A Conversation with STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF
By Beth Melillo
We are always so grateful for the time Stephanie Winston Wolkoff spends with us during the heart of fashion week, whether it be that we are filming a TV segment for Full Frontal Fashion in the Lincoln Center lobby or Patrick (McMullan) just wants to take a photo with the lady that makes it all happen.
Being “social” is a key ingredient to success when it comes to overseeing every aspect of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week events and year round fashion-related programming at Lincoln Center. I spoke with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, excited to hear her points of view on how she balances it all and get an inside scoop on what’s next for this social wonder.
Beth Melillo: Stephanie, I want to congratulate you on all your success since 2009 as Founding Director of Fashion at Lincoln Center. The transition from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center has been a smooth process and we truly enjoy going to Lincoln Center for Fashion Week to work and be social, as we intermix with the fashion, art & cultural communities.
Looking back at your successful career history, you served as Director of Special Events at Vogue, Men’s Vogue and Vogue Living for over a decade. How would you describe all the social demands and rewards of balancing and preparing major events such as Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala, the annual 7th on Sale Shopping event, and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for your emerging designers as well as working with many of the international fashion industry’s most renowned designers.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: I’ve spent the better part of my career attempting to learn how to properly and adequately delegate, but I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the art. So, I suppose the most social demands of planning these events are the ones that I impose on myself. I show up at as many walk-throughs as possible. I sit in on literally a hundred conference calls each week. I pour over spreadsheets, contracts, and floor plans for hours. I obligate myself in the details not purely out of necessity or because of any particular desire for back-to-back(-to-back) meetings, but because only when I feel like I’ve been part of every aspect of a production can I fully enjoy the rewards of the work that I do.
BM: Your early history also expanded beyond fashion as you planned “Social” events/Dinners for Clinton White House in D.C. as well as other film & cultural events for many iconic people that counted on you? Please tell us about a “Social” event that stands out to you as a monumental moment in your career/life?
SWW: The New York City premiere of Moulin Rouge where we held the screening at the Pans Theater, followed by dinner at Brasserie 8 ½, is unforgettable to me. We asked designers to create their own modern day versions of Moulin Rouge, which resulted in enthralling designs. Proceeds from the evening benefited the CFDA/Vogue Initiative. That part is always so important: the lives we touch. It was also a monumental moment for me to work with director Baz Luhrmann to produce this performance during the dinner. Collaborating with him was humbling yet thrilling and undoubtedly a highlight of my career.
BM: Today, as Director of Fashion at Lincoln Center, you have to be social with so many organizations from IMG, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, retailers, and the design community all year round in order for Fashion Week to all come together twice a year. How did your past history prepare you for the responsibilities of being the liaison between Lincoln Center and the Fashion Industry?
SWW: When you come into an inaugural position, there’s no manual that tells you exactly what to do, or how to do it. Ultimately, the single most important tool in my professional arsenal is that I learned everything I know from the best. Vogue was the ultimate training ground for my responsibilities at Lincoln Center. Event planning is a kind of universal language, and its one that I’ve learned to speak very, very well. Fluency is the product of practice and total experience immersion, and I think it’s safe to say that over the years, I’ve enjoyed both.
BM: It always touches me when I see you arrive at a Fashion show to support a designer or attend a Fashion Night Out event. You help so many designers and fashion organizations prepare for fashion week, especially picking the correct Lincoln Center venue that will showcase their collection at its best. How important is it be to social during Fashion Week and attend the events and shows in order to support the people that look up to you for guidance and direction?
SWW: I truly believe that my chief obligation, as Director of Fashion at Lincoln Center, is to this industry’s designers. At the end of the day, my job exists to provide a worthy stage for their artistry, and so I consider attending shows and scouting locations both a pleasure and also a vital aspect of my work. The bottom line is if a gifted designer has a vision that deserves to be seen, I want to figure out a way to make that happen. This season that meant organizing shared hair and make-up and production costs. It meant facilitating conversations between designers and potential sponsors. It always means being available for any question or concern that a designer might have in the lead-up to his or her show. It all amounts to a lot of juggling, but when the lights dim, and the show begins, the chaos just evaporates. The exhilaration makes it all worth it.
BM: Please describe the social responsibility and importance of attending events in order to promote The Lincoln Center fashion brand and keep the momentum and inspiration in motion?
SWW: Fashion Lincoln Center is a year round initiative, and my support of and relationships with others in our industry is invaluable. Brainstorming and collaborating with this vast array of individuals inspires all of us to keep our visions innovative and original. By working together and encouraging each other, we continue to break new ground and pioneer beyond the traditional boundaries.
BM: You always find time to be actively social and involved in several charitable and community causes including Food Allergy Initiative, Baby Buggy, New Yorkers for Children and Central Park Conservancy. Please tell us about these social events and organizations that are so important to you as you keep giving back and raise awareness?
SWW: Above all else—above even my career—my life has been defined by motherhood. My involvement with charities like New Yorkers for Children and Baby Buggy was born out of those priorities. My dedication to my children has also lead me to be involved with Food Allergy Initiative, an organization dedicated to funding research to discover a cure for life threatening food allergies, which greatly needs attention and lacks social awareness. And as for the Central Park Conservancy: I am the consummate Manhattanite, I have an unbreakable bond with this City’s backyard and a fierce desire to protect it.
BM: Today you also work closely with the Mayor’s Special Projects and Community Events office to facilitate City Wide initiatives, the Department of Education and the New York City Housing Authority. How do you go about creating social events that will make a difference?
SWW: In the prehistoric age, before twitter and facebook and the internet in general, fashion had a reputation as being a very closed-off industry. But since the success of social media and a move toward trade transparency, an entirely new population is exposed to and interested in the work that we do. With the help of the Mayor’s Office of Special Projects and Community Events and IMG, we have had the privilege of getting to know one of Lincoln Center’s next-door neighbors, Amsterdam Housing. Together with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), CFDA and IMG, we’ve been able to expose the complex’s young people to some of the careers within the multi-faceted fashion industry by hosting panel events with the likes of Patrick Robinson, Rachel Roy, Jane Keltner de Valle of Teen Vogue among others. No matter the exact nature of the event—whether it’s celebratory, social, philanthropic or educational—my goal is always the same. I want to deliver an experience that’s beautiful, functional and inspiring.
BM: What’s next on the social scene at Lincoln Center throughout the year? I know that you want to incorporate Fashion-related programming year round into the other Lincoln Center artistic culture of events?
SWW: Lincoln Center Presents: An Evening with Ralph Lauren Hosted by Oprah Winfrey was a remarkable event that was held at Alice Tully Hall this past October. Celebrating Mr. Lauren’s renowned dedication to culture, design and his family, the evening jointly benefited Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention and is the largest fundraiser in the history of Lincoln Center. It’s truly a memorable night for our industry, and we are now in the process of creating a lecture series, but I can’t divulge all of the details on this program just yet.
BM: Stephanie, Thank you again for taking time out of your busy Schedule. You are a true inspiration and I look forward to all the wonderful things ahead with Lincoln Center and Fashion Week.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is the Founding Director of Fashion at Lincoln Center.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff interviewed by Beth Melillo
Written by Beth Melillo
Photography by Nicholas Hunt for Patrick McMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, LINCOLN CENTER Presents: An Evening With RALPH LAUREN Hosted By OPRAH WINFREY – Inside, Lincoln Center, NYC, October 24, 2011, Photography by Nicholas Hunt for Patrick McMullan.com