Paul Smith Partners With The CFDA To Mentor Emerging Menswear Designers In North America

Paul Smith and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) have partnered in an initiative that gives back to underrepresented emerging menswear designers in North America.

Paul Smith Partners With The CFDA To Mentor Emerging Menswear Designers In North America

Sir Paul Smith, one of Britain's and the world's renowned fashion designers skilled in tailoring.Photo Courtesy of Paul Smith Paul Smith and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) have partnered in an initiative that gives back to underrepresented emerging menswear designers in North America. Through his foundation, Sir Paul Smith has chosen to give back, which will give a designer, in this case two, the opportunity to be mentored and have access to business contacts. This is Smith's foundations' second reprise of '&PaulSmith.' The first designer he mentored and worked with was Priya Ahluwalia, a designer that strongly focuses on sustainable fashion. If you've had a chance to sit in Smith's presence, you know he's incredibly down-to-earth and kind to the people he encounters, which can feel like a rarity in the industry. But for him, it was a no-brainer to partner with the CFDA. 'October 2020 marked my 50th anniversary and to coincide I launched Paul Smith's Foundation. The goal of my Foundation is to give helpful advice to young, creative people and as part of this mission I started an initiative called '&PaulSmith'. The initiative sees me partner with a young creative to help them take their business to the next level. The first partner was a London-based fashion designer named Priya Ahluwalia. Together, we launched a collaborative collection earlier this year. For the second, I wanted to shift focus to North America and of course couldn't think of a better organization to help me than CFDA.'

Steven Kolb, The President of the CFDA.Photo Courtesy of the CFDA. Steven Kolb is known for his championing of designers, especially emerging talent as CFDA's president. He's also respected as a force behind New York Fashion Week. It was also a no-brainer for Kolb to partner with Smith.' After a first collaboration of the &PaulSmith initiative in the UK, Sir Paul Smith and his team sought counsel from the CFDA to identify the next emerging talent for the second iteration,' says Kolb. 'We saw true value across both of our organizations to synergize and create maximum impact. The CFDA was inspired to develop a formal partnership with Paul Smith and help identify a US-based menswear brand helmed by designers from underrepresented communities to marry American ingenuity with an English sensibility, celebrate generational differences, and pair an emerging brand with an iconic one. The intention is to turn this into a global and powerful teaching moment which challenges design thinking in new and different ways, as well as nurture and cement the skill and talent of our American designers and elevate the importance of the North American menswear market and consumers.' It's easy to care about issues but Smith is taking a real vested interest in this project. His foundation, The Paul Smith Foundation has made a donation to the CFDA to honor this project. You can say, he's guiding the foundation and putting its money where its mouth is. The designers he will be mentoring in this second reprisal are Dylan Cao and Jin Kay from Commission. They will receive grant money and other key resources to elevate their design profile. The duo were sourced CFDA's community of designers after an internal committee presented their shortlist of candidates by private referral. Both Smith and Kolb care about and understand the need for underrepresented communities to have access to the same resources as represented individuals.' Fashion reflects society and the times we live in. Historically, it has been difficult for minority creatives to be seen, and the CFDA is committed to challenging these systems by giving voice and opportunity to those who are overlooked through our programs,' explains Kolb. 'For example, New York Fashion Week (NYFW) boasts the most diverse schedule of designers on a global scale, with over 30 percent of brands listed last season being designers of color. 80 percent of our student scholarships this year went to students from underrepresented communities, and our Designers Hub program and IMPACT initiative specifically mentor, connect and support Black and brown designers.'

Echoing in Smith states, 'access to creative opportunities and education is so limited for many people. I grew up in a part of England without an immediate or obvious link to creativity and never received any formal training in design, but still I managed to find myself doing the job I do today. Via my Foundation I want to be able to give more young people the opportunity to access this brilliant world of creativity.'

'Programs like these, including this collaboration with &PaulSmith, are needed to open the pipeline of opportunity. We recognize the purchasing power of underrepresented communities and their equal importance and role in growing our economy. The more distinct voices within our industry, the greater our collective power,' continues Kolb. 'Dylan Cao and Jin Kay, founders of Commission.Photo Courtesy of the CFDA.

Commission is a 4-year-old brand that aims to deconstruct the visual language of East Asian culture, seeking to create pieces that go beyond Asian motifs. Cao and Kay create modern pieces that are a reminder of their parents' working wardrobes from the 90s in Vietnam and South Korea.

Smith is going to have fun with this duo, as he draws enlightenment from those he mentors. With fifty-two years of having the Paul Smith brand under his belt, which includes 130 stores and counting in over sixty countries, his wealth of knowledge, his trials and errors, his highs and success will be insurmountable wealth to Cao and Kay. His motive and what he's looking to get out of the project is simple: 'friendship, conversation and a mutual exchange is what I hope to accomplish,' says Smith.

'In the initiative's first partnership with Priya it was a really brilliant two-way relationship and I'm sure it will be much the same with Dylan and Jin from Commission. I hope I was able to give Priya some meaningful help in developing her business at a critical stage and she certainly gave me an enormous amount of inspiration and enlightened me in the amazing work she does around sustainability and how central it is to her collections. It would be great to have that same meaningful, mutual relationship with this new chapter of the initiative.'

Kolb is also excited to see the result of the mentorship. 'CFDA's hope is to be a real-life example of the power of globalization and partnership across communities, markets and regions, and to inspire others to support the new generation,' he says. 'Any opportunity to provide greater visibility and growth for homegrown talent on an international stage is a great thing for us. Sir Paul Smith is one of the most respected menswear designers, and to allow our emerging talent to work with someone with so much knowledge and expertise is the return. This partnership has to do with legacy, and we are proud to match make iconic brands with the new guard and help them find their way.'

The Foundation's donation will also support CFDA programming that include the IMPACT initiative, Designers Hub, and Fashion Future Graduate Showcase. The former specifically supports black and brown creatives and professionals in fashion, while the latter gives graduating students visibility.

As Priya Ahluwalia collection was unveiled in April of this year, Cao and Kay's collection under the &PaulSmith mentorship will be unveiled during the AW23 season and sole on, in Paul Smith retail locations, and exclusively with SSENSE. 'We look forward to seeing this entire process come to life, from the development to the release, celebrating the collection launch, and ultimately, how the consumer responds to this,' concludes Kolb.