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Polimoda’s Industry Insights

To hear how Polimoda is incorporating industry know-how into its curriculum, BoF meets Neiman Marcus’ Bruce Pask, communications specialist and F*hits Founder Alice Ferraz and the Global Creative Director of Puma Torsten Hochstetter.
Torsten Hochstetter, Global Creative Director at Puma, teaching at Polimoda by Federica Fioravanti | Source: Courtesy
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  • BoF Team
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FLORENCE, Italy — Since it was founded in 1984, Polimoda has maintained strong ties with the fashion and luxury industries. In its early years, the school was best known for its proximity to the luxury manufacturing hubs that surround Florence, as well as the schools of classical art that abound in the renaissance city. Over the years however, as the school's curriculum has expanded to incorporate more commercially and digitally focused subjects, Polimoda has expanded its network.

Today, it boasts an impressive amount of industry collaborations in its curriculum. In 2019, the school updated its ongoing partnership with LVMH, resulting in 14 scholarships being awarded. It also continues to co-create courses with some of the industry's most prestigious businesses: from Gucci for Retail Management to Richemont for Luxury Business, Valentino and Salvatore Ferragamo for Bag and Shoe Design respectively, and trend forecaster WGSN on International Fashion Business.

Indeed, in an industry evolving as swiftly as fashion, of-the-moment digital know-how and up-to-date experience is more imperative than ever. Responding to increasing student and industry expectations, Polimoda has designed a mentorship programme which brings hard won practical experience from the industry, on to the campus.

From Torsten Hochstetter, the global creative director of Puma who combines his intimate knowledge of Polimoda as an alumnus with a distinguished career at sportswear brands across Europe to Alice Ferraz, an industry frontrunner within Brazil's booming digital communications space and Bruce Pask, men's fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, who has successfully transitioned from retail to editorial and back to retail, the noted professionals have been selected to embody the fluidity and hybrid-nature of fashion careers in the future.

Now, BoF sits down with the three industry leaders to hear why mentorship is so important in fashion, and how they plan to make their advice relevant to the industry today.

Bruce Pask, men's fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus — Mentor for Master in Fashion Merchandising & Buying
There are no better teaching tools than experience and being out there in the world.

Bruce Pask, Men's Fashion Director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus |
Source: Courtesy

Drawing on his experience in retail and editorial, Bruce Pask has worked at magazines including T: The New York Times Style Magazine and GQ; styled campaigns, runway shows and editorials, notably working closely with Annie Leibovitz for numerous Vanity Fair covers; and worked with costume designers on Broadway.

Why do you believe mentorship is important in fashion?

It’s great to talk about theory, but it’s also important to ground it in reality. The experiential end of it is really important — it is grounding education in the reality of how business is done today and how we get to do what we do. There are no better teaching tools than experience and being out there in the world.

Having that direct availability to speak with people that have already learned and doing it every day can help students with how to get into a business today. This world, especially the fashion world, it’s really competitive and I think it’s really helpful for students of every age to have an awareness that there are varied paths to the goal.

Why did you choose to be a mentor at Polimoda?

I really appreciate Danilo Venturi [director of Polimoda] and his leadership there. I think he has created an amazing group of educators and the pool of students is also completely global, with a broad range of interest. When I spoke there in January, the students came to listen to a conversation about my life in the business and the questions they asked were articulate and inspiring. They think about fashion in a varied and expansive way and for me, that is compelling.

One thing that Danilo Venturi really responded to [about my career history] was that I worked in a store when I left school and it’s where I really learned about clothing and the world of fashion. I had an education in designer fashion there, working with a customer and what their needs are. It was really important to me. I think that that is an under-utilised path in our business and that for me was an amazing mentorship.

What role have mentors played in your career?

When I worked at GQ after school, I went into it with a developed critical mind that I learned while in school, but I learned from my mentors all aspects by on the job training. How is it to work with a photographer? What collection’s do you admire? How do you put together a shoot? Then later, it was then, how are we running a business? How do I open up a shop? In the aggregate, it’s all vital.

When you're at school, careers are still very abstract and it's about how to make that abstract aspiration a real reality.

I still have amazing mentors in my current position, like Josh Shulman, the former president of Bergdorf Goodman, and Darcy Penick [president of Bergdorf], Yumi Shin [chief merchant at Bergdorf], Matt Marcotte [chief operating officer at Bergdorf] — people that I work with currently that I look up to. Working with people that you admire and respect I think is really important because they continue to serve as mentors, even though I’m mid-career. I think it’s always an opportunity to continue to learn.

What will you focus on in your time with the students?

When I look at anything, I think — how can I best serve? That's what it comes down to. What I learned about working when I was younger, starting off at the Gap and Esprit, then ultimately Paul Smith into GQ — from retail into editorial — is, how can I best serve this project? How can I best serve this company? And now, how can I best serve this student?

I would like to think I have a pretty broad knowledge of the fashion business, in menswear specifically, and I just hope to be there and guide the students, to be a voice of reality and a voice of pragmatism. When you’re at school, careers are still very abstract and it’s about how to make that abstract aspiration a real reality.

There are multiple paths and a lot of value in every opportunity. For example, I didn’t know that I would be graduating college and working in a store, but that exposure was fundamental to my understanding of fashion, what people want and how to best help them — and how satisfying it is.

Torsten Hochstetter, global creative director of Puma — Mentor for Master in Creative Direction
360 mentorship is really important. I think it is crucial for young talents to have the support to be able to let their talent grow.

Torsten Hochstetter, Global Creative Director of Puma |
Source: Courtesy

Torsten Hochstetter became global creative director of Puma in 2013 following a 15-year tenure at Adidas. Today he oversees Puma’s global team of around 100 designers.

Why do you believe mentorship is important in fashion?

360 mentorship is really important. I think it is crucial for young talents to have the support to be able to let their talent grow and to understand in what context to build that talent. It’s also important to build that bridge between creatives and the industry with a certain level of vigour.

Oftentimes, the industry looks at schools and says, “It’s still a lot of people that need to be formed and need to grow.” But it’s also the industry’s responsibility to go to them and collaborate with them — foster the creativity of the talents that they have in order for them to grow.

How have mentorships changed during your time in the industry?

Nowadays, we work in flat hierarchies, meaning that it is extremely important that you have mentors on all different levels, from the moment you are working in the industry. These are the people that are assigned as your mentors in companies, but there are also mentors that you choose yourself because they inspire you.

In reality, mentorship never stops. Even if you’ve been in the industry two and half decades, you still have mentors you discuss ideas with and you find new ways to grow yourself. I think that should be embedded in everyone, particularly working in the sportswear or creative industries.

Why did you choose to be a mentor at Polimoda?

I believe that Polimoda has been a trailblazer to get the industry connected to the talents that they have. I think that effort is very important and as a Polimoda alumni, I am passionate about supporting them in doing that.

I studied at Polimoda just after the school opened in 1986 and that spirit is still there, but it has grown and evolved significantly. They have professionalised their ways of teaching, but they haven’t disregarded where the school really comes from. It’s Florence-centred and that’s who they are — that’s how they connect creatives and the industry together on a global level.

What was the most valuable lesson you learnt from your mentors?

I think the most valuable lesson is to put your ideas and creativity and your vision into context. To be able to bring it to life. Particularly in sportswear, you have such high visibility on field, on pitch, on track, but also off because it is now so visible in the urban environment.

It's the industry's responsibility to foster the creativity of the talents that they have in order for them to grow.

To do something that is really right for the zeitgeist, that’s the big lesson — making products that are good for sports and perform but look cool at the same time. That’s the great dynamic that can happen between those two disciplines, and it’s my hope that I’m able to bring that to the students as well.

What will you focus on in your time with the students?

As a creative director, you work with the visual language of the branded guidelines and the values that you’re establishing with your team, through the entire value chain. I hope to look at that value chain together with the students — to define a strong identity first and foremost for the brand and then illustrate how that looks and then go through the actual process of the creation calendar to understand what the key deliverables are.

We’re going to be looking at those milestones very carefully — what is happening in that moment? And that goes from designing the first product, understanding what a good product is from research, and then seeing how it can be brought to life — who produces it? How do we build it? What’s the marketing plan behind it? How do you feel that it all fits together — that’s what we’ll be looking at. So, it’s not the creational side only. It’s the 360-value chain of bringing something to life.

Alice Ferraz, chief executive and founder of F*Hits — Mentor for Master in Fashion Marketing and Communications
Mentorship bridges the gap between the workplace and education

Alice Ferraz, Chief Executive and Founder of F*Hits |
Source: Courtesy

Alice Ferraz’s digital media house, F*hits, looks after over 300 influencers in the Brazilian media space, with her site drawing over 40 million visitors every month — the largest digital audience for beauty, fashion and lifestyle in Brazil.

Why do you believe mentorship is important in fashion?

My earliest mentors helped me become the professional person I am today. Their influence is in every day decisions I make and how I make them. I think mentorship is crucial for fashion and universities play an important role in informing fashion professionals.

Mentorship bridges the gap between the workplace and education — it is learning from the experience of the mentors, including their academic struggles and development. Knowing how people develop their skills really helped me to expand in new areas and develop myself as an innovator.

Why did you agree to join Polimoda’s roster of industry experts?

Polimoda has its roots in Italy, at the centre of the fashion world, and that is important for me as I am from Brazil — a country that is relatively new in fashion. We’re very strong in digital marketing and social media, but not as strong in fashion heritage.

I believe the mentorship will be two-way driven. I want to share my experience and analysis for students to have access to my expertise within fashion communication and technology, but I also want to listen. It’s about learning more about what we don’t know and teaching what we do know.

What was the most valuable lesson you learnt from your mentors?

I have had many mentors in my life and today, former vice president of Google Nelson Mattos is my mentor, even though he lives in California and I live in Brazil. It doesn’t matter which part of the world you are in — you can learn from each other.

We live in a fast-paced economy, with new players, new connections and new opportunities every day. The students need to adapt fast.

Polimoda approached me, not because I am from Brazil, but being from Brazil makes me a lot more resilient. I am a product of my country. South America has a lot of problems, but we’re changing a lot of things in Brazil through social media. It’s not just about fashion; it’s about communication. It’s a very unique position and I’m happy to be living here and to see that happening.

What will you focus on in your time with the students?

We live in a fast-paced economy, with new players, new connections and new opportunities every day. The students need to adapt fast. Take action fast but based on insight and a broad knowledge of things. Lots of people think they already know everything, but they are simply reacting. We need to create a new world of communication in fashion.

The tools are out there and everyone is using them, from Instagram to YouTube. But it’s more about how they are using them to achieve their goals. We are using this day by day — we have 340 influencers working on a daily basis here in Brazil so we can see it working or not working, and what we should change.

There are so many voices talking in our heads in the digital world, that you need to have a solid base so you can hear what is important and act. Students hear from so many places and sides and when they go to the market, they need to know what they are doing.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Polimoda as part of a BoF Education partnership. To learn more about Polimoda, please click here.

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