For years I wanted to be a U.N. interpreter. I studied Russian and German in high school, and saw myself traveling the world in diplomatic circles. During those years I researched colleges and knew that the University of Indiana was the place to go for languages.
Indiana in the middle of the country. No ocean there.
But I was willing to compromise and endure being landlocked for my larger goal of becoming THE interpreter at the U.N.
That was my goal, announced to the world. It was my course for years.
Then it happened. It was a signal, defining moment,, one that made me shiver. I was filled with electric excitement, and I had found my true calling in life: I was going to be a fashion designer.
It happened like this: I opened an issue of LIFE Magazine, and there was a two page spread talking about, the Beatles, and a wonderful fashion designer, Mary Quant. It was the first time I had ever seen her. She was smashing in her clean lines, severe hair and strong makeup.
Mary Quant was wearing a mini-skirt, shockingly short, six inches above the knee-long compared to what girls wear today- but shockingly short for the mid 60’s.
She was stick thin, wearing a top and opaque tights that matched. Her mini skirt was a contrasting color. The photo was black and white so I have no idea what the colors were. But even in black and white, my mind was an explosion of color and heat. She was standing slightly behind John Lennon, and was unaware that the camera had caught her adjusting the strap on her flat sling back signature shoes I had shoes much like them. And even today, I would pair flat shoes with a mini skirt not stiletto heels. Her geometrically bobbed hair swung to cover one eye, as she leaned forward. And at the same time she reached behind her, her leg bent up at the knee so the could reach the strap of her shoe. Her heavy, artful, makeup completed a modern, hip look. Her look was called “Mod” and for me, Mod said it all, and encompassed youth, style, innovation and color. Until the day she died in 2001, my mother called me her Mod Daughter.
John Lennon was wearing a snap brim hat designed by Mary. And it wasn’t long before I had one or two hats like that .I learned to duplicate the geometric Sasoon haircuts and cut my hair and my friend’s hair the same way. We painted our eyes to look fierce and our lips white. It wasn’t Goth it was Mod.
In that moment with the LIFE Magazine, years of thought and preparation and dreams about languages and travel and the U.N. went out the window.
I had been sewing since I was very young, and I cut apart my mother’s New Look dresses with the miles of fabric in the skirts and made dresses and jumpsuits and realized what I had been doing all along was designing fashion.
My parents supported me and said as long as I was accepted to a good design school I could go.
There was no Google to search for Fashion Design schools. The guidance office offered Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons and a few other technical sewing schools. I applied to them and others.
On a trip to visit her Manhattan friends, our “aunties” who moved in fashionable circles, my mother announced, “Susie is thinking of going to fashion design school.”
“Well”, said my Aunt Judy, “There is only ONE school for her to attend, The Fashion Institute of Technology right here in New York.”
After one of her New York weekends with her sparkling friends my mother would burst in the front door and say “Girls you’ll never believe who I met.” “Or kids, just wait till you see what Auntie Annette sent you.”
So when she returned from that trip the fall of my senior year of high school, she threw open the front door, and said “Susie, I found the fashion design school for you.” I knew then that I was on my way, New York, the garment district, design, fame and maybe even meeting Mary Quant.
And I did make it there on a full scholarship.