Fashion Undergrads Get Schooled by Richard Chai, Joe Zee & Eric Daman

Some of the biggest names in fashion offered their words of wisdom to lucky students at the Fashion Institute of Technology in a spring lecture about how to succeed in the business. Part of Vitaminwater’s seminar tour of the top fashion schools in the country, the panel talk kicked off the Color Collection Contest for up-an-coming designers to create a t-shirt that will be sold alongside designers from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Richard Chai, ELLE’s creative director Joe Zee, and Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman spoke of how they their start in the industry and emphasized their belief in happy accidents. Richard found fashion by going to the wrong floor at Parson’s while studying graphic design when he was a teen. Joe landed his first job as an assistant to his hero Allure’s Polly Mellen and Linda Wells after a disastrous test shoot with Women’s Wear Daily. Eric originally modeled with the likes of Kate Moss and moved toward styling, but it wasn’t until a friend asked him be a costume designer for her movie “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole” that he took the profession seriously. He always relied on positivity throughout all of the criticisms he received when he first began costume designing for Gossip Girl.”There always someone criticizing you,” Daman said. “You just got to stay positive and learn from it.”

The panel advised students to be thoughtful about a design sensibility, process and direction, which will make it easier to balance with the commercial aspects of the industry. All agreed that passion and determination are the keys to success.“If you can’t put in the work, if you’re not passionate about it, if you don’t want to give yourself over completely – especially in fashion, then it’s not the best thing, “ said Chai.

They also recommended students become fluent in more than one aspect of fashion and get familiar with different types of media, which can be beneficial since all are a part of branding.”I like juggling a million things at once,” said Zee. “I do a combination of everything, so everyday isn't the same. It's interesting because [all aspects of media] meld and feed into one another.”

Because of this, the panel focused on the importance of internships to the fashion undergrads. Chai attributed his success to the apprenticeships he had in order to learn and respect the craft, starting with his first internship with Geoffrey Bean. “We used to call him Mr. Bean at the studio, “ he said. “I was hired by Alber Elbaz, the creative director of Lanvin, and it was an influential start to my career. It really formed so much of how I think and what my thought process was and is. It’s why I talked so much about these internships.”

Want to intern for these fashion forces? Here's what they look for in potential internship candidates:

• Someone who is smart, detailed-oriented and passionate; someone who can jump in and take hold
• Every experience can relate to something else regardless of professional background
• Believe in what you do and let it come through in your cover letter and interview
• Don’t have a lengthy formatted cover letter. Make it a personal, short paragraph about yourself

• Looking for raw talent and personality
• Don’t get hung up on labels like “for school credit,” each internship can lead somewhere.
• Keep resumes simple on white paper and have some experience through school or work on your own
• Absorb information during an internship, it’s invaluable

• Put yourself out there even if it’s for an unpaid internship
• Just send a cover letter and resume. Don’t send your portfolio unless asked
• Express conviction about your passion in your interviews and stand behind them
• Have grace and be polite in interviews

To get involved in the national VitaminWater Color Collection Competition and win the chance to have your t-shirt design sold alongside t-shirt designs from 6 CFDA designers, submit your portfolio at the VitaminWater Facebook Page.