The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is celebrating its 25 years of support to students through the CFDA Scholarship Fund which was designed and launched in 1996 to grow talent. Past scholars include notable designers such as Peter Do, Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler, and Chris Benz. First established as a merit-based scholarship at Parsons in the name of former CFDA president, the late Perry Ellis, the program was previously championed by CFDA member Monika Tilley, who passed away earlier this year. Tilley created collaborations with peer institutions like Rhode Island School of Design and Otis School of Art + Design, making regular in-person visits to meet faculty and mentor students on campuses.
The program is geared at enhancing student talent by subsidizing the rising costs of higher education tuition and school expenses, such as studio, thesis, and portfolio projects required for degree completion.
To date, over 300 CFDA Scholarships and 2.2 million dollars have been awarded. Between 2015 and 2020, 76 percent of committee-determined scholarships have been awarded to women and 72 percent to the talent of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.
In 2007, a 2.5-million-dollar donation by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation birthed the Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship Award honoring the designer. Celebrating Beene who believed that “design was an unknown” to be explored, the 25,000-dollar scholarship was accompanied by a custom curriculum and Assouline’s release of “Geoffrey Beene An American Rebel” chronicling Beene’s career.
In 2009, the CFDA Liz Claiborne Scholarship Award was also established through the support of her late husband Art Ortenberg. It celebrated Claiborne’s legacy as an American sportswear designer in the context of 1970’s dress codes. Today, the 25,000-dollar scholarship enables students to imagine how Claiborne’s strategic tuition might be used to address social issues and sustainability.
In recent years, the CFDA Scholarship Fund has triggered support for a full spectrum of specializations building upon apparel categories to also encourage submissions within industry-relevant pathways such as accessories/ footwear, jewelry/ metals, textiles/ knitwear, and creative technical design. Today, the CFDA makes available an invitation of participants of a national consortium of more than 20 leading fashion design colleges and universities including San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and California College of the Arts, Savannah College of Art + Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit-based College of Creative Studies’ BFA Accessories Design, and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Although most of the scholarships are aimed at supporting undergraduate talent, there are opportunities for graduate students as well.
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The program has created a bridge between education and industry through brand/partnership sponsored scholarships and mentorship opportunities including past collaborations with Gucci Changemakers/ Gucci North America, Target/ Teen Vogue, and the newly established CFDA x Swarovski Foundation Re: Generation Innovation Scholar Award specifically for talent with interest in sustainable strategies. In the last five years, students have had the opportunity of presenting their work to over 100 members, including AREA, Chromat, Doo-Ri Chung, Gabriela Hearst, Mara Hoffman, Maria Cornejo, and Narciso Rodriguez, alongside CFDA program alumni such as Abrima Erwiah of Studio 189, Jameel Khiry, and Eckhaus Latta..
CFDA is building on a 25th anniversary CFDA Scholarship Fund initial commitment of 250,000 – 300,000 dollars which will be awarded through up to 12 scholarships in six Corey areas: CFDA Design Scholar Awards, Design for Justice Award, COVID-19 Relief Fund, Liz Claiborne Design for Impactful Futures Award, the Geoffrey Beene Designer Masters Scholar Award, and Suntchi Image Maker Award. All scholarships will be determined using a holistic criteria of financial need, talent, and professional potential. Recipients will be announced this fall.