They say that when it’s three in the afternoon in New York, it’s 9pm in Europe – ten years earlier, and that’s why it’s the perfect place to go looking for the latest trends in the fashion industry. Emerging brands and heavyweights from around the world coexist in its streets, such as the Spanish Mango, which in 2022 opened its new flagship on 5th Avenue.
Once more, the “Fashion Business iQ ” program has brought together professionals from different countries of the world, for a week in the Big Apple, to share a unique immersion in the most cutting-edge retail environment. The ISEM program combines theoretical sessions with academics and fashion professionals, with visits to stores and company offices of some of the world’s leading brands.
The class environment also aims to facilitate the assimilation of content. For three days, classes took place at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the first fashion school in the world – it was founded in 1944 – and through whose classrooms some of the best American designers have passed: such as Calvin Klein, Nina Ricci and Michael Kors. The other two days, the students went to the IESE Business School building in the heart of Midtown, where the famous 1980s series “Fama” was filmed.
But… What topics were covered in this edition of the program? Who were the teachers and what visits were made? Below is a summary of each day:
Keanan Duffty is a British designer based in New York who throughout his career has created collections in collaboration with Reebook, Dr. Martens, David Bowie… In 2019 he joined the prestigious Parsons School of Design, where he directs the fashion programs and Executive Education.
Along with him, Russell Winer – professor at NYU Stern – and Marina Larroudé – former fashion director at Barneys New York, and now an entrepreneur with her own brand, Larroudé – were in charge of delivering the “amuse bouche” for an inspiring week of learning.
The visits, formal and informal, were one of the strong points of these days. The first of these was a visit to the beautiful Carolina Herrera headquarters, where the VP of product development, Ludwig Heissmeyer, exclusively showed the students the Atelier, and explained the “journey of a dress”: From the concept to the production of each style in the Carolina Herrera collections. Along with Heissmeyer, Ashrena Ali -HR Talent Specialist- walked the students through the showroom and answered all the their questions about human resources and job opportunities at the brand.
Back in the classroom, the participants were able to delve into the purchasing process of the main retailers in the United States with Delia Folk, brand consultant and former buyer at Barneys. Catherine Geib -professor at FIT- provided the most academic vision of the day, presenting the results of her research on fast fashion and social media.
The day ended with a moderated a discussion between Leonor Silva, Director of International Relations at ISEM, and Deborah Soss, VP Divisional Merchandise Manager at Bergdorf Goodman for 20+ years, on the role of merchandising and advice to brands and entrepreneurs looking to enter and grow in the American market.
The future of retail will largely depend on brands being able to transfer the same shopping experience to their customers, wherever they are. This is what Obsess is working on, an experiential e-commerce platform that is creating HD-quality, beautiful 3D and 360 experiences that increase awareness, engagement and conversion for luxury brands, makeup, food and other industries… Justin Stankiewicz, the company’s sales leader, showed the students some examples, such as virtual stores that touch the metaverse, in which you can walk, choose clothes or put them in your shopping cart and buy. He also talked about brand experiences in gaming and showed the students some demos of what brands can do in the gaming world.
Also talking about technology, although different, was Jon Harari, CEO of Windowswear. His company began by collecting shop window photos of the world’s great fashion brands and now they also capture data that includes email marketing campaigns, Facebook ads, Instagram stories… which makes them the largest retail, visual merchandising and e-commerce database. One can subscribe to their service to have that data for inspiration or to know what has worked and what has not. As Harari anticipated, the next step for Windowswear is to include machine learning that will help brands predict trends and demand.
On the other hand, the other two presentations of the day were on very different topics. On the one hand, Sonali Vanjani -Head of product at GAP- explained the franchise business model of this international brand and how they choose the products that can be sold best in each market. On the other hand, Boston University professor and strategy consultant Barry Horwitz spoke about entrepreneurship and branding.
In June, the FIT Museum opened the exhibition “Dior + Balenciaga: The Kings of Couture and their Legacies”, where the heritage of these two fashion giants is discussed – a place to which the program attendees could not help but escape to for a bit.
That same day, they also enjoyed two other visits. First, they visited the Kule store in the heart of Rockefeller Center, where its Head of Retail, Kara Love, explained the brand’s growth strategy. Then, to the Bloomingdale’s store with Sarah Shaw, who until last week was the General Manager of the flagship store on 59th Street, and is now Head of Customer Strategy.
To end the day, Joshua Williams, professor at Parsons and brand consultant, presented his vision of omnichannel vs. multichannel, retailing as a customer journey, and about the future of brands.
The “Fashion Business iQ” 2022 program ended with a final very well rounded day, which opened with a visit to the Tapestry headquarters – the group that includes Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman – in the Hudson Yards area, near “The Vessel”, the giant sculpture in the form of stairs from which you can see the entire neighborhood. Benoît Tordeur, DVP of Visual Experience at Coach, was the host for the visit and explained how they work in his department, how they integrate the digital and physical worlds (phygital), and activation examples of what the Coach Visual Experience team is doing.
The theoretical sessions of the day were two. The first by Barbara Kahn, professor at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) and former dean of the University of Miami, who explained what academic research reveals about trends in retail and what consumer behavior changes mean in a post-pandemic world; and another with Robert Rizzolo, Chief Merchandising Officer (CMO) of Marc Jacobs, who broke down in detail how each generation works when making buying decisions. Rizzolo also spoke about Heavn, the sub-brand with Marc Jacobs seeks to conquer generation Z.
To finish in style, the group moved to the historic Woolworth building in the Financial District, where the Altuzarra brand has its headquarters. There, their director of operations (COO), a former student and now an ISEM professor, Marta Lastra, gave students a tour of the offices and delivered a class on the production process to bring the final garments to stores, and how the company is organized. Recently, the luxury brand changed its calendar to produce just two collections a year (instead of four), in the fall and spring. In addition, Altuzarra is preparing to open a new store on Madison Avenue.
This was the program “strictly on paper”. It would be necessary to add the additional walks through the streets of New York, the mythical pizza dinner in the Dumbo area (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), the shops, going for beers in Lower Manhattan… and all the possibilities offered by the city that never sleeps, and that offers everything to the taste of each consumer.
And next year, more!