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  Alumni / Advancement    

Carolyn Risoli ’86: Fashioning a Life

By Joyce O’Connor Davidson

In September 2000 Carolyn Risoli ’86 launched the new line of ready-to-wear women’s clothing as president of Marc Jacobs Inc. Winona Ryder, Milla Jovovich, Angie Harmon, Debbie Harry, and Sean “Puffy” Combs, among other pop-culture luminaries, grabbed seats for the show. Marc by Marc Jacobs, the new diffusion line from the established designer Marc Jacobs, is a subsidiary of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy dynasty, and is considered one of the hippest New York City women’s clothiers. Supermodels Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell have walked the runway for Jacobs. So how did a young alumna of Holy Cross, who once considered a career as a lawyer or a diplomat, end up running the show for one of fashion’s hottest designers?

Carolyn Risoli says she had never entertained the idea of going into the fashion industry. There was even a time she thought fashion was a “fluffy” business. “But boy was I wrong,” she says. Now she spends her long work days among fashion designers, retailers, photographers and models. Although each season varies, a typical day might see Risoli spending a few hours consulting with designers on fabric, then meeting with retailers, then pricing the line. Pricing, one of Risoli’s favorite activities, requires understanding the marketplace and what people will pay for an item. “You have to know what value it brings to people. It’s all about what people are willing to pay, not necessarily what it costs to produce. Very often people will pay more just because it’s the hip thing,” she explains.

Risoli uses and values the skills she acquired at Holy Cross: “I was taught to think, to speak and to write.” When she set out for New York after graduation and joined Liz Claiborne, Inc., she found that her first-rate education separated her from others in the fashion industry, and she rose quickly to director of merchandising. Before long she was tapped to become president of Dana Buchman, a top-tier women’s label and subsidiary of Liz Claiborne. Risoli managed all business aspects of the three clothing lines marketed under the Buchman name.

She enjoyed the experience despite the long hours and seven-day weeks; “Dana Buchman herself is a summa cum laude graduate of Brown University. I worked in a great environment with people who were bright and talented. I never experienced sexism because people there expected women to be smart. Seventy five-percent of the vice presidents were women.”

Although her work at Buchman was exciting and entrepreneurial, about a year ago, Risoli felt a need to try something completely different. It was then that she joined Louis Vuitton, which she describes as a company run by very “refined French gentlemen,” where women are not in the majority. Marc Jacobs, however, is “a very creative environment, always new, interesting and eclectic,” she says.

The long hours Risoli puts in at work do not preclude her from helping others, a lesson instilled in her by her parents and reinforced at Holy Cross. “When I arrived in Manhattan, I was young and single and said to myself, ‘you’ve got to do something for other people,’” Risoli says. But because of the hours I worked, it was hard to find a way to be involved—then I found Manhattan Comprehensive, a nontraditional high school where I began tutoring over 10 years ago.” Because the school operated at night, she could go there to volunteer after leaving work at 9 p.m. Now Risoli is vice chair of the board of Comprehensive Development Inc., a nonprofit which provides services for the students who come from 63 different countries and now work and support families while trying to earn their high school diplomas.

Risoli credits her “broad education” at Holy Cross with giving her “the ability to appreciate all of the possibilities of everything that’s out there.” She says, “a classical education and the Jesuit ideology of educating the total person have been invaluable to me.” It is for this reason that Risoli generously supports Holy Cross.

Although there was a time when “I was very defined by my work,” Risoli says she is keeping herself open to other possibilities. She is keenly interested in nonprofit work and thinks about doing that full time at some point in the future; and having married two years ago, Risoli wants to start a family. Though she doesn’t know exactly what the future holds, Risoli says, “I’ve learned that life flows, and you have to go with it.”



Carolyn Risoli ’86

Carolyn Risoli ’86

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