Patrick Cupid Talks Design, Influence and Schooling
Patrick Cupid is a designer, businessman and professor. He discusses how a childhood spent in the Bronx influenced his designs, the merits of fashion school and the rewards and challenges of building a personal label from the ground up.
What is your earliest memory of sewing or designing something?
My earliest memory goes back to being 5, maybe 6 years old. I believe it was a shirt button. I had a short sleeve shirt I had as a kid that I loved. One of the buttons came off and my mother always had a sewing kit in the house. I remember taking the needle, thread and button and sewing it right back on.
No one showed me how, no one taught me. For some reason, it just made sense to me. I knew this is what I had to do. From there, it sparked a fascination with the craft of sewing. I fixed old clothes, made clothes for dolls or my stuffed animals.
How did your childhood spent in New York City affect your designs? Are there any neighborhoods or boroughs that affected your aesthetic?
I grew up in the Northeast Bronx. Anyone that knows the Bronx, especially that area, knows it is a definite fashion hub. There are people from all walks of life. [There are] different cultures mingling and they bring back their own world experience, so to speak. Everything from the Jamaican women who, back then, set trends like having pink and purple hair which is a norm now. I remember one in particular named Helen. She always wore giant gold jewelry and her hair was in finger waves or pressed up. Also my mother, she has probably gone through every hair color and style possible.
You are subconsciously being fed all these ideas about how to dress. You don’t really get that in many places. The other neighborhoods in New York, I don’t know if [different cultures] mingled as much at that time.
You received formal training at FIT and Parsons. Were there any major differences in the areas they focused on and how they taught?
Not extremely but in terms of the curriculum, yes. Many teachers who teach at FIT are also professors at Parsons and other schools. I did a brief period at the Art Institute and one of my favorite professors Fan Wu was teaching an illustration course at FIT. Even though it was the same professor teaching the same class, overall there are vast differences in terms of your peers.
Students at Parsons are far more financially set by average. Culturally, you see a difference in the things they design, their capabilities and even how the classes are taught. FIT, however, it is far more hands-on. At Parsons, you are required to take all liberal arts courses in your first two years. So, for the remainder of the program, you are only focused on your design courses. Whereas at FIT, you have core classes throughout your time there. It is a lot more difficult but you’re learning the technology and skills you need.
But Parsons has taught me a lot about design, I remember a draping professor at Parsons started the class with a more artistic way and encouraged improvisation. But at FIT, they tell you exactly what the measurements need to be, etc.
Would you say that aspiring designers, more often than not, should receive formal training instead of just doing an apprenticeship?
It depends on the experience and how you absorb information. You cannot teach someone talent, either they have it or they don’t. Currently, I teach at FIT and I see it in my classes. There are some students that have [talent] in spades. Others have the talent but don’t have the technical skills to explain what they are trying to create. That’s where education and school can help.
Even myself, my drawing got better because I kept doing it and practiced. However going to school gave me the language to describe what I was drawing so I could tell garment workers to explain my vision. You can pick up certain software and the business side working as an apprenticeship or at a fashion house. But you need the talent and school to help you perfect it. I don’t know if you learn talent or good design by working with another good designer.
In your own label, how involved are you in the business and merchandising side?
All of it – Patrick Cupid is Patrick Cupid. There are so many facets that I am responsible for. I am my pattern maker, I do my own illustrations, I source my fabric and make contracts with the factories. Even the budgeting and financial planning, I am involved in. Aside from the digitization, which I outsource. There is also the legal aspect who owns the patterns or clothes. I own the rights to everything. By doing it myself, I am 100% sure that I do.
What advice would you give young designers who are trying to get funding for their label?
Read publications like Women Wear’s Daily, check out the CFDA website. I am a CFDA interim member and it is a massive resource. Learn about grants, design competitions and get involved. These competitions have prize rewards that you can use. It also helps to generate visibility for the brand and use social media to establish a loyal base. Family and friends can also help you. And start small and work yourself up from there.
You cite a ‘semi-style’ way of dressing as being influential in your own designs. What does semi style exactly mean?
It’s a global awareness among women, especially young women, that I have noticed where they don’t dress alike anymore. In the past decades, everyone would look very similar. There is no common look anymore. Young women have broken down this idea of a uniform. It is slowly starting to happen with men [as well]. Women dress for who they are and how they feel.
Semi style is a reaction to that. They get dressed to go to work, to hang out with friends or even going to the gym because they’re very busy. They are the ultimate multitaskers. The clothing has to work for all of that and not just day to night. It is a way of dressing that incorporates the ease and comfort of street fashion with the luxury of high fashion.
Describe your brand in three words.
Powerful. Colorful. Free.
Featured Image Courtesy of CFDA Website
Image Courtesy of Patrick Cupid Website