[From top: Michael Kors, Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, image via TEEN VOGUE]
FPD got the opportunity to attend TEEN VOGUE’s Fashion University, the exclusive weekend-long event (October 21-23) which was designed for the fashion-focused leaders of tomorrow. What a great opportunity to take part in — how many people get to sit in on personal seminars with Michael Kors, Alexander Wang, and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler? Here’s a recap of the event’s curriculum, broken into classes, or panels, that we attended, courtesy of TEEN VOGUE.
MICHAEL KORS: THE AMERICAN ICON
“I was incredibly, insanely fashion obsessed!” Michael began. Impatient to get going, Kors did what he could to see it all, read it all. He literally consumed the industry in the way it consumed him, joking about his valiant efforts at getting Italian Vogue delivered to New York City.
As a young student, Kors held on to the aesthetic he felt so strongly about; a chic woman semi-undone. Still, he felt ready – ready to enter the world and figure out the puzzle of getting dressed for so many. Finally came his big break: while working at a local store, the owners asked if he would re-design last season’s jeans. In fashion terms, they were out. But, what was in? It was evident Kors knew what women wanted – (“I love women,” he told the audience earlier) – and the store owners took advantage of that. Soon enough, it became his “thing” as he would do it all himself; he designed, worked, and made window displays… and it all paid off. Bergdorf Goodman’s Fashion Director approached Kors after seeing his window display. That very night he sketched out his collection to bring to them. They loved it, and the rest is history.
For Kors, the key to his success
is having access to the “real woman”. After all, she is the customer willing to place her card on the counter and make the purchase. Additionally, Kors advised maintaining a strong focus. There is no sense in trying to please everyone, in being everything to everyone. Clothing is transformative, but he is not looking to design a revolution. For Kors, clothing is about feeling good in the most familiar pieces. The iconic, yet casual American designer (sporting New Balance sneakers and jeans) stated that his work is “never done”. As he so aptly put it, “You really are only as good as your last collection.”
ALEXANDER WANG: THE STREET KING
Next on the theater’s stage was the incredibly accomplished, yet admirably humble Alexander Wang. At the ripe age of 27, he has achieved distinction and cool sophistication, an aesthetic that is his signature. A native San Franciscan, Wang’s story is a rare example of strong work ethic, entrepreneurship and modesty.
Wang knew New York was the place to start. With that, he made his move to Parsons. However, the classroom simply didn’t provoke Wang enough. His style of learning was rather unique in that he felt challenged outside of school, mainly at his four internships.
Recognizing a disconnect between clothing’s price tag and actual value, Wang wanted to change that. His first line was a small compilation of six pieces of knitwear. The idea was “unisex,” “oversized,” and it “evoked a certain mood.” Playing with sexuality, yet maintaining a sense of ease was a new and fun challenge in Wang’s fashion. He sold these sweaters to consignment shops. With nothing to lose, he kept pushing forward. It turns out people were interested, very, very interested.
Today’s Alexander Wang girl is “cool,” to put it simply. He wants to articulate and streamline this view as he grows to understand his customer more. What’s most fascinating about Wang is his intense involvement in his brand, the business, the production, the packaging, the e-commerce, etc. There is no aspect or department that he is not involved with. Like today’s educated customer, Wang knows that the idea, product, and price need to be transparent. Buying the clothing and loving the clothing are an experience.
As for being called “The Street King?”
“Well, everyone walks on the street, so I guess that’s a good thing,” Wang joked. A soft-spoken, slight individual, Wang permeates his own sincerity. His black sweatshirt and sneakers, his ruffled long black hair, and his lovable nervousness on stage brought us all back down to earth. “Don’t let anyone ever say that you can’t do it,” he declared.
PROENZA SCHOULER: THE DYNAMIC DUO
The last “course” I attended was Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, admitting that they shouldn’t have gone out so late last night. College buddies and collaborators, these two guys possess low-key, easygoing personalities which speak nothing to their driven ways and distinctive point of view in the industry. Two minds with one coherent vision, Jack and Lazaro (it only feels right to refer to them by first name) stand out in a slew of young New York designers.
As two students at Parsons, Jack and Lazaro did their homework together. They worked together, hung out together, and suddenly their two points of view became one. At the time, no one had worked on a senior thesis collaboratively. However, these guys knew what they wanted and approached their teacher, the well-known Tim Gunn of Project Runway. Barney’s bought the collection, and that was just the beginning.
Together, they were forced into starting their own thing. Still today, their creative process begins with the “cultural climate of the moment.” Following, a “dialogue” is constructed around what feels relevant. If it’s not fun creatively, for them it merely isn’t worth it.
Both designers agree that they are attracted to things that are different. It’s essential to start with an idea, but one must “make noise” with something new and different. The business aspect of the industry is still rather new for the pair (Andrew Rosen of Theory just invested in the company). Laz came clean admitting that the pure designer, ie: himself, is not always the best businessperson. Nonetheless, it’s an all- consuming job.
Who exactly is the Proenza girl? According to Jack and Lazaro, she wears it all. She is modern because she can mix the high and the low.
What about accessories? After all, so many covet the PS1 bag, myself included. Accessories are an opportunity to reach a broader audience being that they come in at a slightly more affordable price point. Laughing they proclaim, the beauty of bags is that one size fits all. I don’t know what I want more, a Proenza bag or a chance to just hang with the duo themselves?!
I left the FashionU seminars enlightened and inspired and encourage all of you to relive the Hudson Theatre seminars at fashionu.fora.tv. It’s clear that the grand momentum put forth isn’t just into the creative work, but also the principal business aspects. Fashion will continue to blur the boundaries of real life and work as it continues to define who we are as individuals and as a society.
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