YMA FSF Panel: What Cynthia Rowley and Alexis Bittar Want Fashion Hopefuls to Know

The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York hosted YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund’s final summer event on July 24th at the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre. The event, “Starting Out: What I Wish I Knew Then and Other Insights from Fashion Leaders’ Early Years,” was moderated by Paper Magazine Editorial Director Mickey Boardman, and included Fashion Designer Michael Bastian, Jewelry Designer Alexis Bittar, Stylist Lori Goldstein, Designer Cynthia Rowley and Executive Vice President of Saks Fifth Avenue, Terron Schaefer.

A dream of New York City

Each speaker shared their humble beginnings and how they finally found success in New York City.  Inspiring the YMA scholars in the audience, they covered the do’s and don’ts of starting as an intern, starting your own business and tips to help in the creative process in design.

A native of Illinois, Mr. Mickey started at Paper Magazine as an intern and slowly worked his way – nearly 20 years – to his current hot seat as Editorial Director. Cynthia Rowley, another Illinois native, started out in New York hosting fashion shows in her walk-up apartment, inviting every important fashion editor and VIP in New York, even Andy Warhol – none of whom she knew, and none of whom attended! However, it was not long thereafter that Rowley began showing at NYFW and later winning CFDA awards.

Terron Shaefer began his career at Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising firm – with zero fashion accounts. However, his savvy advertising knowledge in the trade matched up in the fashion world, and he now leads Saks Fifth Avenue as Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer. Alexis Bittar began selling jewelry outside his family home at 8 years old and his own designs at 22. Sticking to his dreams, he’s now racked up multiple design awards and was most recently named ‘Accessory Designer Of The Year’ by the CFDA.

Lori Goldstein explained how she had to almost create her career because the fashion stylist industry wasn’t yet well-established. To do so, she developed her eye in styling and stuck to her aspirations. After years working with people like Mario Testino, Patricia Fields, Anna Sui, Steven Meisel and Annie Leibovitz, Lori now has her own collection, LOGO by Lori Goldstein, exclusively on QVC. Michael Bastian’s story starts with New York City being the final goal – it simply didn’t matter what he did as long as he was in New York City! After being accepted into a retail training program and quickly learning his strengths and weaknesses, Michael worked as the Men’s Fashion Director at Bergdorf Goodman and eventually found a mentor who encouraged him to develop his own line. which he did. In 2011, Michael won CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year.

It’s not so glamorous, darling

Panelists agreed that the fashion industry is ‘not so glamorous’ and requiring an almost sickening work ethic to excel. Alexis encouraged those starting out to write out what they want from a career in fashion, including their work ethic, professional aspirations, how much money they want to make, and what success will look in order to help define a career path. Lori reminded YSA scholars that it’s “important to know what you do and don’t know in the business and embrace and continue improving everything.” Cynthia reiterated that “hard work pays off,” and to not get stuck on how things ‘should be’ done and just do it. Michael mentioned that when working in an industry full of personality and drama, one has to be flexible and really observe one’s surroundings. He also shared that in order to be a good number one, you have to be a very good number two. Terron encouraged everyone to always surround themselves with smart, nice people. In his vast career, he’s run into many dumb, nice people, or dumb, not so nice people. It’s worth it to find the smart and nice ones.

They all agreed that those starting out in any fashion company, especially interns, need to realize:

  • Professional success is a two-way street
  • To really shine and stand out for growth opportunities, make yourself indespensible
  • Fashion is a creative field, when applying for a position, demonstrate your creativity in your application
  • Nothing beats an original voice

Image: Alexis Bittar, Resort 2012 Lookbook


About This Author

Known as the “fashion publicist’s most powerful accessory,” (San Diego Union-Tribune) and the “West Coast ‘It’ girl of fashion PR,” (YFS Magazine) Crosby Noricks put fashion public relations on the digital map when she launched PR Couture in 2006. She is the author of Ready to Launch: The PR Couture Guide to Breaking into Fashion PR, available on Amazon. Crosby spends her time managing PR Couture and mentoring fashion publicists through PRISM and Instappable, as well as the biannual NYC workshop, Fashion PR Confidential. Occasionally, she opens up limited consulting spots for emerging brands through her signature offering, The Brand Elixir.