2012 November 21
La Vie En Ruffian: Back to School with Steven Kolb
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(NEW YORK) They're back! Brian Wolk and Claude Morais of Ruffian return to their side gig as roving reporters for The Daily. The boys recently headed over to the CFDA office for a chat with Steven Kolb to delve into his past and unearth the little nuggets that make fashion's nicest guy tick. Take it away, gentlemen.
"Steven Kolb is the benevolent CEO of the CFDA. From his small town upbringing in Waldwick, New Jersey to his work with extraordinary charities like the American Cancer Society, his kind demeanor and charming wit make him an anomaly in the sometimes-jaded world of fashion. We wanted to get to know the real Steven, so he was kind enough to invite us to the new CFDA headquarters for a chic tête-à-tête in his office overlooking SoHo." —Brian & Claude
How did you dress in high school?
My mother always took me back-to-school shopping when I was a little kid. She instilled in me this idea of getting dressed up for school at an early age. In the fourth grade, I had this awesome orange turtleneck that had brown suede patches on the sleeves. When I went to high school in the late seventies, it was all about Levi's corduroys. I would go to A&S and buy them in every color: burgundy, light blue, navy blue, and tan. I wore them every single day.
What did you wear to prom?
I wore a rental tux. My date was a girl named Melanie. She was a sweet girl, but she was a little more conservative than the rest of the gang; her dress looked like a floral shower curtain. But it was the seventies, so that was par for the course.
Were your parents interested in fashion?
Not in an obsessive way. My dad was the fire chief in our town, and every year the big event was the Installation Dinner when they would welcome the new firemen. My mom would always buy a new dress, and my dad would buy a new suit. That was their big fashion moment.
Do you have siblings?
I have a sister and brother. My brother is the opposite of me. He’s older and came of age in the seventies, so he has facial hair and a hippie aesthetic. My sister lives in New Jersey. She's a teacher. She likes to wear Coach, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch.
Where did you study?
I was a communications major at a school in Jersey currently known as Rowan University. I wanted to be in PR. When I was little, my dream was to be the press secretary to the President. In college I was a Vista Volunteer, which is the domestic version of the Peace Corps. I worked for a help line and a shelter for runaways. That was really my start with non-profits. I then went to NYU to get my Master's Degree.
Are there movies or pieces of literature that have a profound effect on you today?
Yes, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is my favorite movie. As far as books go, Catcher in the Rye was my favorite as a kid. I also like The Stand by Stephen King. I love that apocalyptic end of the earth, living dead thing. My mother was a big reader, and we were allowed to read whatever she read, so Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight was kind of a sexy adult book for an impressionable kid!
What mentors have helped you become who you are?
My first big job was at The American Cancer Society, and a lot of people may not know this, but I am actually very shy. The head of the entire organization, Dick Arndt, saw something in me he liked and instilled in me a confidence not to be shy and own who I am.
What sign are you?
Libra. When I interviewed for the CFDA job, that was the last question DvF asked me. Then the committee all closed their notebooks and said thank you. I was nervous I said the wrong thing!
What do you like to do on the weekends?
We go to my house in Pike County, Pennsylvania. We have a little dog I like to play with. I collect owls and ceramic Japanese pixies from the seventies. I also like to do yard work.
How did you start collecting owls?
I have over a thousand owls. I was visiting my brother in Florida when I saw my first owl in person. On the drive back, I starting collecting them at every junk store and thrift shop.
Has DvF ever gifted you an owl?
It's funny you ask that because we had a board meeting recently, and she was looking around the office and just noticed that I collect them!
We read that you headed up the MTV foundation! Do you sing?
No, I have a really bad singing voice. I didn’t get into the chorus in school, but I did play the trumpet, although I really wanted to play the saxophone. My mom talked me out of sax, because I was a Cub Scout. She thought it would be better for scout meets and jamborees.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Seventies rock 'n' roll. The first concert I ever went to was The Who. I just saw [Barbra] Streisand at Barclay Center, and of course, Madonna.
What are your thoughts on the future of Made in America?
We just did a study called Made in Midtown. You can’t change what was; you can only impact what is the future. The food industry, which has successfully implemented locally grown and locally sourced produce, is a good example. I feel the same shift is happening in the fashion industry. We need to cultivate a demand for fashion that's made in New York. It requires a commitment, just like film that's made in New York or food that's grown here. I think your generation cares about it and sees the value in it. I am really proud of the study.
How do you think young American designers are perceived in the fashion world?
The CFDA’s mission is to identify, support, and bring young talent into its membership ranks. Young American designers have learned to balance commerce and creativity well, which is quintessentially American. There's a lot of excitement here if you look at New York versus London, Milan, and Paris. It really started when we changed the fashion calendar and New York decided to be first.
For those of you who would like to see even more of Steven, check out this star-studded bio-epic video!
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