I believe that it's very important to get to know people with whom you can have a substantive dialogue about design and its development. In addition, read everything about fashion that you can get your hands on. A palpable point of view is what makes a designer, so you need to be confident about yours.
Until the sixteenth century, men-priests, academics, judges, merchants, princes, and many others-wore skirts, or robes. For men, the skirt was a 'sign of leisure and a symbol of dignity, ' writes Quentin Bell. This is still true for men in high positions. After all, can you imagine the Pope, or Professor Dumbledore, wearing trousers? Have you ever seen a depiction of God wearing pants?
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When I took over as chair of the fashion program, I was horrified that only the faculty member was allowed to speak in a critique. I'm talking about perfectly nurturing teachers. But the rule was there would be no call of hands for students to contribute their feedback. It was embedded in the department's culture. That was alarming to me. When I was teaching, I was the least important person in the room as far as I was concerned-my students' points of view mattered most. I wanted to learn who they were and teach them to respect one another's perspectives. I would start off by saying something like, "I am having trouble understanding how this work solves the problem at hand. Here are some things about the work that I appreciate: X, Y, Z. But I see these virtues independent of the problem we're solving.
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One of the hardest things for a teacher is to know when to keep quiet and when to let go. It is a terrible thing to hold someone back from success, or to insist on sharing credit, or to tie someone to your apron strings. We need to have faith that we have done all we can, and then we need to kick our birds out of the nest.
A T-shirt is a T-shirt. Spending hundreds of dollars on it doesn't elevate it. He was under-dressed, even if his casual outfit did cost more than my suit and tie. I once had another fashion victim tell me, 'This T-shirt cost twelve thousand dollars!' What difference does that make? If that's the message you want to send about yourself and your fashion sense, you should wear the price tag, or that should be the message on your T-shirt: 'Hi. This T-shirt costs more than a semester of college.' Or: 'Hi. I have money to burn. Please help me get rid of all this wealth.' And my shirt, in turn, would say, 'Great. Please write a $12, 000 check to charity.
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Speaking of high-end shoe designers, in 2011 it was fascinating to see the design company of Christian Louboutin try to stop the company Yves Saint Laurent from producing high heels with red soles, claiming that Louboutin was the originator of the red sole. Louboutin lost, and I was glad. He was not the first person to paint a sole, and I am wary of patenting a color, like Tiffany blue. Why should we grant that entire history to Louboutin and say there are no predecessors and should be no successors?
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The message sent by this policy is that if women are to be accepted into the exclusive ranks of men, then they have to look like men: buttoned up, stuffy, and no-nonsense. As if to show a little cleavage, to highlight a curvaceous figure, or to in any way appear feminine would discount, discredit, and disqualify them. I strongly disagree with this idea. I feel that women should wear clothes that suit their bodies rather than forcing themselves into unflattering men's suits and that it is feminist to to make a wide range of women's clothes acceptable business attire.
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Whether they come from Brooks Brothers or a thrift store, the sweaters we wear have a magnificent ancestry. Their history spans the worlds of Irish fishermen, French knights, World War I soldiers, busty Hollywood 'sweater girls, ' and the television saint Mr. Rogers. That history lives in each garment. By being aware of it, we can better appreciate what we have.
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In 1916, Infants' and Children's Wear Review insisted upon pink for boys and blue for girls. In 1939, Parents magazine claimed that pink was a good color for boys because it was a pale version of red, which was the color of Mars, the war god. Blue was good for girls because it was the color of Venus, and of the Virgin Mary. So, pink for girls is a relatively recent trend, and utterly random.
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Go to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, I think it's the eighth floor, and it's just a department called 'Woman.' It's rather devastating. You've never seen such hideous clothes in your entire life. I mean, it's simply appalling. Thank God there are no windows on that floor, because if I were a size 18, I'd throw myself right out the window [after seeing those clothes]. It's insulting what these designers do to these women.
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I am a stickler for good manners, and I believe that treating other people well is a lost art. In the workplace, at the dinner table, and walking down the street--we are confronted with choices on how to treat people nearly every waking moment. Over time these choices define who we are and whether we have a lot of friends and allies or none.
I was a teacher and an administrator at Parson's School of Design, and as an administrator, I was associate dean. And in that role, I went around fixing things that were broken. And the Parson's fashion program was broken.So fashion chose me. It needed to be developed and evolve. I don't know if it comes naturally to anyone.
My role as the chair of the fashion department at Parsons put me face to face with all the big designers, retailers, and editors. Since I was moving in these new circles regularly, I realized I needed to do something about my own personal style. It was really Diane von Furstenberg who gave me the nudge.
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