at my current job at MTV International as the founding Executive Director of the Staying Alive Foundation so I went in to the interview process relaxed and not that interested. I immediately connected to Diane (von Furstenberg) and Stan (Herman) and they liked I was a non-profit manager and not a typical fashion type.
You have been with the CFDA now for almost six years; what has been some of your biggest challenges to date, and now as it’s CEO, what is your vision going forward?
The challenges have been few but with Diane, the board, our supporters, and the amazing CFDA staff we have accomplished quite a lot. We have grown the organization by 50 percent and are more representative of what American fashion is today. Our programs are known thoughout the industry and there is no other organization like the CFDA in the world.
With more and more students coming out of Parsons, FIT, etc. wanting to jump right in to being a designer, what advise would you offer up to them for starting their careers?
I always advise to go work for another designer. There is so much more you can learn on the job like souring and production and it is an opportunity to make business relationships. I see it as a apprenticeship of sorts. Stay put for a few years then if you have the drive, vision and resources stake your claim.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges and hurtles facing young designers today?
Everyone wants to be a star and have their own line from the start. The market is overly competitive and saturated so only the really talented ones will survive. Take time to get there and know its ok is you end up working on a design team for another designer. That can have longterm creative rewards if you let yourself do that.
And Do you feel that the Fashion industry does enough to support new designers, and if not, what could they do more of?
Yes I do, especially at the CFDA. We have the CFDA\Vogue Fashion Fund, the CFDA (Fashion Incubator) and the Swarovski Awards for emerging talent given at The CFDA Fashion Awards.
What are you most excited about as the CFDA approaches it’s 50th? Anything exciting planned?
We have a new book coming out called IMPACT: 50 Years of the CFDA that looks at the most influential moment in American fashion that each of our members have had. IMPACT will also be an exhibit at the FIT Museum. The images and stories are incredible.
New York Fashion Week Spring 2012 is in full swing, anyone in particular you are excited to see this season show/presentation wise?
No favorites. Really enjoy going to all our members’ shows and also scouting for potential new members as well.
With such great CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominees, what is your personal process or angle at which you evaluate the nominees?
Like all the selection committee members I look to see if the applicants are uniquely talented, have a point of view and if they have a viable and real business.
And without naming any, do you have any leaders in your mind?
We never know until the end but one or two surface to the top very quickly.
It seems we were once neighbors in Hawley… A magnificent piece of PA. How would you describe your perfect weekend?
A cool fall week end wrapped in a cashmere hoodie with colorful leaves and a drinks around a campfire with my partner Jay and our friends.