When You Go To Fashion School In Your 50s — & Get Mistaken For The Janitor

Photo: Via Facebook/AARP.
AARP isn't exactly the first place we'd expect to learn about interesting design talent, but the organization for the retired (or nearly retired) crowd posted a fascinating video from its "Fearless at 50" campaign about shoe designer Chris Donovan. After a quarter-century as a telephone operator, Donovan started mulling a major career switch: "I knew I had a lot more in me... I started to think, God, there's got to be something more out there," Donovan says in the film.

The impetus for Donovan to take the plunge professionally was a prostate cancer diagnosis. "It taught me that you never know when your life's expiration date is," Donovan remarks. His professional fresh start kicked off at Polimoda fashion school in Italy. "It was a big Italian villa in the middle of Florence, and the hallways are filled with beautiful, beautiful fashion work," he recalls. "I walked in and thought, I'm screwed! I obviously did not look like a fashion student. I was even mistaken for a janitor at one point," he says.

Donovan's fascination with shoes began during his co-ed Catholic high school days, which had the "ugliest uniforms" for the female students; he remembers one day in particular when he was amazed when a girl in his class wore "the highest platforms I'd ever seen."
Photo: Via Facebook/AARP.

His sculptural designs are spurred by field trips to places like the salvage yard, which can result in everything from former stairway railings to mangled lilac branches to old hip replacement parts being incorporated into very one-of-a-kind kicks. "No matter what I'm looking at, if something intrigues me, I think of shoes," Donovan says of his eclectic design process.

"Where this is going, I'm not exactly sure. I'm scared, but that [feeling is] always going to be present," Donovan says in the video. "Fear shouldn't paralyze you. it should make you move. You just reframe [fear] as exciting."

We've reached out to AARP for more details on how they found Donovan and chose to feature him in the series, and will update when we hear back. But besides AARP, Donovan has also gotten some exposure thanks to Tim Gunn: A few months ago, Donovan won Lifetime's "A Critique With Tim" contest.
Photo: Via Facebook/AARP.
The video has struck a chord with other second-career folks out there, judging by the Facebook comments: "Love this, I'm 55 and at the art institute studying fashion design!" wrote one user, while another user tagged a pal and wrote "There is still hope yet for us!" You, too, just might be tempted to plot your fiftysomething career change-up now. Or, you know, maybe don't wait decades to pursue that passion. Check out the full video below.

"I obviously didn't look like a fashion student. I was mistaken for a janitor at one point."

Posted by AARP on Thursday, December 3, 2015
Video: Via AARP/Facebook.

More from Fashion