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New York to Nordstrom: Fashion Merchandising graduate Cole Firkus navigates Fashion Week and Beyond

Top Fashion Merchandising School Graduate Cole Firkus

“Fashion needs to sustain you! This is an ever evolving and changing industry that requires flexibility and an incredibly tough skin. You must have passion to be here. Without that passion to drive you, the rest will just wear you down.” 

As Assistant Manager of Nordstrom Calgary’s department TBD, housing women’s denim and contemporary lines, it’s Cole Firkus’ job to ensure his team is working together, keeping their numbers up and, of course, helping their customers look fabulous. The Blanche Macdonald Fashion Merchandising graduate has worked immensely hard to get to where he is today and though he loves his job in the midst of the Fashion Industry, he’s very careful to dispel any romantic notions of constant glitz and glam.

“If you’re only in Fashion to look good, then get a great job in something else that can aide you in shopping for the best clothes. You don’t get into fashion to look good. You get into fashion to change how the world looks.” 

Growing up in rural Cochrane, Alberta, fashion wasn’t a main interest for Cole, even though he always appreciated a certain aesthetic. This good taste is at the heart of his work. Even as a child, he knew how he wanted and didn’t want to look. 

“My Mom says I never left the house dressed improperly. I was always put together even as a kid and never in sweatpants,” he laughs. “Once I became a teenager, my interests evolved to actual fashion and designers and trying to find the clothes I liked that really showed who I was.”

Top Fashion Merchandising School Graduate Cole Firkus

A love for fashion and designer knowledge didn’t automatically catapult Cole straight to Blanche Macdonald or even aspiring to a career in fashion. 

“I wanted to do something in the fashion world but it seemed so far away from anything I’d ever known. So I began a degree in Spanish in Calgary.

“I came home from school one day and I’d completely had it with university. My friend had just enrolled at Blanche Macdonald and she told me to apply and see what happened – so I did! And I felt so much better. I remember getting my acceptance to Blanche Macdonald and really, really being able to see a future in something I actually wanted to do. It was amazing.”

Top Fashion Merchandising School Graduate Cole Firkus

“Instantly I knew I’d made the right choice. I actually wanted to go to school for this!”

Thriving in all his classes, Cole found a special passion in Donna Baldock’s Textiles lessons.

“I absolutely loved Donna and that entire class! I still have the binder of swatches we had to make and refer to it all the time!” 

No stranger to the challenging questions graduation brings, Cole spent plenty of time with Career Director Mel Watts after finishing Fashion School, exploring opportunities and discussing potential careers. And then one day his dream ship came in. 

“Mel had just been contacted by Dream Careers so I went to their presentation and ended up getting accepted into their program.”

Dream Careers matches students with specialized internships in their chosen fields all over the world. Out of thousands of applicants Cole was one of a select few accepted to head to New York that spring. Scoring an internship working as a PR intern for major fashion labels Donna Karan and DKNY meant that Cole was on his way to becoming a shining star in the fashion universe. 

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. If I could’ve extended my Visa, I would’ve worked in New York forever!” 

Top Fashion Merchandising School graduate Cole Firkus

And what more perfect time to intern at a fashion house in New York than during Fashion Week?

“Every class I’d had at Blanche Macdonald came in handy. I was an intern, so obviously I wasn’t planning the runway shows. At the same time, they didn’t have to explain what every little thing or term was to me. There was one time we received an email that a publication needed anything we had with a Breton Stripe like, now! Everyone was scrambling trying to find out what exactly a Breton Stripe was but thanks to Peggy Morrison’s Fashion Elements class, I was like ‘I know what we need!’             

“If you remember the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway has the binders of people to memorize? I had to do exactly that but with their seat assignments too! The idea was that when these people came in, I would greet them, take them out of the line and then seat them. It was so crazy! But I got to meet absolutely everyone!”  

If there was one thing that his classes at Blanche Macdonald did not prepare him for, it was the excitement of meeting his idol: the influential and glamorous editor and buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, Linda Fargo.

“We couldn’t start the show without her and I was waiting outside so I could take her straight to her seat, which I still remember was F1-1, but security was being told to close the doors! It was so stressful. Finally, she arrived and when I went to lead her to her seat, she just grabbed my hand. I could hardly keep myself together!  When I got her to her seat, I turned and went back to where I was standing – and cried! Even now, reliving the experience brings back emotion. I had met my idol and she was everything I thought she would be. Completely flawless.”

Top Fashion Merchandising School Graduate Cole Firkus

Back on Canadian ground, Cole was eager to capitalize on his New York experience. 

“I’d worked at a few stores around Calgary and was always one of the top sellers but there was never any room to move up. That’s when I decided to start looking for a new job that would possibly lead to something more.” 

Thanks to his stellar sales reputation, Cole eventually found his home at Nordstrom and in his short time there, he’s proven himself a force to be reckoned with. After rising to the top of the sales ranks, he was part of the first Canadian class of Future Nordstrom Leaders, which prepares the Company’s most promising talents for eventual management. He also won an in-house sales competition which saw him take a whirlwind three-day tour of Nordstrom offices in Seattle to meet the design and buying team and design one product for a Nordstrom in-house brand.  

“They actually liked my ideas so much they took three!”

And just what inspired these amazing pieces? He grins: “I can’t say too much about it but I was heavily inspired by nautical themes and menswear. They should be launching this fall and next spring!”  

Since Seattle, Cole has been busy teaching his team how to do what he does so well: styling and selling.

“I’m lucky to have such a great team. They’ve already got the basics; I’m just helping them along. All the knowledge I gained from my time at Blanche Macdonald and my internship is why I’m so successful. I try to share that with the people I work with and of course, my customers!”

Top Fashion School Graduate Cole Firkus

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