Joan Duncan

On Galas, The Garment District and Wearing The Same Wedding Dress As Cyndi Lauper


Who: Joan Duncan, Pioneer, Parsons Professor, Fashion Aficionado



Why She's Foxy: She’s an old-school garmento turned world traveler and Parsons professor who is restoring integrity to the state of couture one student at a time.

On Writing + Fashion: “I was on a trajectory to be a great writer — I thought I might be the next Ernest Hemingway. While I was in college an accessories buyer I was working for said to me, ‘you're never going to make any money writing, and you have a flare for fashion, so why don't you change your major?’ So I went to FIT. But after I graduated, the economy was dead. I’d get up every morning, put my bathing suit on, and go sit on the back patio. My mother would pull her hair out of her head and say: ‘you're never going to get a job, and why did I send you to that school?’ So the first time someone called and said they had a job for me I jumped at it. I started out as a receptionist for a dress company. The woman looked at my resume and saw I had been to several colleges, and that I had been an assistant manager at a boutique. She said, ‘you're so overqualified for this I can't possibly hire you’. But I got down on my knees and I begged her. I told her that my mother would kill me if I came home without a job. Eventually, the owner took me under his wing and I became his assistant. At that time, Sears, JC Penny, and Montgomery Ward were all the biggest stores, and they were right here in New York. He took me with him on all his meetings and I soaked everything up. This was start of a career that took me all over the world.”


On The Original Garment District: “It was vibrant. It was great. We used to say it's the closest thing to Hollywood. Market Weeks were galas. Champagne was popped in showrooms. Everybody was making money and everything was selling. If you left a job you went across the street and got another. Domestic production was affordable. Jobs were abundant and talented people were needed. That's why Grand Central and Penn Station were built, because they were bringing in the immigrants to the Garment District so they could work as sewers. My mother was one of them. She did piece work in a coat factory.”

On Becoming A Professor At Parsons: Parsons came to me through a mutual friend. At that time I was traveling a lot. I was logging 150,000 miles a year, going to China, India and Europe. Parsons called me and said ‘we really would love for you to come and teach a course,’ I laughed and said, ‘are you crazy? I don't have time to do anything.’ They told me they would work around my schedule, so I originally started teaching on Wednesday nights. I love sharing my experiences with my students. They never leave me. Many have started their own businesses, and they come to New York and take me out to coffee. It’s very rewarding.”  

On Her Wedding:I met my husband in the industry. Our wedding was in Tuxedo, New York. Cyndi Lauper and I were both at Saks Wedding Department at the same time, and we both bought the same dress. My dress was so funky for that time. It was short and it had rose straps that went off the shoulder. I remember my photographer saying, ‘brides don't perspire Joan,’ and I said, ‘of course they do!’”


Fave Book About Love:I am such a management guru when it comes to books but my favorite movie about love is probably Breakfast at Tiffany's’ and Now, Voyager’ with Bette Davis.”


Fave Love Song: “Probably would be our wedding song, a duet by Nat King Cole and his daughter called Unforgettable.”