The High School of Fashion Industries Honors Gary Wassner

Gary Wassner
Photos: Laurel Marcus
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“Fashion is not frivolous, fashion is not trivial. It allows people to tell their own story every day of their lives. I am honored to be here to receive this award tonight,” said Gary Wassner, Co-CEO of Hilldun Corporation, a company which provides financing and factoring to many of Seventh Avenue and the world’s most prestigious fashion companies. Wassner is also a CFDA Fashion Incubator Advisory Board member.


I spent my Thursday evening learning about The High School of Fashion Industries by attending their Advisory Board Honors and student fashion show at the school on West 24th St. The event was hosted by the always entertaining Robert Verdi with appearances by Yeohlee and a video presentation from Jason Wu who was scheduled to present the Visionary Award in person but somehow ended up greeting us from Taiwan. Wassner was Wu’s mentor and he spoke glowingly of how Wassner is always a calming influence. “When he asked me if I wanted to invest with his company, it was a no-brainer,” Wu said.

“We would not have a fashion industry without Gary,” said Verdi. “He is kind, generous with his time and he sets your sails in the right direction.” About HSFI he said “this is the eighth consecutive year that over 91% of the students have graduated.” The school raised $95,000 this year but would like to make it an even $100k if anyone would still like to donate. Other ways to get involved include offering industry internships, donating fabric or other goods or giving of your time and expertise.

The High School of Fashion Industries is the only school of its kind in the eastern U.S. with an occupational curriculum devoted entirely to the world of fashion, styling, design and their business and marketing. HSFI Advisory Board Member Robert diMauro dedicated his presentation to the memory of his father who had attended when it was known as Central Needle Trades High School. “FIT is born out of this school,” he added. DiMauro also spotlighted a large mural on the auditorium wall documenting the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and “the message it sends about immigration.”

Robert diMauro interviewing students

Later he had what he called his “Art Linkletter moment” where he individually interviewed a selected group of seniors about their Student Industry Partnerships with companies including Adidas, Barneys New York, Mary Alice Stephenson’s Glam4Good, Kleinfeld, Swarovski, The International Center of Photography and The Underfashion Club (who later gave out scholarships). Simon Doonan also sponsored some students who picked up some tips on window merchandising or display from the master. Examples of his tutelage are currently visible in the school’s picture windows.

In his speech, Wassner praised the graduates as the “next creators” — “I had no idea what I wanted to do at 15 — you guys knew.”  He spoke of how he ended up in the fashion biz “by accident” because finance was “so boring” that he couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of his life.  It all changed when he met a young Betsey Johnson who had $15k from Bloomingdale’s and didn’t know what to do to produce her line. “She was my first fashion finance client,” he added.

Next came the greatly anticipated student fashion show entitled “Minimalist With A Twist” featuring “Faux Leather Evening Wear,” “Androgynous Menswear Business,” “Black & White Prints Sportswear,” “Theatrical Avant Garde,” “Resort Cover-up,” and “Chic Winter Outerwear.”

There were also some bridal fashions thrown into the mix. “This year’s Fashion Showcase explores Minimalism merged with vibrant hues, defined silhouettes, and vivacious prints” and “This unconventional approach to modern day minimalism represents the various ways in which minimalism can be interpreted, exaggerated and transformed,” according to the program.

I always enjoy student fashion shows because I want to see how young people are interpreting and processing all the disparate design influences today. This show featured a few outstanding looks, particularly in the outerwear section some of which channeled Rei Kawakubo, as well as a Swarovski crystal-encrusted-up-one sleeve sweatshirt top that I could definitely picture Rihanna rocking.

The students in the audience enthusiastically hooted and hollered encouragement to those modeling on stage, much as they had throughout the evening for faculty and other presenters Congratulations to this fresh crop of future fashion designers!

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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