Commander in Chic - Rena Sussman at Fashion Institute of Technology

A couple weeks ago, I stood in front of the next generation of textile designers at one of NYC’s top design schools: The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to talk textiles and, simply, paint. One thing I'd like to share here: I have public speaking on my intention board for 2018. Again. It was also on my board for 2017. I have a fear of speaking publicly.... I was asked via email by my long time colleague, and real mentor, Ms. Rena Sussman - and I had said yes before I could even allow myself to say "No, thank you." She mentioned the textiles department was focusing a lot on digital design, and that it would be good if I came to share my magic and textiles that the students needed to see. How could I not report for duty? I’ll tell her later that I need to not be wearing shoes in order to paint.

F.I.T Cute Trivia Alert! Ms. Rena is also a graduate of this iconic institution - and so are her mom and dad! In fact, they met there! It's a 2nd generation Love Story situation. She is in the Textile Department but I think really her specialty is Dream Chasing.

AS: Ms. Rena, what do you do here?

RS: I am an adjunct associate professor. This is my thirty-second year. 

AS: Wow! So you started when you were seven?

RS: Before I was born... My parents actually met here.

AS: That's so cute- what do you mean?

RS: They both were attending college here.

AS: At FIT?

RS: My mother saw my father and ran after him.

AS: What were they studying? 

RS: My father was studying merchandising in menswear and my mother was a fashion designer. 

AS: What a New York story! So you're the child of an FIT love story. How do we know each other?

RS: I actually read an article about you in the New York Times when you were Best Bet.

AS: That's a long time ago- that was in 2004. 

RS: And I was so intrigued by what you were doing. First of all, what you were doing aesthetically was so beautiful and so unconventional for that time. I just thought I needed to meet you and have a student do an internship with you, because it was so outside the traditional box. 

AS: We've been orbiting around together for a very long time. In my world, you would be one of my mentors, because you are a teacher and you're in the industry. Do you travel?

RS: Yes, I just came back from Paris.

AS: What are your must-haves as a girlboss traveler, and what do you keep in your bag- for sure what do you gotta have to survive?

RS: Anti-bacterial wipes. Lip balm. I need a pen and paper to doodle and write with. A metro card. I have to have some singles- dollar bills.

Ms. Rena Sussan introduces me to her class. 

AS: Do you believe in magic? 

RS: Yes.

AS: And how do you define magic?

RS: Magic is something that is unintentional but brilliant at the end. 

AS: If you were to give a fellow colleague, or a student or someone you orbit with in your everyday work a compliment, maybe something you admire about them or your felt proud about- what would it be?

RS: Students here are very different than students in regular academia situations. A lot of them have a lot of self doubt about their creativity. It's about inspiring them to realize their potential. I'm constantly trying to do that and motivate them, and make them believe they can do anything.

AS: That's really beautiful. So wise. I wish I had a teacher like that- I DO have a teacher like that. What is your spirit animal?

RS: Oh my God. My spirit animal would be my dog Sadie. 

AS: Excellent! What kind of a dog is she? 

RS: She's a Chinese crested powder puff. You know those hairless dogs? 

AS: Yes. 

RS: Well, mine has hair and she is...quite beautiful. Here, that's Sadie.

[She shows me a picture of the cutest dog.]

AS: Oh my gosh- she's completely beautiful. 

RS: She has the heart and the soul of a beautiful person. 

AS: That's so wonderful. 

RS: She really is truly my grandmother, and she's named after my grandmother. 

AS: That's so cute. And if you were to gift someone a random act of kindness as gratitude toward them, who would it be and why?

RS: My student Alexis. 

AS: Was she here today?

RS: Yes, she was. She's just an amazing young woman. She has such a positive light within her when it might have not been shown. 

AS: Thank you for having me here at FIT. I really enjoyed myself. 

RS: It's really been an honor. 

While there I promised to come back and do a workshop with the Textiles Club. I think I may be an honorary member now - yay!

There is one member of the Textiles Club in particular that I wanted to share with you. She has so much light in her and I have gotten to know her quite well. Ms. Masami Morimoto stands out in a crowd. She is not your everyday student at FIT - something sets her apart. She made the decision to go back to school and augment her design work with computer skills. In fact, she's been creating, designing and making magic for a long time. Her husband's work in the UN first brought them to Vienna and now, living in NYC, she pulls inspiration from NY's urban geometry.

Ms. Masami shared with me examples of her gorgeous scarves and ink paintings.

AS: We're like sisters in the world! What originally got you started in your textile work and design?

MM: I've always loved colors and design. Nature is my thing. But not just painting- I really love calligraphy. So the ink painting is a part of the UN showcase that I had. I like to incorporate it with the textile world.

AS: These are beautiful. Let me ask, as a creative, what do you always carry in your bag or like to have with you to keep you inspired?

MM: A sketchbook and camera.

AS: If you had a magical power that applied to textiles and could help you in any way what would it be?

MM: I think it would be seeing and understanding nature: falling leaves, that can go into the actual design, spring blooming flowers.

AS: If money and time were of no concern- how would you use your creative powers to do good in the world?

MM: I really would like to share a joy of my music and ink painting with others, especially kids. Seeing kids' paintings are just fantastic.  I would like to have ink painting workshops, especially those kids with no chance to get to paint much. Ink painting is simple, fun and gives peace of mind. And through the workshops, I hope people get to know each other and become friends. I hope these friends' circles will get bigger and the world will be a much more friendly and happier place to be!

AS: Do you believe in magic? What does that look or feel like to you?

MM: I do believe in magic. I believe magic will happen if and when you put your mind to it. I really liked your comment, "Be fearless and do things together. We cannot do it alone. People help each other."

The students were so delightful, eyes full of sparkle, hearts full of fire. I’m rooting for each and every one of you!

xox aviva


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