Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Golden Years: Fashion Institute Celebrates 50 Years

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Golden Years: Fashion Institute Celebrates 50 Years

Article excerpt

IT'S A FRIDAY afternoon in the apparel design lab in room C704, where shimmering evening gowns are the stuff of dreams and the here-and-now is about sticking pins in colorless muslin.

"Do not place the pins this way," Mario Lupia instructs the 25 students in front of him. Not up and down. But angle them inward from the shoulder to the center of the back, for maximum control of the fabric. He demonstrates.

The students bend over their notebooks and record the valuable lesson.

Even Calvin Klein took this class, they remind themselves.

This is the Fashion Institute of Technology's (FIT) introductory course in the draping of fabric on a mannequin to create clothes. The task at hand is as basic as it is difficult: how to fit the back of a bodice.

At the institute, technical expertise gets as much attention as creative inspiration. That was true when it opened in 1944 as a school for the needle trades, or apparel industry, with 100 students in rented space. And it's true today, as the school celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of the top art and design schools in the country with 12,000 students and a campus that occupies a block in the heart of Manhattan, just below the fashion district.

Design here is understood as part art, part business. The underlying philosophy is that a great idea will be only an idea unless it can be expertly executed and ultimately sold. So basics like fabric draping get a lot of attention. The school prides itself on the fact that 90 percent of its graduates get jobs.

"Part of our tradition stems from the fact that we began life as a community college, because generally community colleges in the country tend to be more oriented toward preparing people for work," says Allan Hershfield, the president of the institute.

Indeed, the school and the fashion and design industries have a uniquely interdependent relationship.

The school was founded by apparel industry leaders near the end of World War II because their children were choosing medicine and law over coats and suits, and they needed somewhere to turn for professionally trained people to run their businesses.

"What we need is an MIT for the fashion industries," one founder, Mortimer Ritter, an educator and former tailor, reportedly said at the time.

The Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries, which Ritter and other industry leaders formed to create the Fashion Institute of Technology, today is the school's fund-raising arm.

At a gala 50th anniversary dinner-dance last fall at the Waldorf-Astoria, it honored the exclusive department store Bergdorf Goodman, whose founder, Andrew Goodman, was a longtime foundation board member, and Calvin Klein, who graduated in 1962.

Industry leaders - like Annette Green, a fragrance expert, and designer Josie Natori - sit on advisory committees that help keep the school's curriculum current, place students in internships and jobs, and raise money. …

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