Enjoy our three-part throwback series ‘Three heads of London Fashion Schools’ now in English! The second interview of the three-part series is Central Saint Martins, Fabio Piras.
Central Saint Martins Head of Fashion, Fabio Piras aims to bring a curriculum that allows the students with opportunities to train and express themselves with a 360 degree vision and understanding. Because today’s fashion changing fashion industry demands talents to bring new ideas and creativity to the table rather than a passive assistant. For this, you must train to form your own ‘point of view’ in Fashion.
Q: It is very exciting to be speaking with the fashion course director of one of the most infamous and prestigious fashion schools – Central Saint Martins. So what would you say are the biggest challenges for fashion schools in today’s fast-moving world of fashion?
A: Although the fashion industry is always fast-changing, the speed of our society is accelerating those changes as well. So the biggest challenge for students, and consequently for us as educators, would be the mindset of ‘one shot one chance’. The most challenging part for us is to understand what are the most suitable professions for the students, whereas the most crucial thing for the students to do would be to know and discover what their fields of strengths are.
Q: Would you say the paths that students can take in the industry are getting more diverse?
A: In the past there was clearer boundaries but everything is more fluid now. For example if the student has a distinct sense on use of colours, they can work with an art director, while it is not mandatory for someone with a fashion communication degree to become a press even though they might have an unique artistic sense. They can work at the display or visual merchandising department with their talents. Our role is to understand who they are and guarantee how they can perform and be able to contribute in the pool of talents.
Q: From the school’s perspective, do you decide and direct which career path the students take?
A: No we certainly cannot decide what paths they take, especially for fashion students because what the industry want from us is to guide the students throughout their 18 months studying here to find their own talents and use them effectively. Because ultimately, this is what the industry demands for, not formatted graduates but people who can contribute and bring new elements into future employment. For instance, one can start at the bottom as an assistant, which is actually a great place to start from because they can learn what the reality is. And they are encouraged to contribute and bring new ideas to the table rather than being a passive assistant. This is the way we aim to train our students to be.
Q: That is very practical. It is interesting because I interviewed Dries van Noten a while ago and he has very similar views. He expects his younger assistants to express their ideas and point of views instead of being passive. Do you think this is possible?
A: Of course, because they might have a different language with you. ‘Point of view’ is one of our marking criteria and we aim to train the students to be able to express themselves and critique their own work as well as the work of others. Even though we are not a technical college, it is inevitable for designers to have the 360 degree vision and understanding because the physics of fashion is to touch everything and have visual and social engagement. It is also about being able to interpret what you see, not only what feeds you artistically and intellectually, but also the lives of the people you see on the streets – because you dress and style them as a designer.
Q: What do you expect from a MA student and what would you advise them to prepare themselves for?
A: For instance over 600 students applied this year but only 40 was selected for the course. So our goal is to create a team of students with different experiences and various educational and cultural backgrounds. I think the students would have different expectations according to the path of their course and obviously when they first come in they would have more naive expectations but it doesn’t really matter. To us, the most important thing we look for is their potential. So it is very exciting that there might be another famous designers like Christopher Kane, Craig Green or Charles Jeffrey graduating from our school but at the same time, we need students who are less well-known ‘team members’ but work their hardest in the fields of their talents.
Q: That’s true. It is important to note that it’s not obligatory for everyone on the course to become a designer. I concur with the idea that ‘team members’ also make a major part in the industry. The MA show of CSM is very big but only some people could make it and others don’t. Tell us more about that!
A: Of course we cannot deny the fact that the show casts a huge spotlight on the selected students who are able to present their collection at the time, for some it would keep shining on them, like Charles Jeffrey, but for others it may only last for a few minutes or months. Those who don’t make it might see it as a failure but what matters the most is the process, because when the show finishes it is done. And the show isn’t marked, we mark on their portfolio and collection.
Q: Let’s talk about the catwalk. Because we can all agree that it is not the only solution and some may say that it’s outdated. What is your opinion on that?
A: Fashion deals with the immediate future, but is equally a retro business world. And surprisingly, people in the industry are very conservative so the show is like a ceremony that is similar to a tribal which gathers people to a place where they can see the vision of someone or a group of people. It is not going to disappear any time soon. If you think of the show as a performance and instrument, it is going to remain; however, if you only think of it as something commercial like a product, there are a lot of other ways to showcase that.
Q: Would you also introduce new platforms like a showroom to your students?
A: Certainly, since years ago we have a showroom after each show which is a tradition and has been very successful for our students in terms of employment and building relationships within the industry. But it is by reservation only, so it targets specifically at businesses until last year, we created a gallery show for the public. The curation of the gallery show is mostly by Alistair O’Neill, whose work I absolutely admire. Last year’s show was really successful and had constant flow of visitors coming in even without much advertising. It is incredible because they were able to see the lookbook, as well as post-show narratives.
Q: So the title of the gallery shows were ‘Nude’ and ‘Separates’? That’s intriguing, tell us more!
A: The title of this year’s gallery show ‘Separates’ was inspired by Vêtements, because we are in the moment in fashion that is about the process and what you create, in which people should also understand what you do. After their graduation show, they are no longer considered as students but as designers. And as a designer, you cannot just rely on the catwalk shows or the pictures on Vogue.com to show the public the validity and quality of what you do. You’d also need to let people touch your clothes to fully understand what you do.
Q: What do you think about ‘creativity’ and ‘commerciality’? How should the students achieve balance between those two?
A: ‘Commerciality’ is very important, because ‘commercial’ is seen as a bad word for students in both BA and MA, but at the same time they all have the idea to become a designer and sell their own clothing. In my opinion, you cannot be commercial if you are not creative, and both of them are crucial when designing a collection.
Q: For the buyers though, does ‘commercial’ mean something else?
A: They would think of it in a different way – in terms of shipment and target customers. For the students, they need to understand what their targeted market is and what exactly is their strength, whether they aim at working for Dior or Diesel. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to analyse what approach they should use.
Q: So on the educational side, how does CSM offer help for the students?
A: We evaluate the students throughout the course, work with them and provide mentorship and expertise. We are very fortunate to be in London, where there are many organisations that support young talents and fashion education, like the British Fashion Council, whom created a structure that deals with those issues.
Q: Could you tell us more about that?
A: The BFC started the New Generation program a long time ago and through that, not only new talents are discovered but mentoring programs are provided to support their work.
Q: It is very interesting to see how fashion colleges, businesses and organisations in London would come together. From an international perspective, how can we work together with London fashion colleges?
A: The starting point is simple, the fact that you are interested in what we do. We have luxury groups like LVMH that monitor what we do constantly, by coming to our events or introduce their own projects to us, which opens up opportunities for collaboration. Participation is key.
Q: What are the names from CSM that we should look at now?
A: Kiko Kostadinov! The collection from his graduation show earlier this year is already selling in Dover Street Market. He received the NewGen sponsorship at his graduation, and is looking into working with brands like Stussy and Puma. As for Korean designers, Rok Hwang, J JS Lee and Rejina Pyo are doing very well. Especially for Rok H, although the brand is in its early stages, I see the potential in it and look forward to more great designs.
Text/ Inhae Yeo
Images/ Courtesy of Central Saint Martins, John Sturrock
This interview was conducted by Inhae Yeo for Dazed Korea. The article was first published in DAZED KOREA JULY 2016 ISSUE. The published Korean article is also available on OiKONOMOS.CLUB