Empire State of Mind

March 30, 2018

Home to some of the largest and most important clothing designers and retailers in the world, New York City looms large in the imagination of any design student. This year, 17 retail merchandising and apparel design students had the chance to spend their spring break in the city that never sleeps and get a behind the scenes look at some of the biggest retailers in the world.

Accompanied by Assistant Professor Dave Loranger (Retail Merchandising) and Professor Elizabeth Bye (Apparel Design) the students visited both wholesale and retail establishments, including iconic firms like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, the trend service WGSN, the luxury retailer Hermès, and Bergdorf Goodman. Students share their thoughts and favorite parts of the trip in this post.

Ally Condon (Retail Merchandising)

There is no feeling that compares to getting off the subway and entering the bustling city of New York. Especially when you don’t know where you’re going, or what to expect. On our way to Calvin Klein, I was amazed by the six floor-to-ceiling window treatments of yellow stained glass. It was unrecognizable. As I entered the store, I was shocked (again) to find the windows weren’t yellow, but that the entire interior of the store was! In my head, I had pictured a white, clean, Americana styled store, but I was pleasantly surprised with their rebranding. I loved hearing about the symbolism behind the design changes, however, I can imagine this shock of color could be a little too much for loyal customers who value the traditional Calvin Klein look. For a first timer like myself though, I was impressed.

Lauren Faust (Retail Merchandising)

This is a total cliche, but I’m one of those girls who is in love with the fashion industry and everything about it. The streets of New York have always been a huge inspiration to designers all over the world because trends continuously evolve in this urban area. As a study group, we had the amazing opportunity to go to a major trend forecasting firm called WGSN, which stands for Worth Global Style Network. We got to talk to employees who were super knowledgeable about the industry and they gave an overview of the trend forecasting world. They also discussed how they find trends and analyze them. Their entire presentation captivated me because of their intricate analyzation process and extensive research on trends across the globe.

Megan Feldt (Retail Merchandising)

The week I spent in NYC was the best week I’ve had in a long time. Going into this trip, I wasn’t sure if I was on the right journey, having transferred this past spring to the U and still trying to meet people and establish a home in Minneapolis. I went on this trip knowing two people, and ready to broaden my horizons and expand my circle of friends. What I walked away with was a sense of belonging, new friendships, and more faith in my journey. I think for me, the best part of this trip was discovering who I am and what I want to do with my life post-graduation. For anyone struggling with where they’re at in their college journey: don’t ever give up. Do whatever you can to find your inspiration and find the fire to keep going. This trip was my fire, my inspiration, and I can’t wait to watch what unfolds.

Abby Gardner (Apparel Design)

Hermès was hands down my favorite professional appointment during the trip! We arrived just after the store opened and were greeted by many salespeople who were all so inviting towards us. The store itself was very beautiful and had a wide spiraling staircase in the center connecting to all four floors. Each floor was organized by merchandise. Since our group was so big, we were divided into smaller groups with one of the sales associates to take us around the store. They were all so polite and were very thorough when showing us the merchandise. My tour guide took our group into a private showroom so that we could see one of their most exclusive purses! They are so exclusive that customers will be on a waiting list for years before being given the option to purchase it. He showed us two of their most famous purses; the first one was $10,000 and the second one was $17,000! Crazy, right?

Sandra Guenther (Apparel Design)

One of our stops on the NYC trip was a tour of the Bergdorf Goodman men’s store. It was a very thorough tour and I learned a lot about luxury retail that I didn’t know before. We learned about tailoring men’s suits and that celebrities like the Jonas Brothers had visited the store. One of my favorite parts was checking out the special line of clothes inspired by Iris Apfel at the women’s store. The clothes were beautiful. My favorite was a top that looked kind of like a kimono, and was made of a dark teal silk fabric. I had never even been inside a luxury store before this experience, so it was a very new and exciting. It was also great to be able to see and touch really well-made clothing, and see what makes it of such high quality.

Ian Harris (Apparel Design)

The NYC trip was amazing and we went to some pretty incredible professional appointments, from Nili Lotan to WGSN to Preview Textiles to the Calvin Klein Flagship store. However, my personal favorite appointment was Professor Loranger’s tour of Bergdorf-Goodman. I was very excited to visit Bergdorf-Goodman’s main women’s store because the window displays were honoring Iris Apfel who has special displays on the third floor to coincide with her new book Accidental Icon: Musings of a Geriatric Starlet. I have been a fan of Iris’s for some time now and who should we see on the third floor of the store but Iris Apfel herself sitting in a wheelchair, giving direction to a Bergdorf’s worker about one of her displays! I full on started freaking out because I was so starstruck. We were able to take a picture together and I had the chance to tell her how much she means to me.

Maria Heinen (Retail Merchandising)

Though I absolutely adored all of the appointments I attended, one that stood out from the rest was our visit to M&S Schmalberg Custom Fabric Flowers. This company was started in 1916 by the two Schmalberg brothers, who passed the company down to their nephew, who then passed it down to his two children, Warren and Deborah Brand. Warren’s son now helps out with the store and was the one who gave us a tour of the shop. Besides the fact that this company has been running for over 100 years, the most remarkable part of this establishment is that each flower is handmade. The walls of this workplace are covered with fabric flowers, some leather, some jewel-encrusted, some teeny, some large. M&S create flowers for anything a customer could want – for wedding dresses, flower crowns, bouquets, etc. All a customer needs to do is decide what she wants. It is truly incredible.

Hannah Hyytinen (Retail Merchandising)

Our first, and by far my favorite professional appointment, was with the designer brand, Nili Lotan. Prior to being in this class, I had never heard of Nili or her personal label. Nili Lotan is an Israeli-American Fashion designer. She was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Air Force for two years. In the 1980s, she moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion design. In 2003 she launched her own collection “Nili Lotan.” Some of the well-known celebrities who wear her brand include Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Martha Stewart, and Gwyneth Paltrow. In addition to telling us about Nili Lotan and how things are done within the business/brand, our tour guides gave us some advice on how to make it in the fashion industry and in a professional career in general.

Jahanvi Kamra (Apparel Design)

Even though I am an apparel design major, WGSN, a trend forecasting company, was quite appealing to me. It was really nice talking to the people working there, we got to hear about their jobs and what they do. A fun fact they told us was that their boss actually predicted athleisure becoming a huge trend and that nobody took her seriously till it actually happened and took over a lot of people’s daily fashion. The people who worked there seemed to have a lot of fun and said that they genuinely looked forward to coming to work. My favorite part of the office has to be the environment there. The whole place was so colorful with neon lights and graffiti walls, that it made me like the place a lot more overall!

Abbie Meschke (Retail Merchandising)

I was a little nervous while taking the subway to our first appointment. We were going to the Nili Lotan studio where she designs great, quality pieces for working women and I was a little intimidated. I had never been to a designer’s studio before and did not know what to expect. When we walked in the door, my anxiety instantly turned into intrigue as our tour guides greeted us. The studio was all white walls with hardwood floors. Very minimalistic and simplistic yet cozy. The room was surrounded by clothing racks that were filled with Nili’s past works and vintage pieces that inspired the designer. This experience was so incredible and gave me really great insight into the fashion world.

Mia Minnema (Apparel Design)

My favorite visit was to the Nili Lotan store. Nili Lotan, an Israeli designer, founded the company in 2004. The first Nili Lotan retail store opened in 2006. The newest Nili Lotan retail store just opened this March on Madison Avenue. Nili Lotan has a target market of a working woman from ages 35-50. However, one of the speakers, Ally, mentioned that Nili Lotan is starting to attract a younger audience. During our tour of the Nili Lotan store, we were able to see some of the clothing, meet a large number of the employees, and see the workspace that was created in the basement of the store. Visiting the Nili Lotan store was very inspiring for me, and I felt that I was able to relate to Nili’s style and aesthetic in several ways. Overall, I am very thankful that we were given the opportunity to visit the store and to hear about Nili’s journey.

Sydney Monsour (Retail Merchandising)

I was so excited to see the extensive list of the appointments we would attend on this trip. From Peerless Clothing to Calvin Klein, each appointment illuminated a different aspect of the fashion industry. But my favorite out of all of these appointments was our visit to the Hermès Flagship store. The minute you step into the store, you are welcomed by the staff and are exposed to a giant, winding staircase in the middle of the floor. Because we were part of the trip, we were able to go on a more detailed tour of Hermès, which included details on how the company got started. Along with the company’s background, we also got a look into the little details that went into creating the merchandise of the store. The conclusion of the tour was held at the bottom floor of the store, where the handbags and smaller leather goods were located. It was there where we got to go into the viewing room and actually got to hold a Birkin and a Kelly bag! Overall, this trip provided so many unique opportunities, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to attend.

Elizabeth Pagel (Retail Merchandising)

When I first heard about the NYC trip, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. I had never been to NYC and I thought that a structured professional trip would be a good first experience. I was right. It was a well planned and well-rounded trip and experience. It was the perfect balance of learning and exploring. It may not have been the typical spring break that everyone imagines but I learned more about the retail industry in five days than I have my whole life. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Being a transfer student, I don’t have an abundant amount of school friends and so I was hopeful that this trip would help me out in that area. I was surprised to learn that almost all of the other students on the trip were in the same boat as me – some didn’t know anyone on the trip, some only knew one person, and some knew a few. But I went on the trip with one friend there and left with 15 new ones.

Caroline Tracy (Retail Merchandising)

This specific trip has been my favorite visit to NYC because I got to combine my two loves—the city and its fashion. I can’t help but feel out of place sometimes when the only designers I can afford are the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein lines at Urban Outfitters, but you can tell that the fashion sense here is eclectic, and people have an appreciation for the great variety of style the streets have to offer. I also couldn’t help but feel inspired by traveling to all the different neighborhoods and seeing the different takes throughout each one. There’s hipster Brooklyn, grunge Williamsburg, posh Soho, hippie Greenwich village, the list goes on. There is no end to the amount of style envy I experienced throughout the trip, and I can’t help but believe I am in the fashion mecca of the world.

Madison Tracy (Retail Merchandising)

My favorite professional appointment was visiting Calvin Klein. There were three people who lead the tour of the store for us, and it was fascinating to listen to them talk about the history and future of the brand—I think they truly knew just about everything about the brand. Calvin Klein’s previous designer created a minimalistic style; however, their new designer, Raf Simons, has totally rebranded the company to focus largely on attracting a younger customer. Calvin Klein wants all of their apparel to be functional and easy to wear every day and when going out for a special occasion. It was so cool to see how many variations one item can turn into by removing and adjusting certain aspects of it. The whole experience showed how much planning and inspiration goes into a line of clothing, and I learned a lot of things about what to consider when creating and reforming a brand image.

Hannah Weas (Retail Merchandising)

I was unsure what to expect from this trip. I had been to New York before. I had even toyed with the idea of living there one day, but my dream was contaminated with Sex in the City-esque unattainable goals and an inherent fear of change. However, this trip put every one of those fears to rest. There is something magical about driving into the city from the airport and seeing its vastness. The bus ride into the city was absolutely silent as every one of us were in awe of the beauty and mystery of the tall buildings and foreign landscape. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were eager to explore. Through all of the appointments and meetings, the world of New York began to unfold itself. With this new found confidence and need to explore I set out to find my own New York.

Ashley York (Retail Merchandising)

During our trip, a fellow classmate and I went to Kleinfeld bridal to see if we could get an unscheduled tour. Both of us are interested in going entering the bridal field after college, so we were very excited to even see the front lobby. After telling the receptionist our stories, she called up to see if there was anyone willing to give us a tour. We ended up having Kara Brinkmann, executive assistant to the CEO, act as our tour guide! She was very pleasant and open to answering our questions. She showed us the main sales area, dressing rooms, the accessory department, the stockroom, alterations, and steaming and pressing. At the end of the tour, Kara gave us her card as well as the card of Joan Roberts, the Director of Sales, who is also in charge of the internship program. She encouraged us to contact Joan for more information and to CC her on the email. This was an unforgettable experience, and definitely my favorite moment of the trip!

Check out photos from the trip on the College of Design Facebook page.

Photo credit: Ally Condon.

Accompanied by retail merchandising instructors Peggy Lord and Jaye Thompson, students from retail merchandising, apparel design, the College of Liberal Arts, and Carlson School of Management attended the 2019 NRF Foundation Student Program in New York City January 9 through 13.

The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund is an educational non-profit that focuses on creating career opportunities for apparel design students worldwide.

A guest post from landscape architecture student Luke Nichols.