Keanan Duffty founded the Masters program in Professional Studies, Fashion Management, at Parsons five years ago after an industry career which included running his eponymous brand for over two decades and collaborations with names as diverse as Target, Macy’s, John Varvatos, and David Bowie. The CFDA member will leave his current role as Director Fashion Programs, Provost's Office at the end of the year, to assume the dean position vacated by Massimo Casagrande this past summer. Duffty speaks to FashionUnited offering his forecast for the future of fashion education and the reasons why he is ready for a new challenge.
“There’s a big change coming in higher education," says Duffty, "and I think schools that are positioned and focused on a unique niche such as Istituto Marangoni Miami have more of a robust decade ahead of them.” UK-born Duffty had met the Marangoni team in Italy over the past 2 years, having been invited to guest lecture at the school's Florence campus. Marangoni also has campuses in Milan, London, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Mumbai.
But the question almost asks itself: Why leave the prestigious Parsons School of Design with all its ties to industry and New York Fashion Week for a lesser known, relatively new program at the other end of the country?
“Marangoni and I always had a dialogue, then during the summer Hakan [Baykam, founder and chief executive officer of Istituto Marangoni Miami] and I met for lunch in New York and I was really struck with his vision. I found it to be refreshing,” says Duffty. “I think it’s a unique proposal, a fashion school which unites Italian traditions, manufacturing and aesthetics with a strong Latinx heritage in Miami is really interesting to me as a new challenge.” He also doesn’t feel he will be losing anything about his current life as he intends to keep his Manhattan apartment and spend two weeks of each month in Miami.
Big changes ahead for the future of fashion education
Duffty sees the role of dean as an opportunity to serve, and is intrigued by Baykam's view that the dean should be a catalyst, a bridge between the New York fashion industry and Miami's evolving fashion ecosystem. “That’s why he came to me. I can be a bridge between two worlds bringing the industry, media, talents, and the influences from New York to Miami, and be a voice for the fashion system in Miami elsewhere.”
As this decade progresses Duffty says there will be a significant dip in enrollment across the entire educational landscape as students turn away from the university route due to the prohibitive cost of tuition and a growing skepticism that third level education results in better employment opportunities. Analysts are calling it the "enrollment cliff." The international attitude to education has also developed. “Kids from one part of the world are not necessarily going to school in another part of the world anymore,” he says, a phenomenon which top US schools had come to depend upon but which will taper off by 2026. “There was a wave of students from Japan, then a wave from Korea, then a wave from China. Each wave dissipated and was replaced by the next wave. But unfortunately there isn’t another wave coming. If you look at India, there are many great institutions there and students are staying and studying domestically. Likewise in Africa.”
The world-renowned NYC fashion schools along with Ivy League institutions outside the city that are heavily driven by tuition revenue will struggle. But donors from the legal profession or tech industry have much more wealth to bestow on their alma mater than fashion’s biggest benefactors. “So if the tuition faucet gets turned off, they’re not ready," says Duffty. "Marangoni is, of course, reliant on tuition but it doesn’t have the scale that other institutions do, and it’s very specifically focused on a niche that other schools haven’t paid attention to. I'm excited for the challenge.”