Is this a wrap on immigrant designers in America?

Diane von Fürstenberg, Immigrant from Belgium Photo courtesy of Variety.com

Diane von Fürstenberg, Immigrant from Belgium
Photo courtesy of Variety.com

Stop for a moment and imagine—what if the wrap dress didn’t exist?

You know the one.

The looks-good-on-every-body-shape, waist-slimming, made-in-every-color-and-pattern, made-popular-the-world-over-by-Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress, also known as a staple in the vast majority of American women’s closets. The wrap dress has even earned it’s own Wikipedia page due to its longevity and popularity.

In terms of American ready-to-wear fashion, I cannot think of a more iconic look than the Fürstenberg wrap dress.

While other designers incorporated versions of the wrap dress into their collections, including Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s and Claire McCardell in the 1940s, it was Belgium-born, American designer Fürstenberg’s version in figure-flattering jersey that became a must-have in the early 1970s.

It’s important to note here that Fürstenberg, currently president of The Council of Fashion Designers of America, is an immigrant. Headquartered in New York, Diane von Fürstenberg is an American design leader who attracts and supports emerging design talent from all over the globe including America (namely Prabal Gurung, Thakoon Panichgul, Joseph Altuzarra and Sander Lak) as they launch their careers in America. She is a champion for the revitalization of the American garment industry and of course, gives us bragging rights to the wrap dress. And yet, she was not born an American citizen.

Prabal Gurung, Immigrant from Nepal Photo courtesy of Elle.in

Prabal Gurung, Immigrant from Nepal
Photo courtesy of Elle.in

Immigration policy changes loom and for the fashion industry, this could mean significant changes in terms of opportunity for immigrant designers wishing to bring their businesses to America. For American lovers of fashion, the consequences of stricter immigration laws mean we will see more of what much of American fashion has morphed into—celebrities starting fashion lines (Serena Williams‘ S line, anyone?) and Instagram influencers being paid to sell garments by large companies who can afford to pay for this type of advertising.

Joseph Altuzarra, Immigrant from Photo courtesy of fashionweekdaily.com

Joseph Altuzarra, Immigrant from France
Photo courtesy of fashionweekdaily.com

As just one example of how immigration policy is set to change, the current administration is in favor of abolishing the International Entrepreneur Rule which is a regulation that grants qualified foreign entrepreneurs temporary parole in the U.S. in order to build and grow their businesses. In other words, should the designer of the next garment that rivals the wrap dress hail from Japan and want to start her business in America, she would no longer be afforded this extra time in the U.S. to grow her business. And down the road, Americans would not benefit from the jobs her company would create, or the notoriety her creation may garner. In fact, in order to get her sought after garment, American fashion lovers may end up spending their dollars overseas where this designer ended up growing her business, as it wasn’t feasible in the U.S.

Recently, the Fashion Innovation Alliance, Parsons, the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator and the Fashion Law Institute delivered a joint statement to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that the International Entrepreneur Rule be kept in place. In an interview with WWD, Kenya N. Wiley, the founder and chief executive officer of the Fashion Innovation Alliance, stressed the importance of keeping immigration issues facing the fashion world in the spotlight—a challenging feat in the wake of current immigration turmoil in the US.

Sander Lak, Immigrant from Brunei Photo courtesy of

Sander Lak, Immigrant from Brunei
Photo courtesy of theglobeandmail.com

Some may argue that encouraging immigrant designers to grow their businesses in America takes away opportunities from American-born designers. But most who value the true art and craft of fashion design agree that fashion is and always has been a global industry, driven by inspiration that comes from all corners of the world and enhanced by diverse cultural differences, histories and experiences.

And when I think about American fashion minus those who have come from countries around the world to proudly base their thriving businesses in the US, I’m left with only a fraction of what has made the American fashion industry a contender on the world runway.

 

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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.

  • Terri Z

    Although I am in favor of preserving this rule, it should be noted that the International Entrepreneur Rule did not go into effect until December 2017; and none of the designers mentioned n this article entered the US under this rule. Should the International Entrepreneur Rule be abolished, other visa categories remain available to immigrant entrepreneurs. Regardless of the outcome, American fashion will not be without its international designers.

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