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Simon Ungless, Executive Director at Academy of Art University School of Fashion Interview


Simon Ungless, Executive Director at Academy of Art University School of Fashion, plays a role in fashion that is undeniably discreet, yet deeply influential. From introducing the world to talents on the runway to grooming the next fashion generation to playing a part in fashion history, Simon has been an unwavering leader of the class, proponent of emerging talent, and connector of creatives.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Simon,” declared Sarah Burton to Cathy Horyn, then of the New York Times. That was May 1, 2011, the eve of the McQueen exhibition opening at the MET, just five days after the debut of her history-making wedding dress for Duchess Catherine. Amidst all the excitement, the person on the tip of Sarah’s tongue was her former Central Saint Martin’s teacher. Countless designers, stylists, journalists, and merchandisers would, given the opportunity to speak on the record, undoubtedly also echo her gratitude for Simon.

Simon’s journey started as a student in London at CSM, where he earned the prestigious Masters of Art Degree in Fashion with Distinction and taught for three years. As the story goes, opportunity knocked from across the pond, bringing Simon to the Academy in San Francisco, where he oversees the M.F.A. and B.F.A. programs. He explains, “Over twenty years ago, the Academy hired a group of us to build a fashion program that brought together a European approach to design while encompassing an American spirit for business.” He continues, “We have since added marketing, fashion styling, journalism and social media. We found that the students thrive when working in an environment which very much mirrors the industry.” In keeping with this beyond-the-classroom credo, Simon spearheads SHOP657, the school’s San Francisco store, annual graduation, 180 Magazine’s print and digital media, and New York Fashion Week runway shows.

On the timely topic of NYFW, the Wonderful Wizard of Fashion, Education and Life observes, “Social media, reality television, and celebrity fashion often given the impression that anyone can do this, but the truth is that this takes a lot of work and a lot of being challenged.” He urges his students to welcome the challenge and closes our conversation with yet another astute Simon-ism:

Those who stick with it are changed. The energy and process of presenting a collection for NYFW definitely change people.