Cornellians dressed in classic black dresses, silky shirts and shimmering suits gathered at the Statler Hotel Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 19 for the Cornell Fashion Industry Network Gala. This year’s theme was “iconic”, chosen to highlight the role of brands, celebrities and influencers in the fashion world.
The CFIN Gala is an annual event with the mission of uniting a community of students, faculty, alumni and industry professionals for a night of discussion regarding current events in the fashion industry. According to its website, this year’s discussion explored questions like “Who has icon status and why?” and “What does the role of influencers tell us about the future of fashion?”.
This year, the audience heard from a diverse lineup of alumni and industry professionals on the role of influencers in the fashion industry. Guest speakers included Vogue Events Manager Conçetta Ciarlo ’18, Nicole Cember ’16, who is a senior influencer marketing manager for Macy’s and Natasha Sam, the influencer network director for Live Nation.
“[The Gala] is supposed to be fun,” said Presley Church ’23, president of CFIN. “[It’s] a chance to dress up and engage with peers and mentors on a topic in the fashion industry, which is something all of our members should be passionate about.”
The Iconic Gala was CFIN’s second in-person gala post-pandemic, following last year’s event, titled Vintage Influence on Fashion. Church said that engagement and in-person planning were among the challenges that she and her team faced throughout the planning process.
“The tricky part about any event or organization post-COVID is relearning how you want to engage your members or attendees and how in-person planning actually works,” Church said. “There are so many more logistics. It was so amazing to be in-person without masks and have a true opportunity to dress up, eat, take photos and learn together.”
Church noted the abundance of positive feedback that the CFIN executive board received about this year’s event. Both the audience and the speakers demonstrated pride in being a part of the Cornell fashion community and relished the opportunity to celebrate CFIN’s accomplishments, network and curiosity together, according to Church.
Students who attended the Gala engaged in vigorous networking and small-group conversations with other attendees, partaking in a collective learning experience. Sarah Kim ’24 explained the value that the networking opportunity had for her.
“A networking experience in my opinion means getting a little uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone,” Kim said. “I enjoy the CFIN Gala every year because of the new students I meet, as well as the faculty [whose classes] I have yet to take.”
Kim noted that because there are typically only three speakers, it is often challenging for attendees to connect with them directly since speakers receive so much attention. However, the networking opportunities offered by the Gala are not limited to interactions with industry professionals.
“I truly love how the CFIN Gala connects students from all majors and backgrounds,” Kim said. “[The Gala] allows every student to share their wealth of knowledge in fashion.”
Devin Schneider ’23, president of the Cornell Fashion Collective, said she greatly enjoyed her experience as an attendee.
“I personally had the opportunity to speak with all three of the speakers, and I know many other attendees did as well,” Schneider said. “I was able to get some great industry-specific advice and simply learn more about other opportunities within fashion.”
Schneider said her favorite part of the Gala was hearing from the various speakers.
“It was really interesting,” Schneider said. “[A]nd the interviews were done in a way that really kept my attention and made the information easy to follow.”
Schneider also expressed her hopes for greater diversity among speakers for future events.
“I think that having more speakers or speakers with greater variation in interest would better the experience,” Schneider said. “[T]he two [speakers] regarding social media influencers were similar. Having one speaker who did something on the influencer side of things may have made the two a bit more different and engaging.”
In the years to come, CFIN aims to add depth to the community present within its network through partnerships with other fashion organizations on campus. Church said that, in future galas, the e-board aims to continue to fulfill CFIN’s primary goal of allowing students, faculty and alumni to explore fashion in a context that is both meaningful and creative.
“I hope that in semesters to come that sense of community is deepened and the event continues to be a gathering of the Cornell fashion network including students, faculty and alumni,” Church said. “It is such a great opportunity to learn in a fun and meaningful context.”