Abbey Doneger


Held at The Shed in New York City, the gala raised over $1.5 million and benefited the FIT Foundation.

NEW YORK — The Fashion Institute of Technology pulled out all the stops Wednesday night at its annual awards gala where it honored Serena Williams, Aerin Lauder, Debra Martin Chase, and Brandice Daniel.

Serena Williams

Held at The Shed in Hudson Yards, the gala raised over $1.5 million and benefited the FIT Foundation, the primary fundraising arm of FIT that cultivates the next generation of creative leaders by enhancing programs, developing new initiatives and providing scholarship funds for students.

Some 360 guests attended, including Carolyn Murphy, Sela Ward, Jerry Lauren, Abbey Doneger, Jill Granoff, Deirdre Quinn, Ken Downing, Fern Mallis, Stuart Vevers, Steven Kolb, Francisco Costa, Wes Gordon, Maxwell Osborne, Alina Cho, Robin Burns-McNeill, Jaqui Lividini, and Laurence C. Leeds, Jr.

“IRL is exciting obviously,” said Michael Kors, who hosted the evening with Nina Garcia, editor in chief of Elle and “Project Runway” judge, “Mask on, mask off. FIT means so much to me and to be here to shine a light on young creatives and their future…”

He told WWD he was also excited to be reunited with Garcia, who like Kors, graduated from FIT, but they didn’t know each other in college. “We spent a lot of time together on ‘Project Runway,’” said Kors.

Brandice Daniel, founder and chief executive officer of Harlem’s Fashion Row, was dressed in a lime green dress by Brooklyn-based designer Kimberly Goldson and was mingling during the cocktail hour with her six-year-old daughter, Sky, by her side. “I’m so excited about this award. It’s kind of a full-circle moment for me. FIT was such a big goal of mine. And to be able to come back after all these years and get the ‘Alumni of the Year.’”

When asked how her FIT education prepared her for her career, she said, “The best class I took was the entrepreneurship class at FIT. My professor, Josh Greene, he and I are still in contact about once a month. He has been such a behind-the-scenes business mentor for me. He let me know that when I had this idea for Harlem’s Fashion Row, he said this can be a real business. I didn’t know that.” She said she started Harlem’s Fashion Row 15 years ago, which makes money through sponsorships, collaborations, programs with HBCUs, and brand strategy.

Daniel, who is also an advisory council member of the Social Justice Center at FIT, won the Outstanding FIT Alumni award for her work in creating a platform for designers of color and supporting women in building thriving businesses. She was presented her award by Dapper Dan.

In her acceptance speech, Daniel said when she was growing up, “My father would come to my room and he would say, “‘Brandice, if you want a different result, you have to do something different.’ I am grateful that we are finally doing it differently as an industry.”

After Daniel received her award, Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT, shared a secret that Daniel actually never received her diploma because she didn’t show up to her FIT graduation. “I am so delighted that your mother is in the audience tonight, because tonight, by virtue of the powers invested in me by the State of New York and the State University of New York, I bestow upon you your actual degree from FIT,” said Brown, who presented Daniel with a diploma while DJ Mad Marj played “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Earlier in the evening, Brown told the crowd, “After two long years in party lock-down, we are thrilled to be back…and to be back in such glorious company.” And she shared a little bit of news: The school is planning to open its first new academic building in 40 years, a 10-story building on West 28th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the fall of 2023. Once it is completed, it will seek LEED Gold certification.

Lauder, founder of Aerin and style and image director of Estée Lauder, received the Business and Entrepreneurship Award. During the cocktail hour, she said she was “incredibly honored and very excited” to receive the award, especially from Michael Kors, who’s been a close friend for many years. Asked how her education prepared her for her career, she said, “I never took a marketing course [at Wharton]. I went to the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and didn’t want to be graded on something I was going to be doing [in my career].” Instead, she took courses in visual communication, film, photography and art history.

Serena Williams

Lauder said she worked with Jane Hertzmark Hudis, executive group president, The Estée Lauder Cos., when they were at Prescriptives: “I learned a lot from her. At Estée Lauder, I had so many wonderful mentors.” She said she loves supporting FIT grads. “I’m always excited when people submit an application from FIT.”

Williams, president and chief executive officer of Serena Ventures, was unable to attend in person and accepted the Fashion Icon Breakthrough Award for her achievements both on and off the court, via a video, thanking everyone for the “incredible honor and distinction” and saying she was “touched to be recognized as a fashion icon.” She said she hopes to pay this forward by encouraging the next generation of creative minds “from all works of life, regardless of the social and economic background.”

Williams has invested in companies that embrace diversity and has launched her own clothing line, S by Serena, and Serena Williams Jewelry, a collection created with Signet Jewelers available exclusively at Zales. She was presented her award by Jamie Singleton, chief marketing officer of Signet Jewelers, who said about Serena, “She leads with grace, style and business acumen.”

Chase, president and CEO of Martin Chase Productions, took home the Vanguard in Entertainment Award for breaking barriers in Hollywood by becoming the first Black woman to produce a movie grossing over $100 million. That movie was “The Princess Diaries.” She was presented her award by Pearlena Igbokwe, chairman of Universal Studio Group, who said when she was arrived in Los Angeles, “Debra was one of the first women I saw. She was highly educated, gracious and fly.” When Igbokwe took over Universal, Chase was one of the first people she sought out, and they did “The Equalizer” together.

“That was after Debra brought Queen Latifah in to meet me. Now imagine this. A Black female studio engaging a Black female executive producer to deliver a hit show starring a Black female star. Debra made that happen. She was the connector. And that’s the kind of movement she’s leading.”

Chase spoke about her friend, the late Amsale Aberra, the successful bridal designer and first Black woman member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the program that Amsale’s husband, she, and other friends started in association with FIT called Amsale Aspire, which is an organization dedicated to supporting Black fashion students and helping Black fashion designers build their businesses.

“We should support Black designers by including them in our wardrobes. At the end of the day, the best way to support the artist is to buy their art,” said Chase.