NYT Fashion Critic and Leading Designers Address Accelerating Change in Fashion Industry
May 22, 2023 — New York Times chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman moderated a conversation with leading fashion designers Willy Chavarria and Hillary Taymour about how the industry is adapting to, and helping advance, social change and the complex intersection of business and politics at Marist’s inaugural Fashion on Fifth speakers series on May 15.
Fashion on Fifth is a new NYC-based series sponsored by the College at its Manhattan location and brings together leaders of industry to engage in thoughtful conversations about modern trends and issues.
"This is an exciting new series of conversations with fashion disrupters and fashion thought leaders, specifically for our Marist Fashion Program alumni community," said Marist Fashion program director John Bartlett, who also served on the panel. "The industry has the opportunity and responsibility to effect real change at the intersection of fashion and social justice."
Friedman kicked off the conversation by having Chavarria and Taymour share their views on the accelerating pace of change within the fashion industry, particularly following the social justice movement of the summer of 2020.
“Businesses are realizing they need to sell in a different way ... to be more concerned about social issues and sustainable ways of producing,” said Chavarria, Senior Vice President at Calvin Klein and the founder of his own namesake line. “Fashion, for me, does not mean anything if it does not move a cultural needle.”
Marist’s inaugural Fashion on Fifth speakers series on May 15 in New York City.
In addressing an audience of Marist students and fashion program alumni, as well as industry professionals from around the NYC area, Chavarria reinforced the importance of being driven by purpose and values in your work.
“My own past growing up as a queer person of color in a small town and having a family that was part of the Civil Rights Movement and being very aware of these factors that hold people down — I guess I had been in the industry long enough that I was like, everyone is out for themselves here and there’s not a lot of good,” he said. “I was only going to do something if there was some good — that’s been the track I’ve been on ever since.”
Taymour, who is both the creative director of fashion label Collina Strada and an eco-activist, agreed. By focusing on environmentally responsible designs using mostly biodegradable, headstock, and organic materials, and has stayed true to her brand, both personally and professionally.
“You have to eat, breath, and sleep your values,” she said. “Scream it from the rooftop, this is your truth, this is what you believe in. This will help transition to your community the upside of you.”
During the question-answer portion of the program, both designers were asked if there was one course they wish they had taken when they were in college. For Chavarria, it was business. Taymour, who has her business degree, responded: “I would have paid more attention in speech class. It took me a few years to be a good public speaker and it’s really important.”
Friedman, who received an honorary doctorate from Marist in 2019, has been credited as a prominent leadership voice in the fashion industry through her work at the New York Times and other publications. “Vanessa’s work has helped us all understand the impact of fashion across social, political, economic, and other critical strata of the modern world, and it was an honor to have her moderate the inaugural event in this series,” said Marist Executive Vice President Geoffrey Bracket.