I’ve spent the last few days at the Savannah College of Art and Design, checking out the campus and following around Chris Benz like a puppy. Yesterday, I took a few moments to sit down with Michael Fink, the Dean of the School of Fashion Design.
Fink, a fashion buyer by trade, was Saks Fifth Avenue’s women’s fashion director for years, and a familiar face on the Fashion Month circuit. Last fall, he moved down to Savannah to head up SCAD’s fashion school. There, he’s responsible for everything from critiquing the student’s work to bringing in great professional mentors like Zac Posen and Catherine Malandrino, as well plenty of other curriculum-related duties.
Sitting amidst his student’s work in one of SCAD’s classrooms, the industry veteran sat down with me to talk about the most important lessons he’s teaching his students.
Fashionista: First off, what brought you to Savannah?
Michael Fink: I was a visiting critic in the fashion department for some time, and when the college decided to break fashion away from the school of design, they asked me to move down here and be the dean. The chance to guide these students was the reason I said yes.
As a veteran of the fashion industry, what are some of the less tangible skills that you think are important for designers to possess? I think being able to sell your concept is crucial. You should be able to summarize your collection in 30 seconds or less. It’s also important to do your research. Everything is the reworking of something else–it’s important to go to the library, understand the history of fashion and your ideas so that you can take it further.
And what about the tangible? I think the basics–the foundations of design–are so important. It’s also important to excel at things like pattern making. If you can discern the difference between a good and bad pattern, you’ll know when people are trying to rip you off!
What are some misconceptions students have about the industry when they first get here? I think we do a good job of teaching them that, while most people want to start their own label, it doesn’t always happen immediately. They need to think of the big picture–there are great jobs at mid-market brands. Around 86% of the fashion school students find jobs in their field of choice within a year of graduating.
Off the subject of SCAD for a minute–you’ve followed fashion so closely for so long. Are there any up-and-coming designers that you’re really excited about? I think there are some really wonderful, nice people, who are doing well right now. Prabal Gurung, Peter Som, John Bartlett, Matthew Ames, Wayne, Chris Benz–they all listen to their customers. They care about what their customers want. Nice goes a long way!
(Full disclosure: SCAD paid for me to fly down here to cover Chris Benz’s lecture, and they also paid for my room and board.)