WWD Executive Editor Bridget Foley interviews Mark Badgley and James Mischka. Photo Credit: Patrick MacLeod

Style Dimension’s two-day event at Samsung 837 in New York homed in on brand authenticity, as well as in-depth discussions surrounding education, career advice and personal experiences in the industry.

During a session on career paths, Nicholas Kunz, cofounder or Nicholas K, and Torsten Hochstetter, global creative director at Puma, divulged the secret sauce for success: use one’s passion for fashion to make well-designed products that meet — and exceed — the demands of consumers. The Polimoda alumni also cited the importance of using technology and social media as well as being open to trying new experiences as key. Both noted that their experience as students at Polimoda in Florence, Italy, served as defining moments in their careers.

Kunz said her experience at the fashion school was “inspirational” and noted that her instructors were all working in the field and that real-world knowledge made it way into the classroom. For Hochstetter, one of the highlights of his career path, “was at the beginning with Polimoda. As a German [native] in Italy, I was exposed to cultures and diversity — which was key to finding my career path.” Kunz, who worked at major “corporate brands” before launching her own, said having passion helped fuel her success. “Moving from a big brand to being on the road with a suitcase showing the collection was a key moment,” she said. “It was going from all the glamour to reality.” 

Taking a love of sports and fusing it “with my other passion, which was design,” helped shape Hochstetter’s success. “That helped form my personality,” he explained. “And has served me well during my career.”

And in a panel discussion with Mark Badgley and James Mischka, cofounders and designers of fashion brand Badgley Mischka, the duo shared their experiences at Parsons School of Design (where they met) and career advice for navigating a rocky time in retail.

“I think it’s tough for retailers today,” Badgley said. “There are no rules anymore,” and due to social media and heightened, hyper-communication, “the golden curtain is gone.” He added that “You can’t be everything to everybody,” noting that emerging and current designers should stick to their authentic brand DNA instead of succumbing to industry pressures to expand. In a separate panel on branding, Aliza Licht, executive vice president of brand marketing and communications at Alice + Olivia, agreed that “figuring out your niche” and “being true to yourself” are critical factors for mastery and success.

Rounding out the program was an interview with Anna Bakst and Nicola Glass, ceo and creative director, respectively, of Kate Spade New York, along with a screening of their spring fashion show. Both executives joined the company this year from Michael Kors.

Asked how they approached designing the spring collection and what kind of shape the company was in when they arrived, Bakst said that many people, including herself, have fond memories of the Kate Spade brand when it hit the scene 25 years ago. “The optimistic femininity she [Kate Spade] brought is even more relevant today,” said Bakst. “Nicola basically hit the refresh button and brought it forward. I would say there wasn’t anything broken or anything that needed to be changed.”

“I wanted it to feel both familiar and very new at the same time,” added Glass. “I started by going backwards to the DNA of the brand 25 years ago when Kate and Andy [Spade] founded it. There was a purity to their design, their use of color and even some of their ad campaigns were really inspiring. There was always something a bit off — and whimsical. There were strong and spirited women in their ad campaigns.”

One noteworthy change was Glass’ use of the “spade” in different ways in the ready-to-wear and the accessories. With her background in accessories and jewelry design, Glass said she’s always been into hardware. “The first thing I did was develop a hard spade twist-lock. I like the idea of using it as a functioning hardware piece,” she said.

Discussing how they are honoring Spade after her tragic death, Glass said, “When she passed away in June, I took a moment to reflect. I felt that I didn’t need to change course. We had been really inspired by her to begin with. We noticed so many amazing heartfelt tributes from so many people. One phrase that kept popping up was ‘she left a little bit of sparkle wherever she went.’” They decided to add a glitter line across the pink carpet at the runway show, and touches of it subtly on the makeup and fingertips of the models. “And we left a card on each person’s seat with that quote,” said Glass.

The company has also donated $1 million to mental illness and suicide prevention. It also did a matching program with donations in its stores, and started a wellness program internally.

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