For Graduating Fashion Students, Success Is in the Attitude

There were no divas at FIT's Judging Day.
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Tyler McCall
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There were no divas at FIT's Judging Day.
FIT Critic Award Winners. L-R: Gayoung Ahn, Grace Cox, Sarah Conlon, Danielle Ortiz, Joelle Samaha, Natali Collado, Peter Do, Talisa Almonte, Sarah Angel. Photo: Courtesy

FIT Critic Award Winners. L-R: Gayoung Ahn, Grace Cox, Sarah Conlon, Danielle Ortiz, Joelle Samaha, Natali Collado, Peter Do, Talisa Almonte, Sarah Angel. Photo: Courtesy

At New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, graduating seniors have the chance to put their work in front of a panel of industry insiders. Some 250 looks are submitted to be judged by the panel, of which about 85 will be selected to appear in the runway show on May 1. 

It may seem daunting, but for students getting ready to enter the workplace, it's a good final lesson: What might excite you may not excite others. Success as a designer, then, comes down to having the right attitude. 

Peter Do with his Critic Award winning look. Photo: Courtesy

Peter Do with his Critic Award winning look. Photo: Courtesy

"It's always [a challenge] compromising your own belief or integrity artistically for what might conform to what the project at hand is," says MTV stylist Alana Kelen, one of this year's judges. "Even if you're working for yourself, you have to think about what's sellable, what the stores want and that kind of thing."

That's just the sort of thing many of these young would-be designers will face as they head into jobs working for others, rather than for themselves. Because unlike the current crop of hot designers -- Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, Jason Wu -- who all "made it" before age 30, many of these students will have to toil much longer to find success.

It could be a hard pill to swallow for some. "I think it must be an inspiration for them just to see that success and want to do the same thing," Kelen says. "But it definitely makes it a bit tougher, I would think, where the expectations for where you're supposed to be when you graduate school are there."

"I think some of them are going to come out of this thinking, 'I'm out of college, and now I'm going to be a star,'" adds judge and stylist Beagy Zielinski. "That is not reality. There are a few people that make it, because they are extraordinary." 

Fortunately, it seems like most of this year's crop has the right attitude. Peter Do, Sarah Conlon and Talisa Almonte are three of this year's Critic Award winners, whose sportswear looks were deemed among the best of the class by designers like Rebecca Minkoff and Brandon Sun.

Do and Conlon both intern at Calvin Klein, while Almonte works with Rag & Bone, and despite being honored by the Critic Award, they all admitted they have more they can learn. "Ultimately my goal would be to start my own company, but that would come with time," Almonte says. "I need to get more experience in the industry and learn more from people who have been doing it for years."

Talisa Almonte with her Critic Award-winning look. Photo: Courtesy

Talisa Almonte with her Critic Award-winning look. Photo: Courtesy

"I'm just hoping to freelance a little bit and then I want to go back for my master's degree in Europe, so that's my plan," Do says. "I feel that I'm not ready, full-fledged, so I want to go back to school for a few more years and see what happens. " 

And each winner expressed a disinterest in becoming a designer just to be famous. Do hopes to follow in the career path of designer Martin Margiela, while Conlon cites Celine's Phoebe Philo as inspiration. "I really admire her whole career path," she says. "She went to fashion school just like us, and she graduated and got jobs and kind of worked her way up."

Their focus on their work rather than the idea of success or celebrity is paying off. "I'm looking for the same exact quality that I would want to see in a store, and I'm seeing that," Zielinski says of the designs presented on Tuesday. 

"I'm always impressed that everything is done so well that I could walk into a store and see these pieces, or that these pieces are even better than what you see in a store," Kelen adds.  

Armed with a great attitude and a fresh approach to design, perhaps we will see these budding designers' works in stores very soon.