Seen and heard: This New York Fashion Week at Samsung’s experiential hub, 837, WWD gathered top thought leaders, fashion designers and industry heavyweights to join in a series of in-depth and informed discussions on topics ranging from the role of social media for brand marketing to the evolution — and acceptance — of female executives within the landscape.
WWD executive fashion editor Bridget Foley and fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez
“To seduce someone with something that’s really, really great,” said Narciso Rodriguez, “I think that’s a great challenge for any designer.”
During the course of their discussion, Rodriguez revealed that he still feels like a rookie fashion designer in many senses. It’s this mentality that’s kept his work remarkably fresh, and his burnout apparently at bay.
And while this may be freeing, Rodriguez confirmed that remaining an independent designer is not without its challenges. “When you have something like September 11 or the 2008 downturn or retail partners going bankrupt, those are things that are really damaging to a company that isn’t funded by a giant conglomerate, where they just move billions of dollars into your account,” he said. “It’s tough but we’ve survived. I’ve been very fortunate to create a fragrance 15 or 16 years ago that’s been very successful.”
With an audience swarming of eager fashion students, Rodriguez dispensed valuable advice: “Go out and learn from the people who you admire,” he suggested. “When I was a teenager, I had two dreams: one was to go to Parsons and one was to work with Donna Karan, and I was fortunate that I got to do both.”
When reflecting on his own time in fashion design school, he recalled, “I remember when Isaac [Mizahi] made a beautiful suit and dress combo and Donna [Karan] just grabbed it from behind by the shoulders and everything just fell into place.”
What permeated through the entire conversation was not only Rodriguez’s insatiable appetite for extraordinary craftsmanship, but his understanding that a purposeful approach to design remain central for every collection.
WWD digital director Sophia Chabbott with Clare O’Connor, editorial director at Bumble, and Maria Hatzistefanis, chief executive officer and founder of Rodial
The power of connectivity overwhelmed the conversation. From Bumble’s expansion into Bumble Bizz, a professional networking platform and Rodial’s ongoing social engagement, authentically building a network was a hot topic during the panel discussion.
In fact, the panelists suggested, authenticity will carry job seekers and appeal to Instagram followers, too. As a young professional, requesting informational meetings in a fully transparent and informed manner will help resonate, O’Connor suggested. She also recommended not only voicing interest in what the target employer might do for one’s career, but what the job seeker brings to the table.
For Hatzistefanis, who grew Rodial’s Instagram following enormously over a few, short years, also pointed to authenticity being a pertinent, in this case, to the photos she decides to post. “Overprocessed is boring,” she said. Sharing reality in her posts also distinguishes her from competition, she said.
Both panelists discussed a pivot in their careers. For O’Connor, it was leaving her role as an editor to decamp for Bumble after “falling in love” with the company’s ceo. Hatzistefanis revealed that getting laid off from her job in finance was the best thing to happen to her — it’s what triggered the beginning of Rodial.
The panel’s success was evident — young professionals and students swarmed O’Connor and Hatzistefanis at the conclusion of the discussion, asking to join their teams.
WWD executive editor of strategic content development Arthur Zaczkiewicz with Lisa Gersh, ceo of Alexander Wang, and Norma Kamali, fashion designer and president of her namesake line
Activism in the workplace: Lisa Gersh and Norma Kamali had plenty to say about the current women’s movement, their experiences as female executives in the fashion industry and how to implement change.
There’s a lack of due process, Kamali said of the recent onslaught of men accused of sexual harassment and assault. And while this galvanizing moment is well overdue — and needed — she suggested that in order to truly change current constructs of workplace dynamics, women and men need to talk to one another.
But this can only move the needle so far, the panelists discussed. As with any other large shift within an enterprise, maintaining a seat at the table — that’s beyond tokenization — is crucial for long-term, company culture transitions. There’s plenty of esteemed and experienced female executives available to be added to boards, Gersh decided.
They also might be willing to take a risk — as both women have done in the past, which has led them to their current positions. Being courageous served both women as they left former career paths — for Kamali, various jobs including being a flight attendant and Gersh, an attorney — to explore new opportunities and find confidence in their professional pursuits and decisions.
WWD style director Alex Badia and Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships Eva Chen
Social media’s influence on the fashion industry — and its resulting democratization — was the encompassing topic between these two insiders.
Chen debunked many of the traditional perceptions and attitudes of fashion players’ approach to the platform from avoiding hashtags like the plague and the need for a perfectly curated presence.
Much to the audience’s delight, she even shared how to get more Instagram followers: spoiler alert: lose the cool factor and engage away.
WWD news director Lisa Lockwood and fashion designer Christian Siriano
Christian Siriano was “super tired but great,” at the beginning of his discussion — his fashion show just being a couple days prior.
For Siriano, fashion has been a near-lifelong interest. First starting when he became fascinated with his sister’s ballet costumes as a child. “My mom and my dad were both creative people, but never got to be creative because of the times,” he shared when talking about the ongoing support from his family.
“My mom always joked that I knew what a bobby pin was before anything else,” he reflected.
One of the pioneers of debuting models of all sizes on his runway, Siriano reflected that everyone should be celebrated for their beauty. “It’s important for consumers to see themselves in the product,” he said. His most recent collection was opened by body diversity champion and model du jour, Ashley Graham.
His foray into featuring a full-size range was organic — he had requests from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Christina Hendricks coming in from the beginning. I didn’t have to think about body diversity, he added.
When asked if he would recommend that other fashion students participate in “Project Runway,” the show that served as his jumping off point, he said succinctly, “No, it’s not real.”
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