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Fabio Piras Steps into Louise Wilson's Shoes

As London’s fashion community prepares to remember the late professor Louise Wilson with a memorial service at Saint Paul's Cathedral, BoF speaks to Fabio Piras, her successor, who, last August, took the helm as course director of Central Saint Martins’ Fashion MA programme.
Fabio Piras | Source: Courtesy
  • Lewis Alexander

LONDON, United Kingdom — The British fashion industry has long been a hotbed of raw creativity and some of its most successful design talents, whether taking the bow at the end of a show or working behind the scenes, were the protégés of the late Professor Louise Wilson, the legendary director of the Fashion MA course at London's Central Saint Martins, who, sadly, died last year. Wilson's shoes are very hard to fill, but the school is betting that Fabio Piras — a Central Saint Martins' alumnus himself, with over twenty years of international industry experience as both a consultant and a creative director, including five years as creative director of Brioni — is the right choice for the job.

In the freshly rejuvenated zone that is home to the new Central Saint Martins’ campus at Granary Square, next to King’s Cross Station, there is a palpable sense of industry and innovation, much like in the British fashion industry itself. The area is full of cranes, converted warehouses and gleaming new office blocks surrounded by pop-up restaurants and food trucks. The Guardian newspaper is here, as is Louis Vuitton’s London headquarters. However, despite the newness and the polish of the converted warehouse that houses the school, the spirit of creativity lives on much as it did in the ramshackle old building on Southampton Row in Holborn, where Central Saint Martins was formerly based.

Fabio Piras’ office, within the studio used by the fashion MA course, is sleek and minimal. Looks from his students’ collections, to be shown on the catwalk on Friday evening, dominate the walls, as Piras, a tall and handsome man of Swiss origin, talks animatedly about their work, as well as his own job.

BoF: A sense of great energy fills the air here. You have called it a ‘Maison.’ Can you tell me about the students and the team that create this energy?

FP: ‘Maison’ probably does sound pretentious, but in our case it is not totally inaccurate. ‘Studio’ would be better terminology though. The positive energy you felt flatters me, as it is the encouraging evidence of our choral effort in reaching a unique goal for a precise deadline, which right now is our show at London Fashion Week.

In the two months proceeding up to this moment we become an increasingly energised working mechanism, which is regulated by the momentum and the tightly managed MA Fashion Course system, capable of engaging with the polymorphic nature of our creative organism.

In poorer wording: this year is about making 25 collections ranging between 10 to 13 outfits each — knitwear, textiles, womenswear and menswear expressed in 15 collections going forward to show at LFW, about 50 students all working individually and in teams, workroom technicians, cutters, tutors, press officers, event managers, administration staff, everyone working together as they would in any other fashion organisation towards that moment: the show.

That is why I call it ‘Maison,’ because during that period we are a house, an inclusive and productive organism and a kind of family too. The energy comes also from the idea that one should concentrate on personal work, enjoy its creative process and value the stages of manual labour involved. It is also about focussing on the actual meaning and communication of one's work.

BoF: Central Saint Martins is unquestionably a leading incubator for the next generation of fashion design talent. How would you describe your approach and teaching style?

FP: It is about focussing on the individual, the potential relevance and the significance of each student's creative expression.  It is about supporting creative development and creative management. It is about having a vocational intent, cultivating the notion of creative rigour, challenging one's world of cultural references and aesthetics while being critical of one's own work. It is also about nurturing the ability to have an informed and original point of view and promoting the idea that it is always about a 360-degree creative understanding and 100 percent creative involvement.

BoF: The global fashion industry has changed significantly in recent years and London, above any fashion capital, now offers significant support for young designers. Have you seen the benefit of this support system and are their lessons that other fashion capitals can learn?

FP: The lesson that anyone has learned from London since the Nineties is that young talent is all, because it keeps everything vibrant and this is crucial to the future of its related industries. Although young talent needs to be nurtured, mentored, managed and that support is not just a matter of financial investment, that support cannot be short-term or a matter of one-off opportunities and exposure. That support needs to be committed, rigorous, structured and projected into the medium or long-term future of making and letting a creative identity’s reality mature, so they will likely last.

It starts with the way we as educators interact with our students in making them understand that it is not just about them being creative people only, but also managers and communicators of their creativity. That it is about making future designers understand that the subject of their talent is fashion design and that commercial success is related to extreme creativity, genuine and exclusive quality and a recognisable identity. That is what you have to express and how you do it is what makes the real difference.

BoF: Many of your students will enter important positions in the fashion industry, with some becoming top creative directors. Is there anything that can really prepare them for the enormous responsibly of these positions?

FP: Unfortunately, or, probably by luck, nothing really can. You are just that person who is naturally prepared for it. No matter how initially naive that person is, they will quickly grow into the role. Then it's about how you manage that natural talent. Certainly, a strong awareness of one's aesthetics and a hunger for information will lead them through diverse influences, specific interests and give them the ability to translate ideas and inspiration into a powerful creative vision that communicates newness and commercial viability. It is the ability to understand, direct and interact with the work of others that will lead them to success.

Lewis Alexander is the founder of Lewis Alexander Executive Search, a London-based firm specialising in human resources, executive search and organisation structure.

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