In honor of NYFW kicking off today, I thought I would share one of my favorite throw back posts from last year when the CFDA had a small presentation in Chicago. The CFDA website refers to Steven Kolb as “the nicest person in fashion,” and I would have to agree. As we sat down in the private lounge at the W Hotel Chicago, Kolb made small talk and was calm and collected as press and designers whizzed by around us. Kolb is the type of person in Fashion that you admire for their business expertise and kind face.
A: What’s it like to oversee all the day to day operations at the CFDA?
S: Well, um, that question makes me nervous. It’s quite an exciting thing, and that may seem cliché, but I am very lucky that I have the job that I have for a couple of reasons. One, there are 400 members in the CFDA, like major designers that are around all the time and I know them all personally. As designers, as business people, as colleagues, as friends. And the passion that designers have, the creative passion that they have…is really inspiring. I don’t necessarily see myself as a creative person, but when I work with a creative person I can take those ideas and make them work. For me, that is a really exciting thing. There are 23 people that work at the CFDA. We have this amazing team and many of them started there as interns and stayed with us. They are just so committed and wonderful and they are fully in support of our mission.
A: I know that your career has always consisted of non-profit work, previously at the American Cancer Society. Why did you decide to go over to a fashion non-profit like the CFDA?
S: So the CFDA is a not for profit, but a different kind of not for profit. I was last at the American Cancer Society, and then previously at an AIDS organization, and then I was at MTV helping to start a not-for-profit. My colleague Lisa and I knew each other because when I worked for the AIDS organization, Lisa and I had worked on a project. She’s been with the CFDA for over 20 years. So when the person before me left, she suggested that the search committee interview me. So I came to meet the selection committee which was Diane Von Furstenberg, Stan Herman, the president of the board, and talk about the job and the organization, so how I ended up there was because I wasn’t a fashion person. That’s what they liked, I had this experience running an organization, managing an organization, I understood how an organization works, and bringing that experience and that skill set to the job. That’s what got me the job. Shockingly, why I took the job wasn’t because it was a fashion job, although I’ve learned to really love and appreciate the fashion part of it. What I love about it is that back when I was a student in college, I never wanted to work in corporate America, I wanted to work on social issues and give back and help people that need it. The truth is, the same thing I did at my previous positions, I am doing at the CFDA. We’re helping emerging designers gain business development. We’re helping students get jobs. We’re helping experienced designers with licensing, etc. We do a lot of philanthropy through our organization so I still get that fulfillment of helping people, but just in a different way.
A: One of your greatest accomplishments that you’ve had at the CFDA is creating the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. How did that come to be?
S: It started as…it’s an interesting story. 911 happened during fashion week, and this predates me, I started in 2006. Because of that [911,] all the fashion shows were cancelled, so a lot of young fashion designers that were just starting out lost their deposits and a significant amount of money for shows that they were unable to do. So the industry rallied, particularly under Carolina Herrera’s efforts. These big designers said “come show in our showrooms, we’ll help you,” and they did these shows that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Anna Wintour saw this kind of hole and how vulnerable these designers were. She worked with the CFDA to create the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. I came in the third year and helped to build its financial strength and grow the organization of it. I think its contributions to American fashion is so great. It has helped create this new American Fashion…Alex Wang, Prabal [Gurung,] Phillip Lim, Rodarte, Joseph Altuzarra…they all came out of the Vogue fashion fund. Not only has it created a new generation of American fashion, but it’s also influenced other parts of the world. Having said that, why we’re here in Chicago is not this dissimilar to what we have done at the Vogue Fashion Fund. A few years ago, we created the CFDA Incubator for emerging designers and it is a business development program where we give them mentors, studio spaces, and we are able to give them opportunities, like bringing them here to Chicago through our partnership for the W hotels. The W has a strong passion for fashion…that rhymes. Working with us, they know that for these designers to get to the next step, they need to increase their distribution so an important market like Chicago, for them to be able to come here and show in this awesome space that W Hotels set up, is game changing for them.
A: Do you have any advice about going into the creative industry?
S: Look, I think that you have to be patient and you have to put in the time. I think in the world of instantaneous gratification and our own hyper celebrity around what we do ourselves with social media, and how we can have a face and be known on the internet, can somehow distort our own well being and self worth. You have to go out and learn. What you think you’ve learned in college is good, but you actually haven’t learned anything until you get a job and are working around people that have been doing these things for a long time, that’s when you’ll learn the most. Continue to be a student, work hard, and have an opinion, but know that you’re around people that have been doing it for a long time and take advantage of that. Use it to your advantage and learn from them. That’s how you’re going to grow your career.
Is anyone going to NYFW? Who is your favorite designer?