When most students think of summer, they think of vacation and a break from their studies. We fashion business students at LIM College tend to think the opposite and use this opportunity to get ahead; whether it’s a summer internship in fashion, summer fashion and business classes, or working more hours to help reduce our student debt.
I am going back to the UK for the entire summer, so that I can work and save some money, seeing as I am not eligible to work in the US on my student visa. Some of the things I plan to do over the summer are school- and work- related, and some are not.
In terms of school, I am taking my last- ever "proper" class online, Ethics, before Senior Co-Op internship in the fall, which is an exciting thought after 6 semesters with no less than 6 classes! The online format also means that I am able to travel (so long as it's to a country that has accessible wifi). So my mother and I have booked a holiday to Malta for a week to stay with a friend of hers. Hurrah! The opportunity to get rid of my ghostly white skin after an eternal winter and get a tan - I am thoroughly excited!
My friends and I are also planning a long weekend in Paris, as I have never been. I know, this is quite shocking to most of my American friends, considering Paris is but a 2 hour train journey away; we British are truly pathetic travelers.
But the first thing on the agenda this summer is the Windsor Polo, something I have not been able to do in recent years due to work conflicts, and which should be great fun, so long as the weather holds out and I can get some sleep on my red-eye, as it is the day I land into Heathrow!
It has occurred to me that this is pretty much my last summer as a student studying visual merchandising in New York, therefore my last summer as a free agent. Better make the most of it!
It has been another busy semester – surprise, surprise - and I am definitely looking forward to the summer to get somewhat of a breather. This semester is technically the last semester of classes for me, as I am taking my last class over the summer, and then launching into my Senior Co-op internship in the fall.
I won't lie. I'm greatly looking forward to having less homework and throwing myself more into an internship in the fashion industry. I'd much prefer to work hard at an internship all day, and come back to no homework in the evenings, rather than slaving all day and night, 7 days a week, and being stuck inside doing homework and studying on beautiful days on the weekend.
I feel like I'll also have more time to do extra-curricular things that I have always wanted to do but never have the time to do, like visiting art exhibitions and getting to see my friends more.
This semester has required a lot of group work and group projects, which can be both positive and negative. When you have good groups, it decreases your workload dramatically and makes the work a lot more enjoyable. It is also great to see what you can create with other people's input and what a collaborative effort can produce.
However, some people do not have as strong a work ethic as others, which can make doing group assignments quite problematic. But if we're being positive about everything, at least this gives you an opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult situations within groups, and it strengthens your problem-solving abilities, something that no doubt will be valuable in the workplace.
This semester I'm taking Fashion Photography, Product Presentation, Visual Merchandising: History, Theory & Practice, Finance, Direct Marketing, Consumer Behavior and Senior Co-Op Prep. As you can imagine, it's a busy semester and I'm feeling the heat, with final project deadlines looming and finals to study for.
As a Visual Merchandising major, it's not all play and no work, creatively speaking. We are required to take a lot of business-related classes as well as the more fun, creative classes. Not that fun means an easy ride. It requires a lot of extra work, time and dedication to receive high grades. Because of the variety of classes we have to take, I learn just as much about the business world of fashion as I do about creative techniques.
This semester I've learned so much, including how the stock market works, the importance of direct marketing, understanding consumer purchasing habits, how to paint with light in a photograph (and other photographic techniques), and how to effectively create displays to promote and highlight merchandise. Is your brain hurting as much as mine right now?!
It is as important to develop and strengthen my creative skills for when I enter the visual merchandising world as a college graduate as it is to learn about how the business world operates and how the other sectors of the fashion industry operate in order to be successful. I recently had a discussion with the Head of Display at Harvey Nichols in London about what she deemed were important skills to have as a visual merchandiser. She stated that she thought that with regard to the future state of the industry and the world economy today, it was important to be a well-rounded professional with experience and knowledge in all aspects of the visual merchandising industry. This made me feel super-smug because that is exactly how LIM College prepares us. I feel one step ahead of the game already!
One of the shining jewels in LIM College's crown, so to speak, is its professors. In fact, it was this dynamic element of the college that sealed the deal for me when I was exploring my options in 2009. Who better to learn from than those who have been in the industry, or are still very active within the world of fashion? Their insight has not only taught me so much about the fashion industry, specifically visual merchandising, but also opened up my eyes to how certain companies operate.
Macy's Holiday Windows 2011
For example, one of my professors, who is teaching my Product Presentation class this semester, is Paul Olszewski, the Director of Windows at Macy's (forgive me Professor if that no longer is your title! I know you have just received a wonderful promotion).
All those wonderful and imaginative window displays we see throughout the holidays, whether it's the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade windows, or the Miracle on 34th Street Christmas windows, and even the warmer weather windows for Mother's Day or the Flower Show, our professor conceived and created them.
Photography by Michael Creagh
Having someone still very much active in the industry is truly refreshing. At the beginning of each class he will show us what he is currently working on at Macy's, and we then have the opportunity to ask him about his work. Having such an influential person in the industry as a professor is such an invaluable experience and has completely changed the way I work - for the better.
My Fashion Photography professor, Michael Creagh, is also very busy working in addition to teaching us at LIM College. As a class, we have had the opportunity to visit his studio and use his very expensive cameras to help us develop our skills as budding photographers. Like Professor Olszewski, he too shows us his latest shoots, and even asked us for our feedback for a music video that he shot so he could give it to the other producers.
The beauty of our classes here at LIM is that it doesn't feel like the teaching is just one-way. I always get the impression that the professors also gain something from the students as they give us the knowledge we need to succeed in the fashion industry.
Oddly enough, New York Fashion Week is something I actually try and stay clear of. I volunteered once in my first semester, but the stress of having companies not realizing you are still in school and teachers piling on the assignments was greater than the actual enjoyment of the experience, so since then I had kept a clear distance.
Catherine Malandrino at her show
However, that all changed this semester when a friend of mine back home in the UK contacted me days before New York Fashion Week was about to commence. She currently works for a magazine called Twenty6, a successful startup that has come a long way in a short period of time. However, due to the company being so small, they do not have the budget to fly their writers out to New York to cover the shows. They have a couple of people who have covered New York Fashion Week for them in the past, but she thought to contact me this year to see if I was interested, knowing that I was in New York studying fashion.
Iris Apfel at Ralph Rucci
The task included attending the runway and trunk shows, as well as presentations, and live tweeting and Instagram-ing them under the magazine accounts, followed up with a write-up of each show by the end of the day. As much as this sounded amazing, I was a little hesitant at first, wondering how I was going to manage balancing this and 7 college classes. But after I stopped hyperventilating over the phone to my mother (who talked some sense into me), I worked out what I could reasonably take on and got back to my friend with my availability.
Bill Cunningham at Jen Kao
And it worked out with huge success! I braved Nemo and saw shows all over the city, even sitting front row at some, and discovered amazing new designers such as Jen Kao. Other crazy experiences included catching a ride in a police-driven Porsche to Lincoln Center with an InStyle editor who took pity on me; being within a 3 meter distance of idols Bill Cunningham and Iris Apfel, and having coffee in the Penthouse Suite of the Plaza Hotel whilst perusing O Jour’s Italian leather shoe designs. But most importantly, Twenty6 loved my social media correspondence and said they would not hesitate to contact me with regards to New York Fashion Week Spring Summer 14. Hurrah! I have fallen back in love with Fashion Week.
O Jour’s trunk show in the Penthouse Suite at the Plaza Hotel - mink lined sneakers!
I finished all my final exams and was done with the Fall Semester! Yippee! Nothing beats that last final exam feeling, I almost wanted to run out of the classroom door and click my heels and go straight home!
What a semester it was. I think I can safely say that the fall semester was very tough for everyone, and then with Hurricane Sandy causing mass devastation and uprooting us (quite literally) from our lives, it made it that much more stressful, especially for those who were left without power and water for a long period of time.
However, I feel that speaks volumes about the students at LIM College and the people of New York City in general. Despite the hardship, we just get on with it.
Although it was a tough semester, I am really proud of what I achieved throughout the past few months. My Visual Presentation class installed a window display for the Fashion Center in the Garment District in midtown Manhattan and I was so pleased with it. We all felt very proud and breathed sighs of relief that it eventually all came together.
Next semester will be my last semester of classes before I do a Senior Co-op visual merchandising internship in the fall, so it is my last chance to take part in more fun projects like the window display, and really add to my portfolio, which will hopefully blow prospective fashion industry employers away when I start the interview process for my Co-op internship.
Aside from securing a fantastic visual merchandising internship, my New Year’s resolution is to hopefully get the opportunity to travel a bit more around the U.S. before my visa expires, weep. My dream holiday would be to visit my roommate in Hawaii and have her show me around that picturesque state, making stops in LA and Las Vegas on the way back to New York City! I would also love to explore more of the East Coast (Boston, Vermont) and hopefully make a trip to Canada to visit some family and friends in Montreal.
I wish you all a Happy New Year!
Neil Pasricha, the author of The Book of Awesome, once said at a TEDx event, “I love hanging out with 3 year-olds. I love the way they see the world, because they’re seeing the world for the first time.”
As we get older, the novelty of our surroundings soon wears thin, and we become more complacent, and less inspired by our environment. Through travel, and in my case, study abroad, I was able to “embrace [my] inner 3 year-old.” Seeing another country, another culture, for the first time reawakened my senses.
New York City is an inspirational city; from its fashion to its honest and frank civilians. However, after the honeymoon period wore off between New York and I, I started to miss home comforts. Unlike what I previously thought, just because America shares (almost) the same language as Britain, it doesn’t mean that we share the same culture. Having manners and etiquette drilled into me as a child from Granny F, I remember walking around in my first year here almost in a constant state of anger and frustration for everyone else’s obvious lack of manners. I couldn’t handle all the shoving and the shouting in your ear, and even when the subway wasn’t busy, people would STILL stand in front of my face (I’m British, I need my personal space!)
After a tearful conversation with my mother about how I didn’t think New York was for me, she replied, “Listen, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. They say if you can live in New York, you can live anywhere.” Stirring the competitive side in me, I made it my mission to overcome this issue and take it on the chin like a true Brit.
It has been a lot easier now that I am more accustomed to living in a foreign country (and finding out the existence of Tea & Sympathy and Myers of Keswick), and I can now say one of my guilty pleasures, (don’t tell anyone) is telling that guy who bangs into me for the fifteenth time on the subway to “Knock it owff!” (In my head though, I’m still British! Rome wasn’t built in a day!)
My favorite class that I have taken thus far at LIM College is probably Global Retailing with Professor Morrison. This is probably an unusual course to choose as a Visual Merchandising major, but personally, I think I learned more in this class than I probably have in most of my other business classes. The course content was mainly conveyed through classroom discussions, with minimal written work involved. This just goes to show that copious amounts of essays, case studies and group projects are not necessarily the ultimate way to learn about a subject.
Professor Morrison’s style of teaching was thoroughly engaging and made for an enriching learning environment. As a well-traveled businessman, he gave us tidbits of information he learned through personal experience about the way in which other cultures perform business.
Furthermore, one of the highlights of taking that class was having Professor Paula Wang come in and give a guest lecture about China and how it has become such a successful and integral country in the world of business today. She really helped me come to grips with a country that had fascinated me for a while, and this opportunity allowed me to ask questions on issues that had puzzled me for some while. After listening to her lecture, I immediately wanted to take a class in Mandarin and get ahead of the game! One of the great things about LIM College is that all of the professors here have real world experience in the fashion industry.
Additionally, I found it a rewarding experience to be able to not only give insightful information to my other classmates and my professor about how Europeans, and especially the British, perform business and how our infrastructure affects that, but also to learn from them about all the elements that affect the way Americans do business.
I felt this class was an important class to take for pursuing a career in an increasingly global world of business, and I completed the course with invaluable knowledge I can take with me to any future career. Professor Morrison’s encouragement of two-way learning was a really enjoyable environment to be in, and it was a class in which I made many firm friends for life.
“To wear dreams on one's feet is to begin to give reality to one's dreams.” - Roger Vivier
For my Junior Work Project fashion internship at LIM College, I had the opportunity to intern in the wholesale department for TOD’S Group, whose brands include TOD’S (which created the iconic Gommini driving shoe), Hogan, Fay, and the acquired French luxury shoe company, Roger Vivier.
The location of their office is in the heart of Chelsea and in the same building as Milk Studios, Mulberry's corporate offices, and art auctioneer Phillips de Pury. This in itself was exciting because Milk Studios attracts a lot of media attention due to the high profile activities they are involved with, especially during New York Fashion Week. Walking to work and having a million bloggers lining the streets eager for the models and guests to arrive for a fashion show sure is an exciting way to start your early mornings!
This was the first luxury fashion brand I had worked for and I felt like part of the team instantly. Because of its Italian roots and my Italian roots (the headquarters for TOD’S is situated in the same town I spent every summer in Italy), I felt an instant emotional connection with the company. During my time there, I mainly helped with the Roger Vivier brand, which included helping to prepare and organize buys for high-end department stores around the country, including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, as well as assisting with the preparation and organization of special events, such as examining the vintage archive collection of Roger Vivier shoes to be sold at Holt Renfrew.
Furthermore, I had the fantastic and rare opportunity to meet the CEO of TOD’S Group, Diego Della Valle, when he was in town for the Met Gala for the opening of the Impossible Conversations exhibit, as he is the current owner of Schiaparelli, in addition to being the major shareholder for Saks Fifth Avenue and sitting on various other boards.
I felt very fortunate to have had this opportunity because it gave me a real insight into the workings of a luxury brand and a view into the buying world, which is something I didn’t really know much about. I also made great business contacts for life, which is an invaluable resource for future career opportunities.
The way I chose to study in the United States at LIM College is an extraordinary one. It was during “crunch time,” when I was going to interviews and waiting to hear back from universities I had applied to in the U.K. to study English Literature (in the hope of ending up in fashion journalism) that I heard about LIM College through my father.
His profession requires him to travel a lot and to attend many different events, such as the International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), where he met Eric Feigenbaum, Raymond Mastrobuoni and the late, but great Ronald Knoth, who were all Visual Merchandising professors at LIM College. Aside from talking about their experience in the industry, they also shared information regarding teaching visual merchandising at LIM College. On his return, my father suggested that I research this college and the field of visual merchandising, something I had never really heard of before, as it is not a field as greatly acknowledged in the U.K. to the same degree that it is here in the U.S.
The idea of studying fashion abroad had been a fantasy of mine since high school, but a fantasy I never thought could ever really materialize. I knew though that studying fashion in a fashion capital is one heck of an opportunity.
After doing some serious research, my family and I decided to visit NYC and attend the LIM College Open House. It’s safe to say I liked what I saw and applied. Aside from applying to LIM College, I explored my other options of studying for a degree in visual merchandising in the U.K., but no other college really had anything to offer aside from 2-year degrees at best. I wanted a real challenge, a real education, and not a half-hearted one. I didn’t even bother looking at other colleges and universities in the U.S., because, to be honest, if you’re going to study fashion, you’ve got to do it in the center of it all. Go big or go home, that’s my motto.