Tommy Fazio has had a long career on the business side of fashion, working Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Bergdorf Goodman before joining rising men’s fashion brand Simon Spurr as the label’s first President in 2009. We talked with Fazio about how he got his start in fashion, his mentors and what he looks for when he hires.
What was your first job in fashion?
When I was high school I went to work at a store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Station Square mall called Constables of Bermuda that only sold Icelandic sweaters. When I was in college at UCLA, I started working at a contemporary clothing store called InWear Matinique in the Beverly Center. That’s when I really realized I wanted to work in fashion and that I was good at it. I started working visually with product, which I realized was my thing. I got a lot of positive feedback on the way the men’s section looked like when I organized it. People were asking me to dress them. It made me realize -- this could be my career.
How did your career evolve from there?
From there I began working with Lorenzo Russell at Diesel Jeans. That’s where I really got my big break. Then I joined Donna Karan and launched DKNY Men’s. Donna really taught me how to translate fashion into something that is sellable. I learned how to merchandise and build a contemporary collection from the ground up from that experience. I then joined Calvin Klein to work on the men's collection. It was the 1990s and he was doing modernism, which was so fresh compared to what other American designers were doing at the time. I learned how to grow a men’s brand on an international level. After that, I took a sabbatical, and from there I launched Little Hickey, a brand for Hickey Freeman. It was contemporary label with a fun 1960s vibe. It was a great success and I had a lot of fun doing it. Then Jim Gold, who was then the CEO of Bergdorf Goodman [Gold is now the President of Neiman Marcus], brought me on as Men’s Fashion Director to re-brand the men’s store. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of up-and-coming designers, helping them to launch their brands. I got to reposition the store in a compelling way. I worked with Simon [Spurr] while there and his jeans quickly became bestsellers at the store. After five years working at Bergdorf Goodman I joined Simon Spurr as President, tasked with making the business a global one.
What made you take that risk, going from Bergdorf Goodman to work for a small growing company?
I saw it as a leap of faith, but a leap of faith that I had a lot of confidence in. Simon has similar qualities to Calvin Klein -- he has a really strong identity and a strong product. Not a lot of designers have both. Working at Simon Spurr really allows me to use all of the components I have learned throughout my career -- from working on the floor to globalizing a brand. It’s a challenge, but an exciting one.
Who do you consider your mentors and what have you learned from them?
I have two that stand out -- Calvin Klein and Jim Gold. Calvin Klein really taught me the importance of being persistent and consistent when it comes to branding. Jim Gold always told me that you never know if something is going to work until you take a chance. I admire that he is able to lead such a big business on instinct.
You don’t have an MBA, do you think that’s had an impact on your career?
I think MBAs are great, but I have been working in the trenches for 25-years. That’s been my MBA. But I do think the MBA process is a good one. I have been really lucky that I have been able to work my way up. I think it's harder to do now than it used to be.
What qualities do you look for when you are hiring?
I look for really specialized people that are the best at what they do. If you are a denim designer I want you to be the best denim designer. Also I look for people that are really articulate and communicative. I like really smart and creative people. I also want to be challenged. I don’t want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ people.
How has the business changed from when you started?
Everything is so much faster. Social media has given this great tangibility to fashion. Everything is instantaneous. When I first started working we were tele-faxing. Now you can tweet something and share it with the world in a moment.
What are some misconceptions about what it takes to succeed in fashion?
I think people think that fashion is candy and glamour -- and that's true to an extent, it can certainly be a lot of fun. But you have to passionate and you have to get in the trenches to succeed. It’s an incredibly competitive business. You have to constantly think about producing newness and keeping up with innovation. It’s not easy.
What advice would you give to those looking for a career on the business side of fashion?
I would tell them it’s an extraordinary career. To stay level-headed. To keep their ears open. To trust their instincts and to just run with opportunities.