College for Creative Studies: Product Design
With more than six years of experience designing for Kenneth Cole and Reebok, Christopher Torres knows the ins-and-outs of the fashion industry and how to distinguish good products from fads.
His “NewDandyism” blog highlights designers and fashionable news relevant to dandies—“those suited, pocket-squared creatures of style.
“’NewDandyism’ started out as a column offered to me by a very highly trafficked street wear/sneaker site, Hignsnobiety.com, back in 2005,” explained Torres. “They invited me to curate a column essentially as a voice from a designer in the industry doing the kind of limited edition products they would often write about. A sort of inside perspective.
“But I had a hankering to do something different than just a blog about my daily life as a footwear designer. So, I branded it “NewDandyism,” which was a concept I had been kicking around for some time. Rather than regurgitating things you would find on other sites, I chose to include features and interviews of interesting people and designers. The column ended up becoming a brand-building launching pad for my own menswear store at the start of 2006. We were the first stores in the world to carry labels like Rag and Bone, Wood Wood and YMC.
“Although the store no longer exists, the column still thrives. It has become a place where we share our thoughts on the kinds of things that a NewDandy should have some knowledge and interest in—politics, culture, style and so forth. And judging by traffic, it seems people want to hear what we have to say. Thankfully they log on often.
“I think we can be very critical on the site but that's just because we are jaded picky designers that aren't as quick to anoint something ‘the next great thing’ so quickly. From some of our emails, this seems to be the appeal.”
Torres became the senior director of Kenneth Cole men’s footwear in 2008. He currently manages a streamlined team of designers responsible for building, designing and developing the company’s men’s footwear collections each season.
“Although Kenneth Cole is a large company by industry standards, it has a decidedly small company feel and I work very closely with Kenneth to bring our customers fresh fashion footwear each season,” said Torres.
“Since I’ve only been at Kenneth Cole for about a year, many of things I have impacted from a design standpoint are just hitting. Most of what I've been able to accomplish over the short period are things that will go unseen to the consumer—helping improve the company's development capabilities, putting fit processes in place and streamlining the production calendar. In many ways the designing comes easy.”
Prior to his career at Kenneth Cole, Torres spent four years as a designer at Reebok. He was hired immediately after graduation from CCS and spent his first two seasons on the performance team working on every type of shoe—from basketball to cross training to tennis. Then he moved onto the RBK team, which focused more on lifestyle.
“They thankfully thought so much of my skills that they brought me in above entry level,” Torres said. “I was thrown right into the fire, designing six shoes my first season, which was great because my learning curve was very steep and it allowed me to broaden my skills exponentially.
“Transitioning onto the RBK team was perfect for me. Although I obviously have very traditional industrial design training, I have always had a good feel for the pulse of fashion and am less inspired by the latest tech gadgets and more by culture.”
After his stint on the RBK team, Torres joined a special projects team called Equator. This three-person team worked on everything from the relaunch of Pump to very limited edition lifestyle products.
“Equator was unfortunately short-lived for various reasons, but some really great things came out of that time,” said Torres. “One of my proudest projects was the Basquiat series I created in collaboration with the Jean-Michel Basquiat estate. It was rewarding on a level as a lover of the artist's work but it was also a huge PR and commercial success.
“After Equator was dissolved, I was given the choice to continue doing lifestyle products or go back to performance products. I chose lifestyle, which allowed me to continue with the Basquiat series and projects like it until I left the company.”
Torres credits CCS for strengthening his work ethic and helping shape his design philosophies.
“I think if you go to CCS with the drive to succeed and can sustain that drive through all the boot-camp like workloads put on you, you will feel like nothing in the industry is too overwhelming."
“Dave Lyon, an executive design director at General Motors, was one instructor who really helped shape my personal design philosophies. I had him for two classes freshmen year, and they weren't even required credits. I took his second class because I had grown so much in the first. He had really concise ideas about how to go about designing and conveyed them better than anyone I have been around. He was tough and hard to please, but also threw a lot of humor into in his class—just a great mix.”