“I’m sure you wondered why I called you all here today” began Professor Susan Scafidi early Monday morning,fresh off a business trip to Milan. Despite her introductory statement, Scafidi, the creator of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University was not investigating a murder mystery but rather launching a new educational initiative: the world’s first academic degrees in fashion law. With CFDA President Diane (pronounced Dee-anne) Von Furstenberg (the CFDA is a large supporter of the Fashion Law Institute) as well as Provost of Fordham University Stephen Freedman, the announcement was made at a press breakfast at Fordham’s beautiful new building next to Lincoln Center.
“Today is the last step in taking away the question mark after the words “Fashion Law” and replacing it with an exclamation point” Scafidi continued. This initiative, five years in the making, means that those who already have a general law degree can get a Master of Laws or LL.M in Fashion Law. For those without a law degree but involved in the fashion business as designers, executives or other fashion industry professionals, the new Master of Studies in Law, or M.S.L. will offer a specialization in fashion law in order to educate those who would benefit from this knowledge. “In this new era of transparency we would like to open this (information) up and I’m very excited to do that today.”
|Susan & Diane|
In this mutual admiration society, Von Furstenberg was touted by Susan as the “patron saint” of Fordham (a Jesuit school) while, in turn, DVF was quick to sing Scafidi’s praises. “None of this would have happened without Susan’s passion–she’s passionate about both fashion and law,” The Queen of the Wrap Dress (there were two women present wearing the same chain link design, in a black & white iteration) mentioned that 25% of the world is involved in some aspect of the fashion business: “It’s an industry that reaches everyone at every level and although there are some frivolous aspects of the business, it IS important as it gives a lot of jobs to a lot of people. Although the idea of fashion law seems obvious, somebody had to think about it and somebody had to make it happen and that’s Susan. And, Fordham is not a bad home,” DVF said. While Scafidi agreed about the location of the university, she none the less lamented the loss of her former neighbor. “It is the best location but I’ll miss having Fashion Week here” she said.
The reason for the five year wait for these degrees to be made possible, according to Provost Stephen Freedman, is that it “took a while to get the State of New York to realize that these programs are good.” Von Furstenberg chimed in by adding that these programs are “extremely valuable” and may prevent designers from “losing their Intellectual Property and their names.”
“So many young designers are so desperate to make a deal that they’ll just sign their life away,” Von Furstenberg added emphasizing the need for this type of knowledge at the early stages so that designers learn to protect their interests. The University plans to award scholarships to those who can’t afford the $53K for the yearlong (two semesters) program, or even the discounted 25% off for the fashion industry (“Who never pay retail” quips Scafidi. Applications are available and classes will begin in the fall. Specialized courses will include Fashion Law & Finance, Fashion Ethics, Sustainability, & Development, Licensing, Fashion Modeling Law, Fashion Law Practicum and Fashion Retail Law.
As for why this is so important now, Von Furstenberg spoke of Eleanor Lambert who founded the CFDA in 1962. “Fifty years ago there was a lot of fashion but no designers were recognized the way they were in Europe. Eleanor Lambert was a publicist who made the world aware of Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, and Halston. Before that the law didn’t address it because it didn’t exist.”
As for the bureaucracy involved in getting this initiative to fruition, DVF (admitting she finds the subject of law to be “the most boring thing in the world”) said “Susan is absolutely relentless. She has an idea and she fights for it. She makes it happen.” Stephen Freedman looked at Diane: “You’re pretty relentless yourself!” he said. “Not anymore,” she replied and departed shortly thereafter to attend a funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Other attendees at the press breakfast included Designer and Author Jeffrey Banks; Anna Dalla Val, VP of Intellectual Property, Ralph Lauren Corporation; Steven Kolb, CEO, CFDA; Gary Wassner, Co-CEO, Hilldun/Co-Founder & Chairman, Interluxe, and several Fordham University Faculty Members.
“I’d like to think that having a LL.M. in Fashion Law will become the Sine Qua Non of the fashion industry” said Scafidi, as she urged us to help ourselves to more coffee on the way out. I realized sadly that all the caffeine in the world would not make me half as energetic as either of those two exceptional women.