The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Great Designers Symposium

The Symposium schedule was something worth attending,
allowing the audience to learn so much about so many fashion
designers, past and present, encompassing many periods of fashion
history. Lectures and conversations were hosted by talented designers
and notable speakers.

The schedule started with a great introduction to “The Great
Designers” by Valerie Steele as always an interesting and enriching
moment. It was followed by Ms Steele engaging in a conversation with
Isabel Toledo. If anything, Ms Toledo is a legend of her own, with her
husband and associate of many years, Rubens Toledo. A highly creative
and charismatic couple, Isabel and Rubens Toledo are among the most
respected in both the fashion and the art community.

Along with photos of some of her designs showing on the screen behind
her, Ms. Toledo explained how she find herself unable to sketch any
design. She needs to visualize the 3 dimensional form in order for her
to create. The way in which the fabric is going to conform to the
body, and inversely, how the body will relate to the fabric is what
preoccupies her the most. Isabel’s design creations are a testament to
that pursuit. The incredible fluidity of her designs as well as the
harmonious union of fabric and body are outstanding. She reminds many
of the talented and extraordinary Madame Gres, with a modern and
decidedly incomparable edge.

Then Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at FIT, highlighted
Madame Gres and her unique and most revered designing sense with a
great lecture. It was a captivating one, a very well documented
retrospective of her life as a Haute Couture creator. Many wished to
know more about the secretive and incredibly talented Frenchwoman. Ms.
Mears met our expectations in a flawless way . Alix Gres and her
designs were always standout creations, innovative and ahead of
everyone else with their structural quality and innovative design

Drifting from the sinuous and graceful drapes and plisses of Madame
Gres, we then listened to Anna Sui in conversation with Andrew Bolton
(curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropololitan Museum of
Art). Miss Sui is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and liked
fashion designers of our times. Her colorful and intricately stylized
clothes reflect the enriching and extremely focused creative path she
likes to follow.

Anna Sui spoke simply and with passion about her passion (it is an
“obsession” she told Mr Bolton and the audience). As she explained,
she is drawn to History past and recent, as well as the richness
offered by diverse cultures around the world. Each and every time,
Anna Sui goes through an intellectual obsession for a specific culture
and historical references. Once she is focused (err…. obsessed), she
explained us, she becomes obsessed and thrives to draw inspiration
from the singular cultural source to get her imagination and creative
sense in full swing.

To start the afternoon, Caroline Evans (professor of fashion history
and theory at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design)
revealed many details about the life of Jean Patou, one of the first
fashion designers at the turn of the 20th century. Jean Patou’s legacy
to the world of fashion is notable, as explained Ms. Evans: he
invented the first designer label, with his pockets outlined with a
“J” and “P”. Like his fellow fashion designer Poiret, Jean Patou was a
brilliant public relations man. His clothes were marketed mostly to
wealthy American women who enjoyed his avant-garde mind and creations.
Jean Patou was fortunate in having many friends and family members who
worked with him and kept him in touch with Parisienne life. His sister
Madeleine, who was 7 years younger than he, was his main source of
inspiration. Mr Patou considered his sister to be his ideal. She
influenced her brother immensely. Nowadays the Jean Patou house is
mostly producing perfumes, all made with expensive, rare and natural
ingredients. “Joy” is a world-known rare and exquisite perfume.
One little note: the American women were the ones that “made” and
helped Mr. Patou in becoming a famous and wealthy fashion designer.
Oddly enough, the house of Jean Patou is located Rue St Florentin in
Paris, right across from the American Embassy….

Maria Cornejo is an interesting fashion designer: her approach to
designing clothes is all her own. Born in Chile, she travelled and
lived in places like Peru, England and Paris, France, before settling
in New York City. Her resolute and almost minimalist designs reveal
the influences brought by her past: she worked for many designers,
notably Comme des Garcons in Paris before moving to the USA in 1996
and starting her own line. Today, she creates for her two Manhattan
stores, one in Nolita and the other in the West Village.

Ms. Cornejo has a mind of her own, and a great one at that: she
designs clothes that fit in a sleek and flattering way on women. What
looks like simple patterns is much more: Ms. Cornejo pursuit in
designing clothes reveals a complicated and thoroughly
intellectualized approach to the way a specific fabric should be cut
in order to appear as a flattering counterpoint to the woman who wears
her clothes. Her creations appear to lack pretension, yet have a high
sense of refined sophistication. Listening to Maria Cornejo speak
about her past and present, her dreams and passions was a real
pleasure: she is down to earth, a mother and wife who manages to live
and succeeds doing many different things and doing them well.

The afternoon proceeded with Clare Sauro’s “Head over Heels : The
Seductive Style of Christian Louboutin”. (Clare Sauro is assistant
curator at The Museum at FIT).

The Museum at FIT is showing a rare and beautiful display of Mr. Louboutin until
April 19, 2008. The result of a great collaborative work between the
graduates students at the Fit, Dr. Evans, Dr. Steele and Dr. Zucher,
the exhibit showcases some of the best shoes the French born
mastermind has created over the years. Ms. Sauro’ s lecture
encompassed all about Christian Louboutin and what makes him today the
world’s best shoe designer, as well as discussing the pieces shown at
the exhibit.

Valerie Steele sat down with Linda Fargo, Women’s Fashion Director
and Store Presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, and Michael Fink, Vice
President and Women’s Fashion Director at Saks Fifth Avenue. Both
represent major stores that have been able to keep offering their
customers the best designs available in fashion. Both Ms. Fargo and
Mr. Fink are well known to have an impeccable and discerning sense of
fashion. Attending fashion shows throughout the world and keeping on
top of the ever changing trends that will be the requisite of the
next-to-come season are also factors that make them both the valuable
fashion executives they are. Listening to them in conversation with
Valerie Steele was a plus, the counterpart of the fashion designers
and the retrospectives that had taken place before they stepped on the

-Muriel Triffaut



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

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