FIT Honors Norma Kamali, Kenneth Cole and LoveShackFancy’s Rebecca Hessel Cohen

Norma Kamali, Kenneth Cole and LoveShackFancy’s Rebecca Hessel Cohen were honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology at its annual awards gala Wednesday night.

Guests at The Glasshouse event in New York City also caught the Future of Fashion runway show, which featured leading looks from the Fashion Design BFA class of 2024. Model and activist Carolyn Murphy served as host at the Macy’s-presented festivities. The annual gathering benefits the FIT Foundation, which supports the next generation of FIT students with programs, initiatives and scholarships. This year’s nearly 400-person turnout raised almost $1 million for the foundation.

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Kamali was the guest of honor as the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni award. The Brooklyn Museum’s senior curator of fashion and material culture Matthew Yokobosky saluted her career and presented the award to her.

Honoring Cole with the Social Impact award, talk show host Tamron Hall informed attendees that a FIT Kenneth Cole Social Impact Award has been established to recognize a student who excels in that area.

Hessel Cohen, LoveShackFancy’s founder and creative director, picked up the Entrepreneurship award from another fashion specialist, Jordan Roth.

The day before Wednesday’s annual celebration, FIT officials had called in the New York City Police Department to clear student protesters and an encampment on its West 27th Street campus.  Pro-Palestinian protesters had first occupied the Goodman lobby of the Museum at FIT, and then established an encampment in the courtyard nearly two weeks ago. In a lengthy statement that was issued on the morning of the gala, FIT’s president Dr. Joyce Brown said the encampment in the school’s courtyard violated the school’s rules and regulations, city codes and FIT’s student code of conduct.

Forty-one protesters were detained and then released by police, and five others were given summonses, according to NYPD.

At Wednesday night’s event, in addition to Brown and other school faculty, guests included B Michael, Victor Glemaud, Zaldy, Mara Hoffman and Frederick Anderson, models and activists Amber Valletta and Candice Huffine, as well as other industry figures like Ken Downing, Constance White, Noah Kozlowski, Fern Mallis and Jean Shafiroff.

According to Yokoboski, Kamali spoke about learning to use a Unix computer in the 1960s when working for an airline and how she recently took an AI class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kamali is teaching AI to learn her design work, which is something that she had addressed in a previous interview with WWD. Kamali told the crowd about her plans to debut a swimwear collection designed with AI in June.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Sophia Martinez during the the FIT Annual Awards Gala and the FIT Future of Fashion Runway Show, presented by Macy's at The Glasshouse on May 08, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
A runway look by Sophia Martinez during the FIT Future of Fashion Runway Show, presented by Macy’s.

Yokobosky told WWD that in honoring Kamali, he highlighted such hits as the red one-piece swimsuit worn by Farrah Fawcett in the iconic 1976 poster of her, the (barely-there) gold outfit Grace Jones donned for a New Year’s Eve performance at Studio 54 in 1977 and how the huge red puffer jacket Rihanna wore to perform at the 2023 Super Bowl was inspired by a sleeping bag coat Kamali had designed for Andre Leon Talley. 

In her acceptance speech, Kamali said, “Determination is more important than even talent, that and the help of the universe and all its pushing and prodding, I am still on my path and the universe is still keeping me in line with my purpose.”

Emphasizing the importance of what students learn before transitioning into the workforce, she said, “How you listen, how you learn, how you study, how you follow instructions, and how you discipline yourself to meet deadlines and reach goals – these are the tools used in the life of everyone [who is] successful in fashion.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 08: A model walks the runway wearing Liora Brainson during the the FIT Annual Awards Gala and the FIT Future of Fashion Runway Show, presented by Macy's at The Glasshouse on May 08, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
A model walks the runway wearing a Liora Brainson design, during the FIT Future of Fashion show that was presented by Macy’s.

Cole, a 40-year-plus industry veteran, spoke of his belief in how fashion can be “a means to not just define how we present ourselves to the world, but also a vehicle to positively impact it.” In his remarks, he described how fashion can be “a powerful, creative way to respectfully and peacefully communicate our commonality as well as our differences.”

LoveShackFancy’s founder Cohen said that her interest in storytelling “led to dreaming, dreaming led to creating and hard work led to an unexpected new business that has brought generations of girls and women together. But working hard is in my DNA – it’s all [that] I have ever wanted to do.”

The Future of Fashion runway show featured 82 designs that drew attention to the work of 73 students from FIT’s class of 2024 Fashion Design BFA program. The runway looks included children’s wear, intimate apparel, knitwear, special occasion, and sportswear, and touched upon the students’ personal stories, as well as themes of sustainability, gender fluidity, and size inclusivity. Collectively, the featured students represent 20 countries, and 21 U.S. states.

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