Joyce F. Brown and Luciano Benetton

Luciano Benetton and designer, engineer and inventor Chuck Hoberman were awarded honorary degrees of Doctor of Fine Arts Thursday at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s commencement exercises at Radio City Music Hall. In addition, artist Harry Bertschmann received the President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Lilliana Vazquez, celebrity stylist and TV personality, spoke at the morning ceremony for students graduating from FIT’s School of Art and Design and School of Liberal Arts, while Hoberman, who invented the Hoberman Sphere, and has over 20 patents for his transformable inventions, addressed graduates of FIT’s Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology in the afternoon.

Hoberman offered some words of advice to the graduates. First, you need a lot of ideas to get to the good ones, don’t be afraid to have a vision, don’t stress waiting for one big light bulb moment, write your ideas down, sketch, you need to be experts in something specific, and when you hit a wall, invent your way out of it.

As reported, Benetton, who just turned 83, has been back in the news because in January he resumed holding the reins of the family-owned company as executive president, with the goal to turn around the fashion group that turned his name into a global brand after years of declining sales. Benetton had retired in April 2012, passing the baton to his son Alessandro, who then exited the company after two years.

In awarding Benetton with the Doctor of Fine Arts degree, Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT, spoke about Benetton’s contributions to the world of fashion, his groundbreaking advertising and fast-paced production.

“You are a brilliant fashion entrepreneur who founded one of the first global clothing brands, the Benetton Group, which you ran for 40 years. In the Sixties, your innovation paved the way for many other companies, pioneering colorful, clean-cut fashion that was broadly appealing and widely available. You married logistical ingenuity with your fundamental idealism working through commerce and art to help create a world without boundaries,” said Brown.

She explained that Benetton started from modest Italian beginnings and noticed that in post-war Europe, clothes were drab and sold in an old-world manner, hidden behind counters. He realized people were starved for color. With colorful sweaters knitted by his sister, the young entrepreneur had immediate success. Benetton soon had boutiques all over Italy, then in Paris and New York. In the Eighties, the company grew more than 25 percent a year, becoming Italy’s largest producer, she said. “Innovation made your company a frequent business school case study,” she said. Further, she noted, the company’s fast and flexible production process allowed quick response to a changing consumer demand.

Advertising is another area where Benetton truly stood out.

Benetton founded Fabrica in 1994, a communication research center that offers opportunity for creative growth and multicultural exchange. He stepped down as company chair in 2012 to focus on art and philanthropy. Benetton was awarded this honor for his “deep humanity and willingness to challenge the status quo,” as well as “bold ideas and logistical innovation that have led the fashion industry,” said Brown.

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