Yale alums design careers

Passion for fashion? Getting a degree from Yale and working in the fashion industry is anything but a cliché. Certainly, our liberal art focused institution makes no “It-bag” entrance in terms of preparation for sartorial pursuits. But three alumni currently in the industry have found ways to, in the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, “make it work.”

For Giulia Stockel ’03, a senior designer at Tibi, fashion was more than simply liking clothes, but what was behind the process of making them.

Growing up riding horses in Rome, Stockel entered Yale as an MCDB major, with the aspiration of being a veterinarian surgeon. Second semester of junior year, however, she switched her major to history and interned for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney on Capitol Hill the following summer. With law school in mind, Stockel worked for paralegal and litigation law firms after graduation.

Although she thought the legal experience was “a good one,” Stockel compared it to living life in black and white. During work one day, her Wizard of Oz/technicolor moment materialized. Looking around her desk and seeing all the clippings of fashion sketches, photos and fabrics, she said that she needed to go into fashion.

“It was one of those ‘If I didn’t try it out, then I’ll regret it for the rest of my life’ moments,” she said.

Farrah Dodes ’99 also experienced a similar awakening.

A former music major, Dodes became disenchanted with the singer-songwriter world after graduation and grew more enamored with pursing her long romance with fashion. Despite learning to sew at the age of 12, Dodes had always thought of design as something to do on the side and was hesitant to step into the industry.

“I was also a little afraid that if I worked in fashion, it would kill my joy in it,” she said.

Encouraged by her screenwriter college sweetheart — and now husband — Zachary Dodes ’99, Dodes enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising when the couple moved to Los Angeles, Calif. Immediately after graduation, she worked in the knitwear department at the BCBG headquarters in LA.

Likewise, Stockel also enrolled design school to build a fashion design foundation. In 2006, she began her two-year study at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, a school that has graduated the likes of Domenico Dolce and Franco Moschino.

“What Yale does to you is make you want to learn from the best and push yourself to be the best,” Stockel said.

Said and done — Stockel’s first job after design school was with Dolce and Gabbana before moving on to Valentino and Celine. But attending additional schooling is not always a necessity for entrance into the fashion industry.

Former Whiffenpoof and art history major, Court Williams ’03 began at Liz Claiborne in product development after a close friend left for grad school, effectively opening a spot for him.

Although the stint at Claiborne was not entirely preparatory for his next job working for Condé Nast, it was instrumental in introducing him to the inner workings and people of the industry. Like a stepping stone, the job led him to his position as a fashion editor at Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine before co-founding Kess Agency to represent stylists, photographers, and hair and make-up artists.

Working in the fashion industry is not all glitter and glamour. (Think “The Devil Wears Prada,” but real.)

On his first day working at Condé Nast about five years ago, Williams wore a plaid shirt — a trend that was only emerging in designer fashion at the time.

“So is this your ode to ‘Brokeback Mountain’?” his boss said to him, complete with a finger-wagging point.

Large personas abound in the fashion industry and many can come off as judgmental. However, Williams said that he believes the comments are made more as constructive criticism.

“If you are to work in the industry, you’re going to need to look like you care,” he stressed.

Detailed grasp of certain fashion terminology is a must, Stockel said, quoting Andy Sach’s struggle to differentiate turquoise from cerulean blue.

But even if no technical fashion skills are taught during the Bright College Years, all designers interviewed agreed that Yale gave them ambition and perseverence in the form of intellectual curiousity.

So, that’s the tip. Yalies interested in fashion are meant to pack up a set of unmarketable skills and hold on to them until acquiring tangible expertise. G-luck!

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