When you think of the word professor you instantly run subjects like microeconomics, calculus, and English through your head. Sherla Cruz de Benoit is not that type of professor. Her definition of success was not your average corporate job but a creative genius in the fashion industry.
Upon signing up for one of her classes, she nonchalantly told us about her past life as a fashion designer. I was instantly hooked and she’s part of the reason I decided to pursue what I love rather than the ordinary. Since my freshman year in college she has continued to inspire me and motivate me. I decided to interview her for the paper and decided to share it with you all as well;)
Here is what the post designer turned professor had to say:
Q. What was your biggest achievement while working in the fashion industry?
A. Having the opportunity to see, work and mingle with interesting and diverse people from all over the world; from South America to Mexico to Romania; manufacturing in the Orient, England and in Italy. Having great friends such as my very dear Edmundo Castillo (world renowned shoe designer).
Also, having the opportunity of being a student of the late Antonio Lopez who continues to be the most famous fashion illustrator in history. My husband designed the book that traveled with his Louvre exhibit curated by his dear friend Juan Ramos. Oh and can go on and on….dancing choo choo train with Manolo Blahnik in the Hispanic Designers Gala in Washington DC circa 1989, le fun!
Q. What was it like working with Tim Gunn (is he anything like he is on tv)?
A. He is as nice in person as you see in TV and he has always been that way; personable, enjoyable and with the finger on the pulse of what’s happening. I still have the signed transfer of credit sheet with his then signature now autograph on it (he used to be the Academic Advising Director in Parsons School of Design at the time).
Q. What kind of garments did you design and where were they sold?
A. Wow! Anywhere from designer knitwear for Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys NY, Saks of 5th, Neiman Marcus to private label sportswear for New York & Co and The Limited. Women’s sportswear for Adrienne Vittadini, Men’s streetwear for surf shops and JC Penney’s; I had very good opportunities and cherished each one of them. It was fun seeing Lisa Bonnet in the Cosby Show wearing my sweater or standing in the Subway next to someone wearing my design.
Q. What was your biggest inspiration when designing?
A. Culture, nature and the world at large; I was inspired by European and Japanese designers; specifically early eighties: Comme des Garcons, Montana, Issey Miyake, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier. In the 90’s I enjoyed John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Donna Karan. For knitwear I got inspired from textiles from around the world. Love Hermes prints and clothing, Dries Van Noten and Etro.
Q. If you could have dinner with three designers, dead or alive, who
would they be?
A. Ok this is tough (I attended the same Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in 1995 along with the design community including these designers but did not get to meet them):
Karl Lagerfeld (genius)
Wouldn’t mind having dessert with Manolo Blahnik, he is very nice.
Q. What do you do now at NSU and why the career change?
A. I have always loved education and always thought of it as a career I wanted to pursue later in life.
I remember that it was ok to change majors when I was a sophomore and recognized that a career change allowed me to evolve into other facets of myself. I relocated to the South of Florida to teach fashion design, illustration and merchandising at a time when I felt ready to start a family and so I did.
I made it my personal contribution to life, to be there for a student in need, paying forward for those who stood by me during my times of need. I knew in my heart that if I could dedicate myself to inspire and motivate students I would take the opportunity and run with it.
I am an Associate Director for Student Success in the Office of Academic Advising in the Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship. I enjoy creating programs for student success, being a resource for all our students. I relate to the student experience at all levels from pre-professional to baccalaureate, graduate and post-graduate experiences. I enjoy our multiculturalism and entrepreneurial creativity.
I am glad to be here in Nova Southeastern University, what a great place to be!
Q. What one piece of advice can you offer students who want to pursue
a career in fashion based on your previous experiences?
A. The world of fashion is very exciting and creative. It is a world for hard working, resilient individuals whose work truly never stops. Everything will always take longer than planned. Designers must never shy away from constructive criticism and going back to the drawing table is just part of the game.
My experience was a blend of business and creativity. After the research and design phase, then came all the meetings and sales training for the showrooms plus all the overseas communication (of course this depends of the size and scope of the company you work for). Planning and strategy were crucial to my success combined with an impeccable sense of urgency. I made it my business to be 10 steps ahead that everyone else and I was always centered in what was important, eliminating distractions that would divert me from obtaining my daily purpose.
Q. Although you don’t work in the fashion industry anymore, are you
still as passionate about it as you once were?
A. I am very much in love with creativity and its many forms of expression. I have expanded my scope to all forms of art and enjoy aesthetics most intensely while observing nature. I have learned that creativity can be applied to any aspect of life and no longer must I be a part of only one industry to enjoy that feeling. Fine Arts, business and fashion will always be part of that foundation and I am grateful for that.
To answer your question, in short, yes, mouth wide open… I still salivate over a great magazine spread.