NEW YORK — Anna Wintour gave a history lesson to the more than 2,000 students and throngs of family and friends amassed at Radio City Music Hall Friday for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s 57th commencement exercises.
The Vogue editor in chief’s address to the class of 2003 described the fashion industry’s evolution from elitist roots to a democratized state today. Wintour said when she entered the business as the most “junior of junior” editors at Harper’s & Queen in her native London, fashion was something worn by a limited section of society, which also meant that the magazine and fashion industry were taken less seriously than they are today.
Couture shows, she said, were black-tie affairs held in either Roman palazzos or in Paris, which clearly reinforced her point that, at the time, people with time and money on their hands wore fashion, while everyone else wore clothes.
“J.Lo might be wearing Sixties’ Valentino couture to the Oscars now, but she would not have been allowed anywhere near the show where that dress first appeared,” Wintour said. “If a designer was famous, it was in a small, elitist way. Nowadays, someone like Calvin [Klein] is a world-famous artist whose name operates as a huge cultural force.”
Wintour said the public’s concern about and attention to style has never been greater, which means more avenues for those entering the design field.
“Although there may not be a hiring frenzy out there at this moment,” said Wintour, “there have, historically speaking, never been more opportunities for those who are determined and creative. If you do not succeed in landing the plum fashion design job that you’ve long dreamed of, with resourcefulness and self-belief and, above all, flexibility, you will succeed in the end.”
Wintour cited several key figures in the industry — who also happened to be FIT graduates — who took creativity and worked it into a diverse career, including Candy Pratts Price, Rebecca Moses and Michael Kors. The most recent careers Wintour cited included Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, who started Proenza Schouler after graduating from Parsons School of Design last year.
“When I was thinking about what to say to you, I decided to tap the brain of the number one FIT graduate I knew,” said Wintour. “I said to him, ‘What should I say to these students that might actually be of use?’ He said, ‘The most important thing is to have a vision. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just so long as you have a point of view that’s entirely your own.’ Calvin, I couldn’t agree more.”Klein, class of 1963, was on hand to receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree from his alma mater. He said the school taught him to believe in his ideas, which ultimately convinced others to believe in his ideas as a result.
“Fashion is a tough, complex business that craves new ideas, whether it’s marketing, merchandising or design,” said Klein. “In simple words, be inspired and be fearless.”
Meanwhile, before the ceremony, Klein told WWD of his worst moment at FIT: “There was a class for design students on understanding machinery and one of the ones we studied was the sewing machine. I got my finger caught in the machine and the needle went through my index finger twice before it finally broke. Fortunately, today, you can be a designer without sewing yourself.”