When I first moved to New York in 1986, I was introduced to a wonderful man, Jack Prince, who was probably in his mid fifties at that point. Jack had grown up in New York and was a very successful textile and print designer who lived in an incredibly chic east side penthouse.
On any night of the week, you could drop by Jack’s apartment unannounced and he would typically have a couple of friends over for dinner. Jack loved the young kids, not sexually, but energy wise and insisted that us “kids” feel at home and become part of his world “at once!” I had never met anyone like Jack: cultured, very openly gay, generous and passionate about his work. If it were not for Jack I would have had a very different experience of New York and would never have been introduced to the modern dance world and its inhabitants, among other things.
Sadly, my beloved Jack died a few years ago, essentially in poverty and cared for by his friends, the group that he had for many years mentored and fed and supported creatively and intellectually. His death was a lesson to me in many ways. There were lessons of planning for your latter years as well as the importance of sharing your experience with those around you, especially the “kids” who might be very well changing your diapers 30 years from now!
And now, at 46, I find that I am longing for this mentoring experience having had such an amazing role model in Jack. I have prospered in New York and have experienced a diversity of ups and downs, professionally, romantically, and emotionally. I have nurtured my own design fashion business since the mid nineties and find that when I am working with the many students at Parsons and FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) I have so much that I want to convey. I realize that as I am still growing as a designer, as a man, and as a life partner, that I have a responsibility to share, when appropriate, with the “kids” who are still trying to make their way.
And speaking of “mentoring,” the Council of Fashion Designers of America (C.F.D.A.), of which I am a board member, is creating a very unique mentoring laboratory. Situated in the heart of the garment center, the CFDA has initiated a program wherein 15 chosen emerging designers have the opportunity to rent a design space, all on the same floor, for very little, and to receive mentor support for the two years they are in residence in this program. The program is called “the design incubator” and is the first of its kind. I am excited to work on this project with my fellow members of the CFDA and feel that sharing, instructing, and giving of oneself is a vital and important part of one’s professional career.
On a personal level, it is also hugely important and rewarding to give back to the young gay community, many of whom really need guidance and support and healthy role models. The incidence of teen suicide among gay, lesbian, transgender, and questioning youth is, I believe, four times as great than among their straight counterparts. This makes mentoring so much more essential. And those that give also get in a big way.