Reed Krakoff and Simon Doonan Go Back to School

Simon Doonan Reed Krakoff Parsons

Photo: Silja Magg

Coffee talk: Reed Krakoff and Simon Doonan speak at Parsons.

Derek Lam, Jenna Lyons, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, and Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai are just a few of the fashionable figures who have taken the hot seats recently at Parsons the New School for Design. And on March 7, Reed Krakoff and Simon Doonan joined the ranks to share their wisdom with a roomful of fashion students.

Moderated by Simon Collins, dean of the School of Fashion, the designer/executive creative director of Coach and the Barneys ambassador talked about their beginnings in the industry, how they deal with bad press, and the high points in their careers.

First things first, though: Krakoff and Doonan go way back. “We were in an interpretive dance troupe together,” deadpanned Doonan, before Krakoff explained that, in fact, the two met when they both sat on an “Oprah” panel about dressing appropriately.

“We both agreed that the idea of dressing appropriately is obscenely silly,” Doonan said. (He has, after all, been known to sport a blazer embroidered with the words “Good Taste Doesn’t Exist.”) “The older you get, the more insane you should dress.”

Krakoff, who described himself as a failed painter and musician before beginning a 15-plus-year stint at Coach and launching his eponymous line just over a year ago, said starting his own business has been the accomplishment of his career—even if there have been some rocky points, like that less-than-favorable New York Times Critical Shopper piece.

“I never finished the story,” he admitted of the article, which described Krakoff’s efforts as the “stupendously splashy introduction of a designer who might not make it through the first five eliminations on a season of Project Runway.”

“I still haven’t finished it. It wasn’t fun,” he added. “But I will frame it and put it in my office one day. Not yet! But one day.”

“Fashion is not a warm and fuzzy place,” said Doonan, referring not only to creative criticism but also the detractors who argue that the industry as a whole promotes unhealthy living, waste, frivolity, and any number of other negative issues.

“Fashion is this strange and perverse world. It’s not a good place to look for healthy role models,” he said, noting that women in the Elizabethan era sucked themselves into wooden-boned corsets. “You can’t try and turn the dials and say designers need to make bigger sizes.”

Of course, Krakoff and Doonan could only encourage the students to work hard and trust their own instincts when it comes to the business. And the most important qualities to hold onto?

“Resilience,” said Doonan. “And really low expectations.”