A love of fine arts has proved to be the jewel in the career of Rosary Hill alumnus, Jim Siewert ’72. Having just turned 55, Jim has also turned the page on a key chapter in his life: reconnecting in a more direct way with the fine arts orientation he courted in college.
Siewert spent the last 20 years at Celanese, an international Fortune 500 multibillion-dollar fiber firm. Originally from Buffalo, Jim’s position as mens-
wear manager found him in New York City during that time, though now he’s
headed back to WNY.
Siewert’s Rosary Hill education – he majored in fine arts and had a penchant for painting – was a strong source of nurturing for his undeniable creative side, which he put to good work in the fashion industry. Shortly after graduating, he held several jobs in retail, and for a while, in a local advertising agency.
Through the right contacts, he eventually landed himself a coordinator job in the fashion office for merchandising at the now defunct Hengerer’s clothing store in Buffalo. After three years there, his networking contacts in New York City and elsewhere paved the way to fashion and marketing positions at places such as Wannamaker’s in Philadelphia, and an assistant marketing manager position with high fashion designer Halston in New York.
It was an important opportunity not only to develop his prowess as a fashion director, but also to travel the world. His duties, especially while based in Philadelphia, required him to advise and consult with buyers and other industry specialists in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Paris, Milan, Australia, and elsewhere; he’s been to Europe 50 times. He also traveled in Halston circles that included the likes of Liz Taylor, Bianca Jagger,
pop art icon Andy Warhol, and other jet-setters who were drawn to the designer’s lavish parties.
Siewert became men’s fashion director for Celanese in 1983. “The job took me to Europe about twice a year,” the Rosary Hill alumnus notes. “People were raving about the men’s shows in which I was involved and said, ‘We’d like to do it for kids, too.’ So I jumped in and did this in addition to the men’s shows.”
He also got into the more commercial side of the business, involving fabric used in commercial carpeting and wall coverings. “We had a five-story townhouse, called the Celanese House, in which we displayed these things,” Siewert recalls. “The house was also used for parties – it was a fun thing! I was appointed manager of the townhouse, and by that point I was doing women’s wear trending, so I had women’s wear and the interior work as part of my responsibility.”
By 2000, however, international competition and a confluence of other factors were putting a strain on the domestic business in general and Jim in particular. Celanese had a big operation in Mexico, and others eventually followed suit, with business going to Korea, Taiwan, China and other destinations. “It was a very competitive thing, and a difficult one,” says Siewert.
Celanese was then planning a major cutback, and Siewert became a contract, or freelance, worker for the firm – an arrangement that concluded at the end of January of this year. Now in his mid-50’s, with a pension from the company and a desire to teach and reconnect more directly with his fine arts background, he was lured back to Buffalo. He’d taught some classes in fashion and fabric in the past, so the idea of teaching became a logical next move in his career. A longstanding desire to get his master’s degree in fine arts also beckoned.
“My gut reaction, even a year ago, was that I didn’t want to stay in New York City much longer. I was finding myself with a crunching feeling after returning to Buffalo to see my mother (she passed on not long ago), and then – when leaving – thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this picture? You don’t want to go back!’”
So he’s not. His plan, when Daemen Today spoke with him in January, was to return to the Buffalo area sometime in April, residing at his late mother’s house, enjoying the less hectic pace of a college teaching job, pursuing his advanced fine arts degree, and returning to his Western New York roots. Says Jim: “This gave me great comfort. It made great sense to me. It’s important. This is the ideal thing for me. Overall, I’m enthused about where I’m going.”