Voices of Fashion Industry Decision-makers: The Oral History Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology-State University of New York

Thirty-three years after the founding of the Fashion Institute of Technology-SUNY (hereafter, FIT) in 1944, John Touhey initiated the Oral History Project of the Fashion Industries (OHPFI). This project, an oral history program was created to document primary source recollections of decision-makers in fashion and related creative industries, and today, it includes over four hundred-fifty interviews with such subjects as fashion designers Ralph Lauren and Geoffrey Beene; former Chairman of Bergdorf Goodman, Andrew Goodman; and Fred Pomerantz of Leslie Fay fame. The program’s original purpose continues, which is to document voices of those who were and are decision-makers who greatly influenced not only the lives of those laboring in the various creative industries, including fashion, but also the development of FIT as an institution of higher education. Now known as FIT Talks, the program is most meaningful for researchers in the fields of fashion, garment, and retail history. Additionally, the program seeks to record the recollections of those who have administered, taught, or studied at FIT. That said, it has also been a tool to expose current art and design students to histories of people who hold careers, primarily in business, that might influence their own considerations for the future. The program forms a unique record of facts, points of view, practices, and, perhaps most importantly, voices that could be gathered and preserved in no other way. This presentation tells the story of the program’s development over the decades, explains its uses in research and teaching, and offers a glimpse into plans for its future.