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Students learn from designer Cole in NY

Anna Boarini | Friday, February 18, 2011

High fashion encountered high education two weeks ago in New York City, when a group of Notre Dame students met fashion maven Kenneth Cole to receive a project assignment for Advanced Product Research, an industrial design course at Notre Dame.

Professor Ann-Marie Conrado said the class, which is offered to junior and senior industrial design students, is meant to present real-world challenges on projects co-developed and monitored by an outside corporate manufacturer. Kenneth Cole Productions and its exclusive luggage manufacturer, Heritage Travelware, are the sponsors for this spring’s course, she said.

Conrado said students will investigate how luggage usage and needs have changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They will respond to these changes with design concepts.

“Basically we are going to adjust the luggage and come up with new and different ways to incorporate [Cole’s] style,” junior Ryan Geraghty said.

Senior John Traub said the students are coming up with profiles of who they believe a Kenneth Cole client is.

“By coming up with a person who will use this luggage, it gives you a sense of who you are designing for,” he said. “Very rarely do you design for yourself.”

Notre Dame MBA students Brent Schavitz and Byron Kern will advise the class throughout the process.

“We are really acting as advisors to the designers from the business perspective,” Schavitz said. “At some point this is a real product that has to sell.”

Kern said his background in graphic design has proved to be helpful.

“Because there is a fair amount of overlap between ID and graphic design, I can kind of speak their language,” he said.

While in New York, the students visited Cole’s design studio, as well as one of his stores and the luggage floor at Macy’s.

“The environment of the studio and the people were what I liked the most,” senior Lauren Maddox said. “It made me more comfortable meeting the designers and knowing that they wanted to hear what we had to say.”

Schavitz said the studio was accommodating to the students, who were shown color pallets and trend forecasts for the Spring 2012 season. 

“They really did show us a lot more than I thought they would,” Schavitz said. “We were really able to capture the essence of their brand and glimpse at how they work.”

Traub said visiting the store helped him understand the typical Kenneth Cole client. 

“Having your own store is an excellent way to show your identity,” Traub said. “It was nice to see the vision transition from studio to store.”

During a presentation on the project, Cole made a surprise appearance, fielding questions on style and his career.

“He told us to keep his style in mind and the products that he designs, as well as others, when we are coming up with ideas,” Geraghty said.

Maddox said his favorite part was Cole describing how he got started in the industry.

“He tried to sell shoes in Times Square, but he was told to stop,” she said. “The only people that were allowed to operate in Times Square are film crews, so he made a documentary about selling women’s shoes and renamed his company Kenneth Cole Productions.”

Designs will be reviewed at the end of the semester, and the winning design will be prototyped in China. Geraghty said all the students are excited about the fact their design could be manufactured. 

“This isn’t all conceptual,” he said. “It’s going to be the real thing. It’s going to be made. That’s just really cool.”