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Noovo Editions

Noovo Editions is an independent editorial project with online and paper editions. First of its kind in Spain from an unique and contemporary perspective on the international panorama,
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Interviews ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------...........Nathalie Doucet

ARTS OF FASHION FOUNDATION
NATHALIE DOUCET INTERVIEW


The Arts of Fashion Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public organization, based in San Francisco / It links academics and professionals and is dedicated to fostering an international cultural exchange / Through the creation of a variety of educational events it facilitates critical thinking among artists, designers, scholars and students / The primary focus of the foundation is the continuous support of creativity and design in fashion and the arts.

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Nathalie Doucet - I am a former Paris Fashion Designer and U.S. Fashion Professor. I am the Founder and President of the Arts of Fashion Foundation, Director of Collaborative Educational Initiatives and Research.


What motivated you to establish the Arts of Fashion Foundation?

I was motivated by my experience in fashion. When you master the creative process, you can only be rewarded; it puts you on the path to liberty and independence. As a designer-turned-educator, I am never afraid of being unsuccessful, and I always push the boundaries for daring and creativity.

I was formally introduced to fashion when I began studying textile design at the very selective, creative, and conceptual Paris Design School - Ecole Superieure des Arts Appliques Duperre. Upon graduation, I interned and later worked at Cacharel in the early 80’s. A new generation of designers was booming, working for ready-to-wear lines while developing their own brands on the side. It was the time of lucrative licensing and the French fashion industry was dynamic, creative, and talented. At Cacharel, I was given the opportunity to completely develop my own women’s wear line. I learned most of what I know about apparel design, and still use those skills today – from draping, pattern drafting, sewing, and finishing. This first constructive and successful professional experience led me to launch my own brand at a very young age. My chief concern had nothing to do with commerciality, but everything to do with uniqueness and creativity with references to the fashion design icons of the time: Castelbajac, Mugler, Gaultier and the stunning Japanese creative wave: Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. My label, Chatmotomatic, was a luxury ready-to-wear line for children, made in France and distributed through trade fairs. I quickly received a lot of press coverage and was able to attract high-end niche retailers in Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the Middle East. By 1990, I had expanded to offer several lines, and opened my own boutique to create a true universe for them. It was located next to Place des Victoires, the Castelbajac and Mugler flagships, and also the Cacharel studio building where I started my career.

The first Gulf War hit and impacted my business with Middle East retailers. Soon after, everything changed. I entered a new era and decided to study business at IFM - Institut Français de la Mode, where I received my Master’s Degree. There I met exceptionally passionate professionals who became my mentors: Didier Grumbach, President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture et des Createurs de Mode and former business partner of Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler; Stephane Wargnier, Semiologist, and Director of Communication for Hermes; and Florence Muller, art historian, author and curator. Under their influence, my career slowly moved to a new direction that fashion was taking in the mid 90’s: branding and marketing. I worked on press and exhibitions linked to the most important luxury brands: Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Boucheron, as well as costumes with the 2eme Bureau in Paris.

The beginning of the new millennium brought me to the U.S. academic world. In 1999, I was invited to teach fashion at the graduate and undergraduate university level. I was enthusiastic about the prospect of working and living in a new country, and about teaching fashion. I taught at three different institutions. In the first two, Savannah College of Art and Design and Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the fashion departments were managed by British designers from the Central Saint Martin School, but it wasn’t until I started with the University of Cincinnati, that I was able to work with an American team.

It was deep in Ohio where I had the most striking, experimental, and innovative experiences. I was free to retouch the curriculum, and taught 12 different courses in three years, including fashion design, visual communication, history of fashion, and trend and forecasting, to name only a few. There I truly refined my teaching and founded the Arts of Fashion Foundation in 2002 as part of my research. I created the Foundation because I discovered while teaching fashion in the U.S. that students have little opportunity for exposure to creative people and the process of creativity in general. The only way for students to be successful is to experience working with real creative minds and to connect with them.

The annual Arts of Fashion Symposium and International Fashion Student Competition have been instrumental in creating an authentic fashion rendezvous. Occurring at the end of each October and hosted by a different University each year, this competition fosters an exchange between over 60 selected high caliber students, young professionals and educators from well-respected companies and institutions from all over the world.

As the founder and president of the Arts of Fashion Foundation, could you explain the foundation’s main objectives?

In the United States, I believe you need to be super professional and have high caliber standard to be noticed. After 8 years, the Foundation only begins to be considered seriously.

The Foundation stands for Creativity and Copyright in Fashion. All of our programs and activities are carefully designed and targeted in these directions.

Because I was teaching, I was able to see what was missing. I think that the foundation responds to a demand from a new generation. In our competition, students compete for what they need most to perfect their fashion educations: the opportunity to develop their techniques and creativity under established designers, and professional networking. Prizes include one-year scholarships at the legendary Schools of the Chambre Syndicale in Paris. Select students are also awarded the valuable opportunity to intern in Fashion Houses under the direction of icons such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Anne-Valerie Hash, Veronique Branquinho, and independent young cutting edge labels such as Wendy and Jim in Vienna and Nice Collective in San Francisco.

Also during the annual symposium, three young professional designers working in the American fashion industry are selected and receive financial support to showcase their very first post-college independent collection on the runway with the Debut Series. Additionally, the CarteBlanche Series invites three to four international rising designers, most of them former Hyeres International Designer Winners, to show their work on the runway and teach 5-day MasterClasses just prior to the main event.

What can inspire more growth in a fashion student than to be taught by professionals such as innovative knitwear designer Sandra Backlund? Or creative fashion designers such as Christian Wijnants or Anthony Vaccarello, or former Maison Martin Margiela creative design duo: Laurence Teillet and Aurore Thibout? Or even the creative first assistant of Alber Elbaz, Arnaud Michaux? Or Matthew Blazy from Raf Simons?

All work produced from the MasterClass Series, the Debut Series, the Carte Blanche Series, and the Student Competition is presented in one spectacular runway show at the end of the Symposium.

Lectures, seminars, and conversations with educators and professionals covering business and educational challenges are also scheduled throughout the Symposium. This year’s symposium included conversations on Copyright and Intellectual Property in Fashion with Professor Susan Scafidi (Fordham Law School), and Press and Media discussions as they relate to Fashion mediated by acclaimed London based blogger Susie Bubble (Style Bubble).

The different Arts of Fashion Foundation activities not only aim to provide students first hand experience with top designers, but also to ease the process of developing relationships with other motivated fashion students from around the world. We all know that Fashion is a very small world.

Part of the Foundation’s stated mission is to preserve the creativity of young designers, how are you working towards that goal?

Year after year, the successful MasterClasses during the annual Symposium in the United States have led us to create educative partnerships with institutions in Europe for longer programs. The Foundation is able to offer selected students exceptional 4-week intensive summer programs, taught entirely by active fashion designers and alumni of recognized creative fashion Schools. Special assignments and constraints push students to rethink traditional garment silhouettes with different approaches to the body, while expanding their understanding of shape, form, textile and craft techniques. Their vision for fashion has generally changed forever. The work produced is publicly exhibited at the end of the program and students gain a unique, creative addition to their portfolios. These future professionals return to their universities completely refreshed from this exhilarating European fashion experience and cultural immersion. Being with successful young designers also gives them hope that it is still possible to make it as a creative designer. Our goal is to preserve their creative potentials and give them the tools to expand them.

What are the biggest challenges facing young designers starting out today?

• The Technology revolution and access to the Internet have completely modified the vision and perception of what Fashion is and how people approach it. Fashion is global.
• The marketing and the effect of branding have confused and mystified the luxury and fashion industries.
• Retailers and discounters have blurred the boundaries between fashion designer, product designer, and merchandiser, giving birth to a “fast fashion” phenomenon and a false sense of fashion democratization.
• Fashion marketers also exploit the current concern for the environment and fair labor and trade laws to drive sales without any genuine effect.
• Today, Fashion is very “trendy,” and the media use and abuse it because it is an excellent selling tool.

The best example to illustrate the striking transformation of clothing utility since the fifties is to remember our grandmothers. Back then, clothes were not the powerful marketing tools they are today. Our grandmothers would make their own sweaters or socks, and if they eventually got holes, they would repair them with basic knitting kits. Individuals did not throw away clothes very easily. Over the years, though, powerful industrial tycoons created an environment in which clothes became elements of "style". Now, a 6-month old sweater is no longer trendy, and individuals respond to the pressure of being “in style” by purchasing another one. People then give away their "old" clothes to charities, passing them on to people or countries in need. It is because of this that fashion is now said to be the most powerful marketing tool in our society.

The business of fashion education and establishing oneself as a designer has changed dramatically.

What we observe today is that student projects are developed with an emphasis on commercialism and trend and do not demonstrate a strong vision or specific ability for individuality. This system has not yet provided many true creative designers. With very few exceptions, no one studying fashion design in the U.S. has been selected in any important international fashion competition. No one financially supported by the media – such as Project Runway contestants – has yet been able to shine in the fashion industry. Students are faced with a huge gap between a glamorous vision communicated by celebrities, and media, and the basic commercial demand dictated by the industry.

Also, unlike European students, young American fashion designers may have many loans to pay back. The cost of education in the US makes it impossible for them to launch their own brands.

Once students finally make their way into the job market, they are asked to knock-off designs and work on computer tasks. Mass-market retailers have always carried cheap versions of designer clothes that their customers have glimpsed on the red carpet or the runway. This is because clothing in the United States is considered a "useful article" under American copyright law, not something whose design is to be protected as intellectual property.

A new hope for the American fashion industry and for education is the adoption of a copyright law for fashion design with the Design Piracy Prohibition Act. Students would have to learn how to develop their own creative potential. Schools and Universities would have to review and adjust their way of teaching fashion. The Arts of Fashion Foundation has long been an advocate of enacting copyright laws to protect designers. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act will push corporations to rethink and regulate their current standards of copyright in order to avoid any legislative action or negative publicity. The Act will encourage them to invest and work with true designers rather than shopping for ideas already out in the marketplace. Passing this Act will only help to end the productions of copycats and diminish piracy. The Act will also provide young professionals access to the creative positions that they deserve and recognition for their designs. Further, it will stimulate and secure them to develop their own work as creative and independent designers. This is what has happened in every other industrialized country that has passed a similar copyright law.

When the Design Piracy Prohibition Act passes, the United States could ride the crest of a new revolutionary fashion, fueled by the creative potential of their young designers. This will give the American fashion industry a true future.

Keeping the spirit of culture is hard in globalized times. How do you maintain a culture but participate in the fashion industry at large?

Nowadays, it is a common fact that the world seeks to emulate western fashion. Developing countries are exposed to western design and culture through mass media, such as TV, movies, and the internet, but also through the outsourcing of production by large apparel companies. Fashion is not only a way for other peoples to reach towards western culture, but also a very basic and primary industry that can be handled by newly industrializing countries.

As soon as a country has reached a certain level of development, education, and autonomy, its cultural traditions and costumes tend to fade. Consider Japan or Korea with the wonderful Kimono. Japan, however, is a good example a country that was able to rapidly reach fashion maturity and make significant contributes to the global fashion zeitgeist.

After the Second World War, Japan adopted the intensive licensing process of the European garment industry. Thanks to licensing and diversification of their lines, many designers such as Cardin and Courreges had a great deal of success in Japan. With this connection to Europe, the Japanese were able to master western fashion techniques and branding. After years of copying and making variations, a new generation of strong Japanese designers emerged and revolutionized the fashion world. Through their strong and sophisticated culture, they were able to contribute powerful modern fashion concepts such as deconstruction. These designers have connected to the history of fashion often by developing work that can be considered homage to European designers working before them – Issey Miyake with Fortuny and Vionnet, Yohji Yamamoto with Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent – while creating something singularly Japanese.

The famous Antwerp Six – Belgian designers who took the fashion world by storm 20 years ago and revived the heart of European fashion – are considered to be the direct heirs of these 80’s Japanese designers. The Belgians learned how to absorb the heritage of traditional fashion technique, and the Japanese concept of deconstruction to develop their own unique style incorporating their surrealistic art (Magritte), color range, and northern austerity. They managed to build a truly new fashion world (Martin Margiela for example). Today most of these Belgian creative designers are all very involved in their city and own School, the Royal Academy of Antwerp, looking after the future of fashion. The same is true of Japan where there is deep concern for education and the future of this industry .The Japanese Fashion School headed by Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake, incubates next generation talents like Tsumori Chisato and Junya Watanabe.

It is important to notice that these new fashion waves always happen where the traditional garment and costume heritage is strongly anchored. In the case of the Antwerp designers, the Belgian government immediately saw the potential and helped to bring vitality to this industry.

Looking even farther northward we see the crest of the next great new wave. Victor & Rolf (the Netherlands) and Sandra Backlund (Sweden) are heading the movement; the 2nd Arhnen Fashion Biennale “Shape” was more than convincing. Successful local fast fashion corporations have been able to heavily re-invest in education such as the fashion department opened at Stockholm University with a donation from H&M in 2006.

What does it take for the Foundation to put on an International Competition with representation from 86 schools in 28 countries?

The idea is to bring faculty and students and professionals from around the world to meet, exchange, rethink and work all together about fashion during that special time of the year and in an educational frame.

As Didier Grumbach said when he came to the University of Cincinnati to launch the Arts of Fashion in 2002, “what else than fashion can bring us together?

”We try to maintain good relationships with fashion educators around the world. Many of our entrants come from fashion professors who urge their students to take part in the competition and former candidates who share information about the experience with their peers.

What does the AOF Competition involve and what it does mean for the selected?

Initially, students submit a dossier with illustrations, swatches, technical designs, and concept explanation for a capstone collection of three outfits around the year’s selected theme. From those applicants, a panel of fashion professors meets to select 60 finalists. The 60 finalists move to the second round where they construct 2 outfits or 2 accessories from their collection. The final pieces are shown to a professional jury composed of established cutting edge designers who select the best.

Prizes include scholarships and internships with top design houses. Awards are not ranked (top prize, second prize, etc.) but given to the candidate among the pool of winners who can make best use of the prize.

What skills do a young designer need to get the Foundation’s attention?

To be a successful young designer, in the competition and in a career, one must:
• Be young and patient, open minded, curious and experimental.
• Have rigor and a passion for fashion, a vision and a strategy.
• Have a solid base in Art, strong knowledge in Contemporary Art, Fashion Culture and History.
• Be articulate and able to communicate ideas through whatever the medium, and be able to work with others.
• Always be just in time.

Fashion is a discipline requiring many abilities and extensive knowledge. A well-rounded education – including a lot of work, dedication and an indestructible willingness – are the primary keys leading to success. Apprenticeship is very important. Most influential designers worked under a Master at one point in their developing careers: Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent under Christian Dior and more recently Martin Margiela and Nicolas Ghesquiere under Jean-Paul Gaultier and Giles Deacon under Jean-Charles de Castelbajac...

Nothing is more important for students than to be connected with creative professionals to help lead them.

From where does the Foundation draw its financial support?

So far, we have not yet received any support from the fashion industry or any public or private organization. However, we have sponsors from time to time who are tangentially related to the fashion industry such as PFAFF sewing machines before they were bought by VSM and now from YKK Corporation of America.

These sponsors have shown a dedicated interest in contributing to the future of the industry by supporting students and young designers. The Foundation is an American non-profit organization; because we are not a business, we always put design and innovation first. In the coming years we hope to attract more support, perhaps even from former students who know exactly what we do and how important it is for those we’ve worked with.

For an American foundation, you have managed to attract much European support. How has that come about?

Financial support for the Foundation has come mostly from the United States with our sponsor YKK and the universities and schools who host our events every year. However, I have been able to build a good network of allies in Europe from my professional experience. I am very thankful to Didier Grumbach – President of the Chambre Syndicale and Dean of IFM – who offers a one-year scholarship in Paris as a prize in the Student Competition every year. I’m also thankful to the designers, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Anne Valerie Hash and Veronique Branquinho who generously give their time to mentor students from our competition in their fashion Houses.

How would you say that European and American Artistic visions differ?

We are in a global age of fashion and the European and American artistic visions are not as different as they used to be.

The world is globalizing and multinational companies are often blamed for the downfall of creativity and the rise of mass reproduction. In this climate, what do you see as the immediate future for the independents and creatives?

The customer is always seeking out unique and personal creative belongings. This is where the independent creative designers have their own market or niche to develop. Nothing has really changed, except that now it is easier for an independent designer to sell directly to customers on the internet.

There will always be the need for the industry to have creative minds in the consulting system, which is a perfect way for these independent designers to finance their own collections.

We all know the power of the specialized press. What is the Foundation’s relationship to the media and have you reached out to independent media outlets who share your perspective?

The fashion press today is as challenged as all the other magazines and newspapers by the internet revolution and changing habits of its readers. In the face of all of this turmoil, many of them have forgotten their original role: to introduce their readers to new talents regardless of the power of their advertisers, and to produce relevant thoughtful articles. That role has been mostly taken over by blogs.

I don’t think the press is as important to us today for what we are trying to do and the scale on which we work. As always, fashion is a very small world and word of mouth is our best tool. We use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with students. For students who have been involved with our programs, the insularity has the bonus element of a sense of exclusivity.

What would you say to those who insist on a strict separation between Fashion and Art?

Pierre Berge will tell you that Fashion is not an Art but we need an artist to create it. Fashion is not an Art because it is first garments, and garments must be worn. Yves Saint Laurent and Gabrielle Chanel were able to escape from a pure aesthetics to penetrate the social fabric. Fashion is not just to please designer’s fantasy – it is a dialog between the designer and his or her time. Fashion exists only if it becomes yours. Fashion needs marketing but cannot allow itself to be dictated by marketing.




More Info:
ARTS OF FASHION FOUNDATION 635 Tennessee St. Suite 402 San Francisco, CA 94107 Tel +1 415 252 0734 -
www.arts-of-fashion.org
 

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