For 123 motivated fashion and retail career-minded college students from around the country, it was a big day in New York City.
On Monday evening, The Fashion Scholarship Fund awarded over $1 million in scholarships to the students, including the new class of 23 Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund winners, during a celebration at The Glasshouse on 12th Avenue, where their case study work providing fashion solutions was showcased, and about 700 industry executives and fund supporters turned out.
The most moving moment was when Shannon Abloh, the wife of the late designer Virgil Abloh, took the stage to reveal the winner of the $25,000 Chairman’s Award for the best case study as voted by a panel of judges — Naecia Dixon, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and a 2022 Virgil Abloh Post-Modern Scholar.
Abloh had the crowd in silence when she spoke of her husband, the founder of luxury streetwear brand Off-White and artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s. Abloh was also on the FSF board and creator of the Post-Modern Fund in partnership with the FSF. He died last November.
“One of the things I always admired about Virgil was his deep sense of compassion and care for others,” said Shannon. “He believed that being a leader meant serving others in need. And he felt a tremendous sense of purpose in opening doors for others. He would say ‘the work isn’t simply about opening the doors, it’s about laying the groundwork to ensure these doors remain open permanently for others to walk through.’
“When he would say, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ he of course wasn’t talking about himself. He was talking about every young person who has ever dreamed of becoming something — an artist, a fashion designer, an architect or an engineer but felt discouraged because they couldn’t see themselves represented in these industries. Virgil was of course deeply honored to become the first African American to lead a European fashion house. But he believed his real work was using his position to ensure that many more Black designers, creatives and executives could have access to the opportunities he had in the fashion industry. He believed his real work was championing others.”
Dixon, upon receiving her award, said “Like Virgil, I have big dreams. I want my work toward sustainable fashion to lead to oceans that remain forever blue and forests that are evergreen, where people don’t lose a sense of visual identity while trying to help the earth. I want a little black Jamaican girl to see how I saw Virgil. That I am not a saint or a superhero or a goddess. That I am just a Black woman who worked her ass off and if I can do it she can do it, too.”
Neiman Marcus Group chief executive officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck was honored for his support of The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation’s partnership with the FSF, dedicated to promoting diversity in the fashion industry by mentoring and preparing the next generation of talent. NMG donated over $550,000 to the organization through funds from corporations; brand, technology and marketing partners, and customers.
“I believe that passion, accompanied by showing up as your authentic self, leads to success,” van Raemdonck said. “When you are passionate about what you do, you will undoubtedly devote your time, effort and energy to going above and beyond in everything you do. As an openly gay CEO in the luxury fashion industry, I believe that when you show who you are, proudly and fearlessly, you have the freedom to dedicate your energy solely to creating a positive impact. Your honesty and transparency will help foster trusted relationships and pave the path to success. I hope to share these values with the next generation of fashion industry leaders.”
FSF’s four top scholar finalists were presented by Fairchild Media Group president Amanda Smith; Tremaine Emory, creative director of Supreme, and executives at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Evian.
Earlier, the students visited the Milk Makeup studio in SoHo, but began their day’s journey at Bergdorf Goodman for coffee and croissants, a panel of executives advising the students on career building, and a tour of some of the most luxurious sections of the flagship, including the “Lux Room” on the main floor housing Prada, Verdura and Chanel fine jewelry and accessories and the redesigned Dior shop.
Camille McHenry, who studies fashion merchandising, product development and women’s gender and sexuality at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., received a scholarship based on creating an athleisure brand for comfort, for the office, and for “the post-COVID[-19] consumer,” she said. “I’d love to be an assistant designer for an activewear company,” she told WWD.
Stephanie Sauri studies product development and business at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, and works four days a week as an assistant technical designer at Ross Stores. For her project, she created children’s wear with adaptable lengths reducing the need to often replace clothes for kids as they grow. “In this industry, you really have to fight for what you have, and form your own connections,” Sauri said.
Getting a scholarship is just one of the benefits of the FSF, said Olivia Rogers, a senior at SCAD studying fashion marketing and management. “They place a lot of importance on mentorship and perfecting our résumés and portfolios. We are also able to connect with students to get ideas.”
“The number-one question on everyone’s mind is how did you start in fashion,” said Lana Todorovich, president and chief merchandising officer at Neiman Marcus, who hosted the panel at BG, along with Peter Arnold, FSF’s executive director. “You are coming into your own at a really amazing time. You have a lot of opportunity. You can start things.”
“I came to it through visual arts,” said Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president, fashion and store presentation director. “I always loved costumes” and she knew that “the ability to use my eye” had to be central to her career. Before joining Bergdorf’s, Fargo was a window director for Macy’s, “a union store run by a lot of guys in suits. You have to learn how to get along.”
Paolo Riva, general manager, brand partnerships and merchandising for Neiman’s, said he took “the long road” holding jobs in finance and at Salvatore Ferragamo before joining Neiman’s. “Remember, it’s a professional relationship you are building with people. You need to be creative. You need to be accountable. You need to deliver. You don’t know what you don’t know. Learn to ask questions. Make sure you have mentors. Keep the conversation happening. Most importantly, form your own opinions in an informed way…We are in an industry where it’s all about what’s next. This industry thrives on evolution but is deeply rooted in references from the past.”
“There will be setbacks. Find the opportunity in that,” said Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director for Bergdorf’s and Neiman’s, who worked in the basement of Paul Smith as a stockboy and was an editor at GQ before joining Bergdorf’s. Navigating a career, Pask said, entails “really having resilience and flexibility. Every experience has the possibility to be a portal. Find a way to make yourself memorable for the right things. Find the balance between being persistent and being bothersome.”
“The first job doesn’t have to be your dream job,” advised Ali Mize, director, ESG, belonging and corporate philanthropy at NMG. “Your most important word, at the beginning of your career, is yes. No is the most important at the end of it.”
“Every step I took has been a risk for me,” said Mecca Hodge, an assistant buyer at Neiman’s and the 2021 recipient of the Virgil Abloh Post-Modern Scholarship. “I had no shame. I was cold emailing people. I utilized social media, and went into it with a plan and a purpose.”