Interview: Los Angeles and New York: A Tale of Two Fashion Students

Today I have the pleasure to introducing to you two American students of fashion, studying at opposite sides of the country. Charlie Haddad is in his first year at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and Katy Pieracci is in her first year at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Before attending FIT and FIDM, Haddad and Pieracci were students of mine at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California, and I today I interview the two of them jointly to give readers the opportunity to compare the experiences of two students, both hailing from the same hometown, now studying and living life in two very different big cities and fashion capitals.

Lauren Michel: Charlie and Katy, why did you choose FIT and FIDM, respectively?

Charlie Haddad: I applied to many different colleges, but I always had my heart set on FIT. It has always been my dream school, because it has an excellent reputation and it is located in the heart of the industry; I consider New York City as my campus. The school itself has many connections and has a great set of alumni that have graduated and established themselves as exceptional designers. The other reason is the quality of education. Not to mention our remarkable museum, library and resources.

Katy Pieracci: I chose to go to FIDM because when I first began my research for a fashion school it was one of the first schools that caught my attention. I was looking for a credible school that would give me the kind of knowledge and connections that I need in order to be successful in the fashion industry. It was also important for me to find a school that was relatively close to home, and because FIDM has four campuses in California, it made the final decision to go there easy.

LM: How was your first quarter or semester? What have your experiences been?

CH: My first semester was a great preparation for what I am doing this semester. It was a good combination of construction and art, a total of six classes. They started us out with Sewing Techniques 1, where we learned many different kinds of seams, and seam finishes. In Flat Pattern Design 1, we learned how to make different kinds of sleeves and skirts, and to manipulate darts.

My most important class of the semester was Draping 1. That is when I had my first draping experience, and after the first dress I completely fell in love with the art of draping. It was such an amazing experience. It felt as if I was sculpting with fabric.

In Fashion Art and Design, we learned how to develop a croquis, translate fabrics and silhouettes on paper, and our final project was to design a resort collection inspired by Chanel.

My first semester also brought great experiences being in the city for the first time, soaking in all the art and culture, and not to mention all the opportunities that came my way. I was able to work in many fashion shows during fashion week which led me to meet Anna Wintour. All in all, FIT got my feet wet and made me realize that this is just the beginning.

KP: My experiences and courses so far at FIDM have not been what I expected, to say the least. As far as school work, I learned early on in my attendance at the school that the courses move very fast and the deadlines for assignments approach very quickly. Procrastination and waiting until the night before the assignment is due to begin the work is not a realistic option. The amount of work that is assigned for each course typically takes a few days to be done correctly, whether for English Composition or for Color and Design Theory. The assignments are normally enjoyable, but very labor intensive. This being my first time out of my parents’ house and in a brand new city, I had to learn to navigate and utilize the transportation available to me in my new environment. Even though Los Angeles inspires and excites me, it is still unfamiliar and challenging at times.

LM: What are each of you seeing about the fashion industry in your respective cities?

KP: I have noticed that the fashion industry in Los Angeles is very eclectic. The high demand for gowns and formal wear for the A-list crowd is contradicted by the casual, effortless style that I feel LA is known for.

CH: The industry in general is mainly focused on ready-to-wear fashion, after all New York is the capital of American sportswear. People in the city have no time to spend hours on picking out an outfit, they want to just be able to throw it on, walk out, and look fabulous, which is why there is a huge challenge for designers to be able to find some equilibrium between the fashionable and the practical. However, I think New York designers are doing an excellent job, and I hope to join them one day in this crazy whirlwind of an industry.

One thing for sure that New York has taught me is that trends and commercial fashion mean nothing. It is all about personal style.  One aspect that I noticed right off the bat was that there is no such thing as gender-based fashion. I have seen many guys sporting some high-heeled wedged boots paired with their normal everyday clothes. On the other hand, I have seen many girls that pull off the boyish look very well. Androgyny is the new black, there are no rules anymore as to what men and women are supposed to wear.

Walking down the streets of New York whether it be shopping in Soho, strolling through the East Village, or just strutting on 5th Avenue, you will see everything from sophisticated, to hipster, to grunge, to downright eccentric. These styles have one thing in common, the color black. All across the map of Manhattan, you will see that the dominating color on the streets is black, because it is easy to wear, its chic, and it goes with your entire wardrobe.

People here truly know the meaning of “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous”. Even at school, walking to class is like a fashion show, and the girls and guys are battling it out to see who conquered the look of the day. Every time that I compliment a person on a piece of clothing and ask them where they got it from, the answer is usually from a vintage store. There is a huge push for vintage/thrift shopping in New York. It’s all about that treasure hunt of finding a piece to spice up your wardrobe, which is a great way to recycle and gives it a sense of history and a sense of worth.

LM: Now that you are each finishing your first year and are each settled at your new school, what are your goals?

KP: My goals are to take on every assignment with a creative and, at times, unexpected edge, and to approach each assignment and task at an angle that will set me apart from my peers.

CH: My goal, ever since I chose fashion design as a career, is to graduate from a prestigious school and hopefully get a job that will enhance my skills and challenge me. I plan to travel and intern abroad, and I am thinking of taking some classes on my way to try and get a well-rounded fashion education.

Moving to New York has had quite an impact on me. I came here wanting to specialize in evening-wear and bridal. However, being in the midst of all of the sportswear that surrounds me, I began to rethink my decision. I started to experiment, trying to see if I can mix both niches together; my love for the extravagant and the effortless began to collide. I still appreciate an avant-garde showpiece, but I also enjoy a beautifully tailored garment. In other words, the art of fashion is a well-needed substance to get our creative juices flowing, but my ultimate goal is to take that and channel it into something that is a bit more realistic and grounded.

I want to truly learn my craft before embarking on this fashion journey. I understand that I still have a long road ahead of me, but I believe that with passion and perseverance, the sky is the limit.

LM:  Katy Pieracci blogs at The Smoking Stiletto.  One of her current projects is photographing street art on the streets of Los Angeles.

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Image Details:

Photos 1 and 2: Katy Pieracci, photographed by Charlie Haddad, in Monterey, California.

Photos 3 and 4: Charlie Haddad at the Fashion Line subway stop, and with Anna Wintour, photographed by Jacob Grady.

Photos 5 and 6: Street art, photographed by Katy Pieracci in Los Angeles, California.

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