Q & A

Former Social Secretary Desiree Rogers on Planning Tonight's Fashion Columbia Event in Chicago

By Jenny Berg June 8, 2012, 12:01 PM EDT

Desiree Rogers is chair of tonight's Fashion Columbia fashion show and fund-raiser.

Photo: Courtesy of Desiree Rogers

Former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers is back in Chicago—and back in events, chairing tonight's Fashion Columbia fashion show and fund-raiser for Columbia College. This year, the event has received more buzz than usual, thanks to a new partnership with Johnson Publishing Company, where Rogers has been C.E.O. since 2010. The company publishes Ebony and Jet magazines and owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics.

Johnson Publishing Company also recently announced plans to resurrect the company's Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling runway show that spotlights emerging talent, as reported by the New York Observer. After coming to a halt in 2009, the fashion fair will likely strike up again in 2013.

Here, Rogers fills us in on how tonight's Fashion Columbia represents a splashier new direction for the college's student showcase.

How did you come to chair the event, and what is the event's relationship with Johnson Publishing?
Columbia College has a long-standing relationship with Johnson Publishing that goes back to [company founder] John H. Johnson hiring the school’s students as interns and many going on to work for Jet and Ebony magazines. Net proceeds for this year’s Fashion Columbia will benefit the Eunice W. Johnson Scholarship in Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago. Along with student designs, the show will present some of the couture designs from Mrs. Johnson’s collection, and models will be wearing Johnson Publishing Company’s Fashion Fair Cosmetics makeup.

This year's show is going to be bigger and splashier than previous iterations. What inspired that push?

We wanted to showcase the students’ body of work in a higher-profile venue, Columbia College’s new state-of-the art Media Production Center, which creates a larger, more exciting event. Since this is the college’s premier spring fund-raising event, we also have focused on making this event larger to aid fund-raising for the [scholarship] endowment.

What's new about this year's event?
The event was changed from a luncheon to an evening celebration. A host committee dinner, V.I.P. reception, rooftop after-party, and wrap party were added. For the first time, there will be a live auction during the event.

Have you seen a favorable response to those changes?
The venue and time change have had a major impact; an evening event is more accessible to attendees. That, and adding the host committee dinner, V.I.P. reception, post parties, and the cause itself—raising money for the scholarship—have raised the bar for this event. There is plenty of buzz around Chicago ... I expect this event to grow even larger next year.

How did you select vendors?
Columbia selected its vendors very carefully and is loyal to the best partners from event to event. For example, Event Creative has been a partner with the school for several years, including the annual Open Doors Gala. This will be their first time working on Fashion Columbia, and the concepts look exciting. 

Columbia College pays close attention to sustainability. Will that sensitivity carry over to the event?
Although the college hosts more than 1,000 exhibits, performances, guest lectures, and recitals open to the public each year, Fashion Columbia 2012 will be the largest and most green event to date. The event is following Columbia’s sustainability checklist, a guide developed to look at decreasing the carbon footprint of the public events on campus. They are contracting more green vendors, utilizing reusable glasses, and recycling post-event paper and other products, as well as composting food scraps. Sustainability is a campus-wide initiative, and the school is certainly looking for Fashion Columbia to take a lead in helping further define the process on a larger scale.

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