Tonight, everyone who’s anyone in the fashion industry will descend upon Lincoln Center for the CFDA’s annual awards, aka the “fashion Oscars.” But the CFDA does a lot more than dole out awards.
The role of the organization is continuously expanding, and thus so is the organization itself. It recently (and somewhat controversially) moved its headquarters from the garment district to NoHo (just a block away from Fashionista!) and last week they let us poke around their newish digs with CEO and beloved industry figure Steven Kolb. We chatted with Kolb about everything from the genesis of the CFDA Award’s Trova statue to his owl and cacti collections, and the Swarovski menswear nominee he’s wearing tonight.
Can you tell me about the amazing photo behind your desk?
So, there are five CFDA offices. Last year we had our 50th anniversary, so there are five decades and each office has a different photo representing a different era of American fashion. And I have the ’90s. It’s a photo by Arthur Elgort, the model is Maggie Rizer and she’s wearing Bill Blass and then somebody has the ’70s with Calvin Klein, someone has the ’80s and the ’60s and then we also have the current decade.
I noticed each office is a slightly different color.
The whole office color scheme is our colors, CFDA colors. We’ve got red and white, my office is black and every office down the line is a different shade lighter. So this one’s a little bit lighter, and Kelly [McCauley]‘s starts to get grey and then it goes into Cassandra [Digg's] office, which is completely grey and the furniture matches. And I’ll show you one more thing, so the award we did at the CFDA is called the Trova and it’s a little silver humanoid. But there’s a big giant version of it that we always kept in storage and take out only once a year and bring it to the venue where the awards are–and then put it back in storage. Now, he lives over there [points to the back exit corner of the office space] where the exit sign is, but he’s left the space to go to Lincoln Center for Monday night’s event.
So, we’ve got our own giant sized Trova here.
So he’s like your office mascot? Does he have a nickname?
He is our mascot, or she, I’m not sure if it’s a man or a woman. It’s Trova, named after the artist Ernest Trova who was a very famous sculptor. He did this series called “The Falling Man Series” and Arnold Scazzi, who is a big collector of art, is the one that got Mr. Trova to design the award for us.
What are some things you love in this office?
I love these boxes, every year for Christmas I get steaks from Ralph Lauren, and they come in these really cool boxes, it’s one of the really cool things that he sends. I’m a vegetarian, but I love getting them, my mother loves them.
Tell me about the owls theme going on here.
I collect owls, I have like a thousand owls all over.
Juan Carlos Obando, for his presentation a couple of seasons ago, he made animal heads that were on top of each look. So when I saw the owl I said, “You have to send it to me when you’re done so I can keep it!” So I have that and you can see there’s a few other owls that some of the girls who work here gave me. Like Sophie went somewhere in South America and she brought me an owl back. And Joanna just went to Istanbul. Everyone brings me an owl.
I also noticed a lot of cacti in here.
It’s funny because a lot of these are gifts, like this one was from Pamela Love, and this is from Mara Hoffman. This one is an off-shoot [points to the largest cactus]. When I moved to New York in ’89, I bought a little cactus, a little version of this [points to a large cactus on windowsill] and it was about this big [gestures an inch] and now it’s in my house in Pennsylvania and it’s about eight feet tall. But what I do is I cut off little pieces of it and I put them in water and I root them and I re-plant them and I give them as gifts.
What else is really important to you in your office?
The Diane [von Furstenberg] Barbie is very special because she gave me that and signed it. And this is what I’m wearing to the CFDA awards so [shows me a photo of a Public School look siting on his bookshelf] so that’s important too.
How long did it take you to decide what you were going to wear?
You know, it didn’t take me that long. It’s Public School, and it just so happens that I went to their show last September before they even knew they were nominated or even had any idea. They showed that [look] and they said, “Would you wear this to the CFDA awards?” and I said “Absolutely!”
Which has been your favorite CFDA award show so far?
I’ve told this story before, but when I first moved to New York I was actually a volunteer at the CFDA Awards. It was the year that Audrey Hepburn was there, and I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan, and I was this close to Audrey Hepburn. So that year I think really was my favorite because I was kind of wide-eyed and starry-eyed. But since I’ve been working on them, every year they’re just cooler and cooler. It’s fun working with the creative director Nian Fish and KCD and all of the film makers and everyone. So I don’t really have a favorite one, the newest one is always the favorite one!
Is there anyone in the fashion industry that intimidates you?
I don’t feel intimidated by people. When I first started working at the CFDA I was excited to meet Ralph Lauren; and obviously when I first met Diane [von Furstenberg] and was interviewed by her for the job, or when I first got to meet Anna Wintour, that was exciting. But I don’t feel intimidated. Because everyone has such great respect for the CFDA and has such belief in what we do. Lisa Smilor’s been here for almost twenty years; myself, Cassandra Diggs, who’s been here, like 18 years. So, they treat us as their peers and their equals so it’s not intimidating.
Who is a really exciting person you’ve had in your office?
What’s great about this office is we’re doing some soundproofing in the board room. It used to be that we couldn’t have board meetings here or membership meetings, because people could hear what was being said. Now we actually have meetings here, and even designers, members of the CFDA can book the conference room or the back meeting room for their own use. So I like to refer to it as a community center for fashion. And people really use it; it’s really bustling all the time. About a month and a half ago, I had lunch with Silas Chou [owner of Michael Kors] and he’s this amazing guy and he came here–we had lunch downstairs actually, nothing fancy–so that was a cool visitor. But, you know we’ve had all the designers in and out of here pretty much all the time.
What’s your typical lunch like?
If I go out to lunch and I’m in the neighborhood, I go to Il Buco. Even though it seems a bit obvious or over-said I always get the kale salad. But if I’m not going out to lunch, I’m just going to eat something, I walk over to Organic Avenue or Juice Generation, because they have these great kind of raw organic-y stuff so I’ll get that. The neighborhood is great.
Why did you choose this space for your offices?
We picked it for the neighborhood and because of what it is. It’s just a big open space with a lot of windows, and the building is landmarked so it’s a historic building and it’s designed by a very famous architect named Louis Henry Sullivan. It’s his only building in New York–he’s based in Chicago. I’ve got this great view where Crosby street dead-ends and that’s my favorite part about my office. You also get to see part of Brooklyn. But this is all original mahogany and these are all the original handles from the building in the late 1800′s so, it’s just cool, it’s got great energy and it’s easy to get to. I Live in Hell’s Kitchen so I’ve been using City Bike recently to get to work. I’m a big fan.
What’s the worst office you’ve ever had or worst office location?
It’s funny, since I started working, I’ve never really had a bad office. I had an office in Secaucus, New Jersey once. It was actually not a bad office–it was hard to get to, but it was near all the outlets so that was good.
What’s the most random thing in your office right now?
I guess it would be the abacus. I mean, I bought it in a garage sale when I was at home in the country and I decided to bring it here, so that’s random. Most people don’t even know what it is and I’m not even sure how it works.
If there were a fire, whats the one thing you’d save?
I’d probably grab the Diane von Furstenberg-signed Barbie. I wouldn’t want that to burn up in a fire.
Click through to tour the CFDA offices.
Photos: Ashley Jahncke