Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — “For the past 4 1/2 years, this has been a gleam in my eye,” said Allan Hershfield, Fashion Institute of Technology president, referring to FIT’s long-planned Center for Design Innovation.
Now, the proposal is on its way to becoming a reality, with the ground-breaking planned for fall. But Hershfield won’t be heading the school then; he retires in August.
Thus, he threw a celebration cocktail party and dinner last week at his penthouse apartment above Alumni Hall to honor four supporters of the center, each of whom has contributed $100,000 to the project: the Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation; Nicole Miller Inc.; Ok Cha Le Mason, an alumna from outside the fashion industry, and David Chu, president and designer of Nautica International.
In other funding, New York City is committing $1 million for the CDI, and another $100,000 has been raised in private contributions. The state is expected to pick up “a good part” of the remaining costs of constructing the building, according to an FIT spokeswoman. The total construction cost is estimated at $6.1 million, the spokeswoman said.
The party drew about 50 guests, including honorees Chu, Mason, Nicole Miller — designer for her namesake firm — and Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller. Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg, two of the founding partners of Liz Claiborne Inc., did not attend, but Jerome A. Chazen, retired chairman of Liz Claiborne, was among the industry guests.
The two-story, 17,000-square-foot building, which will be built in the college’s east courtyard, is intended to serve as an incubator, nurturing early-stage design and production firms, with the aim of creating jobs, developing new products and fostering emerging designers.
The CDI will be enclosed and connected with the adjacent amphitheater. Above the CDI will be a flexible exhibition and lounge space that can be configured for various purposes, such as fashion shows. At full capacity, the incubator will house 12 to 15 rent-paying businesses and provide services to about 60 non-tenant affiliates that will pay a fee for membership. To qualify for tenancy, the business must be new, but the entrepreneur must have at least five years of industry experience.
So far, FIT has signed up three affiliate members — U.S. Flax & Linen, which is aiming to develop better grades of flax, including linen knits; Morpheus Technologies, which is developing a digital scanning system that measures body types; and Jane Suttell, a designer who’s been in business for five years but wants to learn more about costing and distribution. Executives from the three affiliates were at the party.
“I need to develop more of a financial structure for my business,” said Suttell, who designed clothes for the theater for 15 years before launching her apparel business. She is hoping to increase sales from the current $1 million to $5 million in three years. The Jane Suttell line offers sizes from 4 to 24, mostly in eveningwear and sportswear separates.
“When it comes to innovation, flax has been behind the times,” said Timothy P. Niedermann, president of U.S. Flax, Presque Isle, Maine. The company is looking to expand production of flax here as well as develop a consistent quality.

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