by Karen Alberg Grossman

It was a true celebration of the fashion industry as more than 1,600 people gathered Tuesday night at the YMA FSF Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards Dinner at the Marriott Marquis to salute the talented college students who will shape our future. They were also there to support two industry icons: Tim Baxter, chief merchandising officer at Macy’s, and Ron Wurtzburger, president of Peerless Clothing.

Thanks to the intense fundraising efforts of these two powerhouse execs and their teams (as well as the YMA’s third honoree, fashion entrepreneur and pop singer Jessica Simpson), the evening broke all records, raising more than $4 million. The event awarded about $1.2 million in scholarships to this year’s 200 scholars chosen from top fashion programs around the country and to eight Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship finalists, each of whom received grants of either $10,000 or $30,000.

In addition to awarding scholarships, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund provides intern placement throughout the United States, summer programs including “Breakfast with the Boss”, The Winter Institute, networking events, continuing education and a nationwide Alumni program.

At the dinner, Baxter (introduced by Macy’s president Jeff Gennette who described Baxter as “a great merchant who’s both collaborative and resilient”) acknowledged a tough year at retail and spoke about the need to keep the incredible talent in the room right here in our industry. “These are the people who can create a brighter future; the ones who look at the business through an unfiltered lens.” He noted that what’s most needed at retail now is a change in attitude from “No, because…” to “Wow! How?”

Wurtzburger, introduced by daughter Mindy Shulman and son Rich Wurtzburger, attributed this year’s record-breaking fundraising to his and Baxter’s highly competitive spirit. “Second place is for someone else,” he stated has always been his motto, along with “make it happen!” Alluding to the circular nature of life, he noted that his first success in business was attaining the Geoffrey Beene license and now he’s here raising money for the YMA Geoffrey Beene Scholarship Fund. In his introduction, Rich pointed out the five F’s that have always governed Ronny’s life: faith, family, friendship, fashion and (ph)ilanthropy. “He’s a wonderful mentor and gives everyone great advice (except advice on love life, which doesn’t always turn out so well…)”

Peter Sachse

Simpson was presented with the “Future of Fashion Award” by Louise Camuto, the widow of shoe designer Vince Camuto, who is one of Simpson’s business partners. She urged the students to follow their dreams if they are a little crazy. “People seem to like crazy,” she noted, perhaps alluding to her own reputation in the press.

The Geoffrey Beene Foundation, to date, has given $5 million to the YMA Scholarship Fund and another $2.5 million to the CFDA Annual Design Scholarship.