The panel discussion was organized by Club Vogue, the college’s organization for fashion enthusiasts.
Written by Wes Cipolla
Reading, PA —
William Exaros wants the fashion students of Albright College to find the right person. Not a boyfriend or girlfriend, but a boss.
You will probably spend more time with your boss than you will with your partner, said Exaros, 50, who works as a director of visual merchandising at Chanel in New York. If you’re working at a job and your boss is awful, this too shall pass.
On April 5, Exaros and four other graduates of Albright College went back to school to tell their stories of working in the fashion industry and give advice to current Albright students majoring in fashion. The panel discussion was organized by Club Vogue, the college’s organization for fashion enthusiasts. To Exaros, the most important lesson is how to deal with criticism.
Nobody is going to say to you ‘Oh, we like the font you used in your Excel,’ He said. It’s all opinion-based. Having a thick skin and being able to react to that is important. Everything in our world is about negotiation.
One piece of advice that all the alumni agreed on was a refrain that you could hear both while getting dressed for the runway and working behind the scenes: When you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Don’t be shy if you have a skill, said Ally Fenstermacher, 33, a marketing and production assistant for Barbara Kavchok. Learn it and own it.
Fenstermacher, who graduated in 2008, started out sewing and doing paperwork for a medical equipment company. The company sent nylons back to the factory to be repaired, but Fenstermacher offered to fix the nylons more cheaply than the factory could.
You will probably be folding T-shirts for a while, she said to the crowd of students.
Exaros had a similar story. An art history major who graduated in 1991, his first job was lighting art galleries, where he was usually the only person without a trust fund. He then worked in retail, where he discovered a passion for handmade fashion.
I was damned good at the job I was doing, said Exaros, who describes his style of advice as Oprahesque. Do the job you were hired to do really well and someone will notice.
Someone noticing Exaros is what got him a job at Louis Vuitton, work that he said combined his three favorite things: women, handbags and the French.
Most people hate the French, he said. I love them. They’re right down to the point; they’ll tell you exactly how they feel.
The alumni emphasized the importance of making connections with potential employers.
My advice is just even if it’s the smallest thing, put forth your best attitudes and your best efforts and everyone will notice, said Mandy Boandl, 24, a 2017 graduate who works as a costume designer at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater.
In the fashion world, the alumni said, experience can come from anywhere. After leaving Louis Vuitton, Exaros did visual merchandising for tampons on a cruise line. Josh Polk, a 2017 graduate and assistant swimwear designer at Mochan Group, worked at Tractor Supply out of college and said it was one of the best experiences of his life.
It definitely prepared me for what I wanted to do, said Polk, 23, just because it was something I never wanted to do. I learned about chicken feed, horse feed. You name it, I know about it.
It made for an odd scene when it came up during job interviews.
I’m like, ‘I work at Tractor Supply,’ he said. They’re like ‘Oh ,’ I’m like, ‘I don’t sell feed or anything.’
They also discussed the importance of keeping a work-life balance and staying cool under pressure.
I have absolutely no work-life balance, Exaros said, a sentiment several other panelists shared.
You just do what you can to make it work for you, said Fenstermacher, who has two kids and works at home three days a week.
If something goes wrong, an actor is freaking out, it never helps if you are expressing your panic. Boandl said.
Kayla Geary, an Albright senior and the president of Club Vogue, asked the alumni how the fashion industry has changed since they graduated from college.
A lot of my daily work is on a computer, Fenstermacher said. You guys are probably better at computers than I am by now.
Boandl said that an online presence is crucial nowadays.
Before my costume apprenticeship, she said, I was working in a bridal shop. Everything is changing, because when people get engaged they go right to their Pinterest boards to look at all the dresses.
How many times do you go back to a restaurant because the waiter is amazing? Exaros asked. That’s an experience.
This on your phone, he said as he imitated texting. I know a lot of you think that’s an experience. It’s really not.
In the age of online shopping, there was the question of whether Exaros’s job of designing store window displays was obsolete.
I think there’s a hype that it all has to be online, but people still want to touch and feel, he said. I have to believe that, otherwise I don’t have a job in 10 years.
Above all, the most important piece of advice the alumni wanted to share was simple: Don’t give up.
You’re never going to know enough, you’re not going to be on top, and if you are on top you won’t be on top for long, Fenstermacher said.
Polk agreed, saying There’s always going to be someone who learns more than you, so you have to be on your toes.
Some people will try to take you down, Eraxos said. Don’t let them take you down. You are who you are.
See why he compares himself to Oprah? ¦
Contact Wes Cipolla: 610-371-5049 or [email protected]