Written by Zijun Shi
“I am taking a course this semester, and it’s great so far!” said my friend. “What course?” I asked. “Fashion Publishing, PAFM 1121 by Rebecca N. Suhrawardi,” she replied. That was how I got to know about this course.
I registered immediately having the thought it would be a more fun version of a critical writing class. But I was wrong. It is much more than a typical writing class than I expected. Suhrawardi transforms a college course into a micro-version of the fashion publication industry, unconventionally arranging the class with an in-depth fashion news discussion at the start, followed usually by guest speakers—leaders in the world of fashion publishing—and then after a lesson, the class is given time to work on their final group projects, a full-fledged publication replete with a fashion editorial, features, and digital strategy.
It lacks the typical grammar practice or education on texts for students to finish like a duty. Rather, knowledge is gained through tactful writing assignments, students having to complete an assignment each week representing different facets of publishing—from features to show reviews. And students are encouraged to write on personally interesting topics. “Writing is not something that can necessarily be taught, improvement happens with practice,” Suhrawardi often says in class.
Speakers are brought in to represent different areas of the publishing business. Christene Barberich, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29, one of the most highly trafficked lifestyle sites on the web at 25 million unique visitors per month, was brought in to represent digital publishing. Hitha Prabakhar, a retail analyst and author with her own live, nightly show on FOX Business, represented broadcast journalism. Horacio Silva, the former Fashion Editor of The New York Times and Fashion Director of Departures, the publication distributed by American Express to their Platinum card (and above) holders, represented the Fashion Director’s role in publishing. Meeting such quintessential characters from the fashion industry, in person, and listening to their real-world experiences and lessons—ranging from business operation to evolution of fashion journalism—only grows student passion for the course and the business.
The class takes place on Tuesdays at 9:00 am and students excitedly engage with the lesson. “This is the only morning class that I am willing to have otherwise I would sleep through all the morning courses that I register for.” says Lily Chou, a Strategic Design and Management major from Sichuan, China.
Through the discussion on latest fashion news, students improve their critical thinking about fashion, while keeping up-to-date on industry happenings. It’s a pragmatic method mirroring the industry, as fashion editors or journalists need to be exposed to the latest news and events, and it’s helpful to develop such a practical habit of getting oneself refreshed every other moment.
The most recent guest speaker, Brian Krauss, is the founder of IPATH, a lifestyle footwear and apparel company whose roots are born in skateboarding lifestyle. He later sold IPATH to footwear giant Timberland, who then hired him as a division President. Currently, he is President of Macbeth, a music driven footwear & apparel brand founded by Tom DeLonge of the popular rock band Blink182. He shared with us his exceptional experience on the importance of articulation on brand image; how he discovered his niche market and the manipulation of customer psychology.
Krauss’s role in speaking to the class was to represent the brand-side of fashion, and its relation to the publishing industry. “Courses like this open the door to general writing skills for the industry which are crucial for aspects of the business like public relations, press releases and building the brand profile to help us market the collection each season,” he says in a post-class interview. “I absolutely enjoyed being a guest speaker for this class. The kids asked very good questions, and I learned as much as I gave,” Krauss revealed.
Besides all these, Suhrawardi is an experienced fashion journalist—a Contributing Editor to VOGUE Russia and Style.com (Arabia) among others, she has been on staff at ELLE.com, Interview Magazine and studied at Central Saint Martins. She is very well- acquainted with the industry and willing to help students with advice on their future careers and presents internship opportunities at places like Harper’s Bazaar.
The next guest speaker, Vanessa Freidman, is set to attend class next week. Friedman will speak on fashion critique and the newspaper industry, as she is the Chief Critic and Fashion Director of The New York Times.
Passion is always the premise of learning, and Fashion Publishing is a comprehensive and practical course, which introduces student to the realness of the industry and promotes their writing skills in a passion-dominated way.
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