An audience of prospective designers and general fashion lovers -- including Fern Mallis, designer Tracy Reese and stylist Phillip Bloch -- gathered in Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for an informative discussion with the CFDA's bespectacled CEO Steven Kolb last night, kicking off Harlem's Fashion Row's 2012 conversations series. Kolb sat down with HFR founder and CEO Brandice Henderson to discuss an array of subjects from Kolb's first meeting with Anna Wintour, to the guidelines required for membership to the CFDA, the future of garment manufacturing in Manhattan and Kolb's short-lived days as a high school football "star."
"Just remember, she's very shy."
That was Diane von Furstenberg's warning to Kolb before meeting Anna Wintour. By the time he met Vogue's diva doyenne, Kolb had already gotten the job as Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America -- a title that would eventually morph into his current as Chief Executive Officer -- and even though Wintour was not a member of the CFDA, meeting her was still obligatory. But they got along swimmingly.
And why wouldn't they? This from the man who, after his initial interview with von Furstenberg and the CFDA board, received an email from DVF herself saying simply, "I love you -- Diane."
Hailing from a non-profit background, Kolb has often claimed he's an "accidental fashion drone" and despite his standing as the head of an organization that counts among its members the biggest and greatest designers in American fashion, he still gets excited by fashion shows. Though becoming a member of that prestigious organization, as one would expect, is no easy feat.
To be considered for CFDA membership, a designer has to have been in business for at least three years, have two letters of recommendation from CFDA members, retail presence and positive editorial coverage. Kolb stressed, however, that the most important thing for a designer to possess is a personal and unique point of view. It is also important for designers to do their homework.
Applying to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, for example, requires a lengthy personal essay outlining why you love fashion, how you got started, the ins and outs of your business, as well as a five and ten year business plan. "Clarity on what you want your brand to be," he said, "along with real talent is an ideal candidate."
Since announcing their move from the Garment District, the CFDA has come under fire for seemingly abandoning the made in America, or at least Midtown, mantra. To wit, a member of the audience asked why the CFDA didn't consider Harlem, with its surplus of abandoned buildings and cheap rent, for the future of manufacturing.
"The industry is stuck on Midtown as where fashion needs to be," Kolb responded but he also insisted that with rising costs abroad -- particularly in China -- "You're going to see a return to manufacturing in Manhattan in a big way."
But the night wasn't all about business. Henderson wrapped up her conversation with Kolb by asking him what was something that no one would know about him. Turns out Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, was a football jock.
"I was the setter." He was quick to clarify. "The guy who gives the ball to the guy who throws the ball." Though he spent most of his time on the bench, Kolb proved popular with the cheerleaders who had a cheer especially for him: "Put Steven in! Put Steven in!"
Nevertheless, Kolb quit midway through the football season and joined the drama club. And I guess the rest is more or less history.