The future of Fashion: in conversation with two leaders from Central Saint Martins and HEAD

Fabio Piras and Lutz Huelle, directors of the Master in Fashion at Central Saint Martins and HEAD , respectively, talk about the importance of a teaching approach that is anchored in the current context.

Morgane Nyfeler

By Morgane Nyfeler17 janvier 2023

The HEAD 2021 Fashion Show presented 23 Bachelor's collections and 10 Master's collections offering fashion, jewellery and accessories (HEAD - Geneva)

Friends since their time at university, Fabio Piras (director of the MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins) and Lutz Huelle (director of the master in fashion at HEAD) found themselves in a cross-conversation on fashion, the way it is taught, and the environmental and societal context in which the sector evolves. They talk about their careers, their commitment and that of their students to creation and respect for artistic points of view. Cross interview.



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How was your experience studying at Central Saint Martins and what has changed since then?

Fabio Piras, Director of MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins (DR)

Fabio Piras: There are fundamental things that haven’t changed like the commitment to your art, craft and point of view which are stable expectations asked from students. But the way and the context in which we express them have changed a lot.

Lutz Huelle: I didn’t really know HEAD before I started working here. It’s a fairly young school that’s been existing for the last 20 years so it’s difficult to compare. But Saint Martins changed my life, it was a very valuable experience, with a very clear and deep culture. By the end of my studies, I had become a different person.

Lutz Huelle, Director of the Master in Fashion at HEAD (DR)

FP: I chose to study in London because at the time there was no school comparable to HEAD in Geneva. When I entered Central Saint Martins as a student, I realised that there was a whole world of opportunities before me. Today, to know that this same opportunity exists in Geneva, in the city where I grew up, is incredible.

LH: Yes, and the incredible thing about fashion schools is that you get all these different people that might not necessarily fit in anywhere else. I grew up in a very small town in Germany, so we both come from a fairly restrictive and conservative environment, and the role of fashion school is very important for people like us who feel like there is more to life than what society expects of them. All these things that made me feel apart from society suddenly became a plus.

What are some of the new subjects you’re teaching?

FP: The foundation and the spirit of the course remain the same but creative expression is evolving. It’s a fascinating moment of change today and our challenge as an education is not to just theorise it but to put it into practice in a way that can be meaningful, useful, poetical and allow for a very personal way of reacting to it. It is therefore clear that climate change, racial discrimination, diversity, safeguarding crafts, as well as digital, are urgent topics. All that needs to work very well together and be part of the creative, experimental and liberating educational process.

LH: I’ve seen students find themselves and how they want to change the world. It goes so much further than just being a fashion designer. Today, fashion is such a huge industry with so many different possibilities. Going to work at a house in Paris or starting your own company is only the tip of the iceberg. People have a plan of what they want to do when they leave this incredible bubble that fashion college is and they are prepared for whatever will hit them because the real world is such a comedown.

Tennessy Thoreson's collection "When I grow up, I want to be a Superhero", which won the Bachelor Bongénie Prize at the HEAD 2021 fashion show (HEAD - Geneva)

How are you helping students to get into the industry and prepare them for the real world?

FP: We put students in a situation that makes them operate and deliver work with a professional attitude. Once they start working, their confidence level is very high, and the way they express themselves is very precise. It's rewarding for us to see that the way we communicate has had an impact. But the real preparation lies in understanding who they are, and the importance of focusing on that, even if it means taking significant risks. It is through making mistakes that you make your own experience. It's hard, but it's also more rewarding.

LH: It’s also important to realise that it’s not always about you as a person but also the experience you get from working in a team. We have developed a studio project where students have to work together like in a company. We also have a lot of people coming from the industry to talk about their experiences in a very practical way so it’s incredibly down to earth. Then they also have to do a mandatory internship which doesn’t have to necessarily be in a big fashion house in Paris, it’s very open. It’s just important that everything stays very grounded and real.

What are some of the career options and the challenges after art school?

LH: Compared to our generation where only a handful of people made it, I think it’s much easier now to put yourself out there with social media and the internet. You can be visible, you can communicate and find your own public.

FP: I don’t know if it’s easier but we encourage students today more than ever to start their own venture. They need to be able to express their talent and their ego in a positive way. And moments of crisis like we see today are always useful as it’s better to start a project when new solutions are needed.

Who are some of the talents that you’ve seen thrive after the course?

Nensi Dojaka's collection presented at Central Saint Martins Fashion Week in 2019 (DR)

FB: There are talents that everyone recognises like Nensi Dojaka who was actually struggling with the whole studying process yet came out with an incredible level of passion and success. Kazna Asker who graduated in February 2022 is working with the Yemeni community and on women’s rights within the Islamic world. She won the Debut Talent Award at the Fashion Trust Arabia and that’s an enormous success I’m very proud of.

LH: People find their ways into fashion in so many different ways. The biggest success of a fashion course is to put people into where they belong and where they will have a meaningful life and career, while adding something to the industry.

Do you need a fashion education to become successful in the industry?

LH: Fashion school changed me completely and gave me the self-assurance and trust in myself which I didn’t have much of before. I felt like I could take over the world, which was extremely important for my career. That’s why I’m so linked to education.

FP: I think fashion education gives you the opportunity to put yourself into context and give you the confidence to make mistakes. If you don’t have that opportunity you can absolutely launch yourself in fashion if you have a strong point of view. We don’t create success at fashion schools, we create experiences, dialogues and conversations that then need to be put into practice.

What is the best piece of advice that you give your students?

FP: Trust who you are, your values and trust that you can do it. Be brave, take risks and listen to people even if you don’t agree because it will help you. I hate criticism to this day but I always act upon whatever was said because I know they touched a weak point.

LH: I always say that they need to find their own way of existing in this world. It’s all about trusting yourself, your strengths and following your intuition.

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