The Best and Worst of Fashion Design School Mentorship Programs

As many of you know, I have served on faculty at Parsons School of Design for many years.  Having lived in NYC my entire life and having more than 40 years of working with the best the fashion industry has to offer, it is important to me to pay forward my knowledge and experience by mentoring the next generation of fashion designers and industry executives. Clearly, there are degrees of mentoring, which is painfully clear if you look at the mentorship programs recently announced at two of the leading U.S. design schools.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has a history of inviting accomplished and emerging fashion designers (all independent, successful and up-and-coming) to mentor its students via monthly visits to host workshops and provide hands on help to students (including helping source hard to find materials!). Essentially, SCAD is preparing its student body for the challenges that await them by providing a very unique internship opportunity with teh best of breed- and school administrators even found a way to bring the internship to Savannah-  how genius is that! This year, Christian Cota, Rachel Roy and Chris Benz are the appropriately honored designers to lead and hone Savannah’s student talent.

Recently, while in Mexico City for the Top Glamour Awards 2010, where Cota was honored as the best International Fashion Designer, I spoke with him about his involvement with SCAD (something I found especially interesting as he is an ex-alum of Parsons).  When I asked him if he was enjoying the experience of acting as a mentor, he told me he was “blown away by the incredible talent and drive.  Having the opportunity to help students execute the process of bringing a sketch to reality is wonderful. Sometimes I even bring them fabric from New York if they cannot get it in Savannah.  I love doing this!”. Bravo Christian.

Well, I must say, I am jealous of the SCAD students.  They get access to designers like Cota (who is among the ten finalist for the CFDA award for designer of the year mind you), without having to pay NYC’s outrageous cost of living as most design students studying at Parsons or FIT have to.  Plus, have you been to Savannah? It’s gorgeous.

So, the next logical question may be, what is Parsons doing to compete with SCAD?  Well, the school did book Brad Goreski for a 2 hour conversation. Who is Brad Goreski might you ask?  Maybe a visual hint will help:

Brad is the ex #2 to one Ms. Rachel Zoe.  He recently struck out on his own as a celebrity stylist.   Yes, Brad has a good eye for trends and how to translate them from runway to real-way.  Yes, he is hilarious to watch on reality television; and yes, I cannot get enough of him in adorable shorts, bowties and docksiders. But by no stretch of the imagination can he provide as much value to a design student looking to penetrate a competitive industry as is the case with fashion, as a designer who has actually already accomplished this can.   Sorry Parsons, try again.

So this is a call to action to all those industry leaders living here in NYC. Lets group together and find a way to encourage the future leaders and share our successes, failures and experiences that can help better prepare them for the uber-competitive landscape that awaits them.  Otherwise, it looks like I am booking a ticket to Georgia.  Maybe Christian can fit me in his suitcase… I gotta go so I can call him and ask 🙂

In the meantime, I welcome your comments- how can we best serve our students?  If you are a student- what type of mentor program would you like the opportunity to participate in?


One response to “The Best and Worst of Fashion Design School Mentorship Programs

  1. Great article- providing direct access to accomplished designers whose success is recent enough that they remember the challenges new designers face is awesome. Parsons seems more interested in television personalities (Project Runway anyone?) than it does churning out talented alumni!

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