The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) announced Chris Benz, Christian Cota and Rachel Roy as its newest fashion mentors last week. Naturally, we wanted to learn more, so we scheduled an appointment with the program's dean, Michael Fink.
Fink, a former fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue was named dean of SCAD School of Fashion about a year and a half ago. Having settled nicely into his Georgia-based post, he offered us a glimpse into the mentorship process, and the expanding fashion program as a whole.
We have so many interested designers, and from my many years at Saks I have a lot of personal relationships, so it's really an easy process. I just pick up the phone and call them, explain how the program works and this year, they all said yes, without hesitation.
I think they find it interesting because it's not a New York school, and it allows them to experience fashion in a non-New York setting, away from the constant business requirements and manic persona of the city.
What does the mentorship entail?
At the beginning of each academic year, we announce the new round of mentors, and students who wish to participate submit inspiration boards and their first ideas for a collection. We--members of the faculty and I--go through and evaluate the students' level of skills, creativity of their ideas and their concept as an actual collection. We then put forth the best students to the designers, who choose students whose work they connect with most.
Each mentor has seven students in their charge. They come to campus at least twice a quarter--most often, more than that--and email sketches and photographs. It's a constant dialogue from first sketches, through development and the creation of their muslins. It's a very personal, one-on-one experience--really, like a working job interview!
How long has the school held the mentorship program? What has feedback been like?
This is our fifth year of the program, and we've had a wide variety of feedback. It's been great. Students get a true idea of how the real world works, and in several cases, have gone directly into internship positions at the companies of their mentors. Or, they're recommended to other designers and get calls out of the blue from designers.
Last year, we had a student, Maken Imcha, who was mentored by Angel Sanchez. Well, Mr. Sanchez offered her a position to help design his second collection and right after graduation, she packed up and went to work at the company.
What have mentors had to say?
Our mentors have been impressed by the school's state-of-the-art resources, mostly—supplies, equipment, facilities, that kind of thing. They also comment on the tremendous collaborative options available here, because we're an all-encompassing fine arts school. Fashion students can engineer shoe heels with industrial design students, or make their own textiles with those studying textiles--there are so many creative outlets.
You left the NYC retail scene for academia in Georgia. What are your goals for SCAD School of Fashion?
I had spent five years as a guest critic and a general guide for the senior class--telling them what really happens in retail and the reality of the process. And it's so gorgeous down here, so it was really an easy transition. They were creating the SCAD School of Fashion from a department part of a larger program, so I was honored to be asked to be dean.
Our tagline at SCAD is to prepare talented students for professional careers, so that's the goal--and since there are no textbooks on how to do it, we're just constantly trying to be nimble in providing the best knowledge in an ever-changing world.
I still get to go back to NYC frequently—I have the best of both worlds, really. I can go back and look at design, purely for the sake of design—without having to put a price tag on it!