Annie Leibovitz to Give Keynote Address
John Bartlett and Maryellen Zarakas Will Receive FIT Alumni Association Awards
Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz will address 2,500 students when the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) holds its graduation exercises on Tuesday, May 19 at 10 am at Radio City Music Hall.
Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees will be bestowed on Leibovitz, as well as on actress, knitwear designer, entrepreneur, and FIT alumna Karen Allen and interior designer and FIT alumnus Tony Chi. Edward F. Cox, trustee, State University of New York (SUNY), of which FIT is a part, will confer the degrees. Ruth Taube, director of the Henry Street Settlement Home Planning Workshop, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from FIT president, Dr. Joyce F. Brown.
Leibovitz, one of the world’s most gifted portrait photographers, has chronicled and defined global celebrity culture for more than four decades. Her portraits comprise a virtual Who’s Who of public figures, and her photos of these subjects have become iconic images recognized worldwide. Her subjects have ranged from entertainment celebrities to heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, who requested that Leibovitz photograph her prior to her 2007 visit to the U.S. Her achievements have been widely acclaimed, making her an international celebrity in her own right. Leibovitz is one of only two living photographers who have been invited to exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Leibovitz launched her career in 1970 with a photograph of John Lennon that was chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Within two years, she was Rolling Stone’s chief photographer, a position she held for a decade. In 1983, she became the first contributing photographer for Vanity Fair, held her first exhibition, and published her first collection of photographs. She was named Photographer of the Year by the American Society of Magazine Photographers and is a member of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame.
Karen Allen enrolled at FIT to study design but left before graduation to focus on her acting career. She is perhaps best known for her roles in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). However, Allen never lost her passion for textiles and knitwear design and returned to FIT to study sophisticated machine knitting technology. In 2004, she established Karen Allen Fiber Arts in a small studio in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to produce cashmere scarves, sweaters, hats, and other knitwear. She was named 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Berkshire Entrepreneur Network. In 2008, Allen returned to film work when she was featured in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Allen’s designs are sold in shops in fourteen states, and she has performed in more than thirty films, fifteen stage plays, and eleven television shows. “I have the best of both worlds,” she has said.
Award-winning interior designer Tony Chi has commented, “FIT gave me a lot,” and without it, “I wouldn’t be here.” Born in Taiwan, Chi grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and received his degree in Interior Design from FIT in 1979. He credits his college experience for the inspiration that helped to create his office, Tonychi and Associates, where open offices face conference areas so that people can easily interact. “It’s a studio environment, which I got from FIT—people working in groups, face-to-face. Nothing is closed here,” he said.
Chi’s commissions necessitate a travel schedule of 220 days a year in order to create such spectacular buildings as the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas; chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Spoon, overlooking Hong Kong harbor; and Arcade, a subterranean restaurant in Osaka, Japan. His clients also include such major companies as Hyatt International, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Hilton International, and Four Seasons Hotel Group. Chi received Interior Design Magazine’s Hospitality Award for Best Hotel Restaurant in 2000 for his design of NoMI, the Park Hyatt’s Chicago restaurant that evokes the feeling of a vintage brownstone apartment building. In 2005, Food Arts Magazine awarded Chi the Silver Spoon Award for outstanding contributions to the restaurant and hotel industries.
Ruth Taube has devoted her life to education. Since 1966, she has been running the Home Planning Workshop at the Henry Street Settlement, a social service agency on the Lower East Side. She teaches neighborhood women how to sew, knit, and even raise babies.
Norma Moore, a regular visitor to the Workshop, says Taube showed her how to crochet a baby carriage cover and then advised her on rearing her daughter. She now teaches Moore to knit baby sweaters for her daughter’s child. “She wants things done right,” Moore said. “Otherwise, you have to rip it out and start over. But that’s what makes her a good teacher.”
When the Workshop was threatened with closure in December 2008 due to budget cuts, Moore was one of Taube’s students who bombarded Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office with protests. The Workshop was restored with shorter hours, and Taube was back at the sewing machine at age 85.
Two awards will be presented by the FIT Alumni Association to alumni who graduated from FIT at least five years ago and have excelled in their respective fields. Designer John Bartlett will receive the Mortimer C. Ritter Award, named for FIT’s first president and given for excellence in art and design. Bartlett graduated with a degree in Menswear and is now the creative director of the new men’s collection for Liz Claiborne, Claiborne by John Bartlett. His flagship store is located in New York’s Greenwich Village.
The Marvin Feldman Award, named for another past president and revered figure in FIT’s history, is for achievement in business and technology. It will be presented to Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Warner Brothers. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Marketing: Fashion and Related Industries.
FIT, a leader in professional career-oriented education, is a selective college of art and design, business and technology of the State University of New York (SUNY), with 44 majors leading to the AAS, BFA, BS, MA, and MPS degrees. The college serves more than 10,000 students and offers courses in a wide range of fields, among them jewelry design, fashion design, advertising and marketing communications, toy design, home products development, and fashion merchandising management. Visit www.fitnyc.edu.