Marcus Williams still can’t believe it.
The 20-year-old rising junior and Business of Cinematic Arts major was one of just 20 students to be chosen for the inaugural Gucci North America Changemakers Scholars program.
The program focuses on students pursuing various careers within the fashion industry. To qualify for the scholarship, students must live or study in one of 12 major North American cities or be currently enrolled in, or plan to attend, a historically Black college or university (HBCU), according to a statement from the brand.
“As education is vital to implementing real change and ensuring diverse voices are in positions of power, it is more important than ever to foster the next generation of talent,” said Antoine Phillips, Vice President of Brand & Culture Engagement at Gucci, in a statement.
Williams is all in.
“I’d never in a million years think that I would be in a meeting with Gucci,” he said. “I’m already working on stuff to pitch them. And I realize that I’m probably only going to get this opportunity once, so I am going to make the most of it and leverage it toward my goals.”
That has been Williams’ mindset since coming to USC—don’t wait for things to happen, go make them happen.
That attitude explains why he’s in the John H. Mitchell Business of Cinematic Arts program, a highly selective degree program that combines USC Marshall business classes with classes at the School of Cinematic Arts. Williams wasn’t even a business student. Yet.
He was admitted into Dornsife, and that was all the foothold he needed. “My whole game plan was, ‘how am I going to finesse my way into Marshall?’”
He attended Marshall’s freshman orientation and hung around after most everyone had left.
“Then I asked probing questions about what kind of opportunities there were for students interested in business and cinema,” he said.
“For me, Virgil is like the Jackie Robinson of fashion. He showed me it’s possible for a Black man to be at the head of these European brands.”—Marcus Williams BCA '21, Gucci North America Changemakers Scholar
Someone mentioned the BCA, which only admits freshmen and has a limited capacity. Williams jumped at the opportunity, even though it meant quickly turning around several essays and other applicant materials.
And he got in.
Williams, who grew up in Ladera Heights and played a lot of sports in high school, gradually began realizing he was more interested in creative exploits, and moved in that direction as he applied for college.
“In some ways USC is like an art school,” he said. “The amount of talent at Thornton and the Cinema School is mind-blowing.”
As a student worker in the USC Iovine and Young Academy, his adeptness at creating graphics and email blasts impressed his supervisor. She told him about the Gucci Changemakers scholarship and urged him to apply.
Starting in July, Williams will embark on a six-week, four-days-a-week virtual program, where he will be introduced to every department at the fashion house.
The original plan was for the 20 Changemaker Scholars to fly out to Gucci’s North American offices in New York City. But the pandemic shutdown mandated a pivot to an all-virtual program.
“I’m disappointed I can’t get to New York, but that doesn’t diminish how excited I am to start this internship,” he said. “The whole program is set up for us to bring new ideas to the table, and I’ve been waiting so long to be able to demonstrate what I can do in that regard.”
With the goal of becoming a creative director at a major brand, Williams wants to bridge the disconnect between the older, more established fashion brands and what the young people in, say, Los Angeles, are wearing in the clubs.
“Nobody’s brought LA club life wear to these massive brands,” he said.
Williams said his interest in the fashion industry has been inspired by Virgil Abloh, the founder and creative director of the luxury brand Off-White and the menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton.
“For me, Virgil is like the Jackie Robinson of fashion. He showed me it’s possible for a Black man to be at the head of these European brands.”
And that is perhaps his ultimate goal—to inspire others that this is even possible. “In 10 years I want to be able to go into an elementary school and tell young Black kids that yes, you can aspire to this too. It’s a real thing. And you can do it."