Fashion: Freedom & Family
HEAD Genève 2019 Review
Did you know that Geneva is a contemporary arts , fashion and design hub? I didn’t.
Coming from my other London-based life in economics and financial journalism, I’ll confess, when I first received the email invitation to attend the Geneva graduate fashion shows – I didn’t know what to expect. The public perception of this Swiss city is still very much entrenched with its banking and corporate persona. But as I left my hotel, and began to pound the pavements with my fellow journalists and tour guides, what we uncovered was a design district that was both edgy, cool and understated in its aesthetic. Imagine Shoreditch or Wapping before the hipsters and corporates moved in… Artists can’t help but make the spaces they inhabit desirable places to be. In this regard, Geneva is very similar to London. The young people, the students and the creatives who work in the city and the energy they bring, gives Geneva a vibe that will without doubt, see me return in the very near future.
What is evident, almost immediately, is that this town knows its students are among its greatest assets, and treasures them accordingly. Located within the city centre, is HEAD: Geneva’s art and design school – home to some of the most prolific and celebrated artisans. Creating platforms, elevating narratives and engineering a network of mentors, alumnae and sponsors were all part of HEAD’s mission to serve the next generation of creatives who through their output, will help to keep the city’s vibrant culture alive.
Speaking to Jean-Pierre Blanc, founder of the Hyères International Festival also present backstage at the show, he gave me further insight into his vision for Swiss fashion and his mission to bring greater exposure and publicity to the talent that Swiss design students have to offer. “For me, if I were to sum up this scene and this work, I would use two words” Jean-Pierre explained, “Freedom and family.” When I asked him to elaborate he further explained “Freedom: is celebrating creativity – and the freedom to create; Family: that’s the community we’ve built.”
His words struck me – warmed me even, as the Swiss night air grew colder, so too did the warmth of the 2000+ people who had gathered from all over the country at the 1950’s post modern campus to celebrate the young people within their community: This is how fashion should work and this is who it should serve.
Family members, friends, other students, lecturers, designers, journalists, investors and sponsors all mingled, along the front row. I didn’t spot any influencers clogging the catwalk – trying to get in a few last minute selfies before the show started (as I normally do at London Fashion Week). Everybody took to their seats, and took in the moment. The stage had been set.
The word POESIE (meaning poetry, the expression of the aesthetic) emblazoned above the diving board – and reconstruction of a local community hub and public bath the ‘Bains de Paquis’. These students were paying homage to their cultural heritage. Using the city’s iconic 1920’s bathing house located as the backdrop for the action that was about to unfold, brought ‘fashion’ out of the abstract and into the discourse of local socio-economic and environmental issues.
The sceneography of the catwalk for this year was designed, for the first time, by the school’s Interior Architecture department. In essence, 2019 BA graduates had their own school as their “client” which commissioned them to design the sceneography for one of its most important events of the year. What better way to showcase the calibre of diverse talent among the school’s student population, than to offer to share this fashion orientated platform with the next gen of Swiss interior architects?
This particular BA programme offered by HEAD Genève enables the students to master every aspect of the profession while learning to engage with contemporary issues. The MA in Interior Architecture is a two year professional programme that explores the progressive diversification of interiors, encouraging a cross-disciplinary approach from design to visual art, from audio-visual culture to digital reality. The Interior Architecture curriculum also encourages its students to engage with the construction of contemporary societies, the urgent issues such as environmental impact, renovating and preserving heritage and the spaces of shared economy and the construction of inclusive communities.
As we were given the tour of the design school the evening prior to the show, what struck me was the extent to which students were encouraged to develop their individual creativity while learning how to collaborate across different disciplines and departments – as a way of preventing insular thinking. It’s as if the teaching faculty wish to instil the principle of community within its alumnae, as a means of demonstrating that the purpose of design isn’t simply about the personal – individual’s creative expression, but the wider social impact their activity has on the world around them.
The set project entitled “Poésie” was designed by Paulo Jorge Diaz. The students then developed the sceneography under the direction of Bertrand Van Dorp and Leonid Slominskiy.
Back to the show…
The lights dimmed, the music started and for the next hour, we watched a narrative constructed by more than 300 silhouettes unfold down the runway.
Sustainability, diversity (race, gender, age and hair texture) and socio-political debate dominated the storylines developed by both BA and MA students. Mathilde’s I’m an Instant Star, Just Add Water and Stir; Estelle Krattinger’s Who Said Beach Clean Ups Can’t Be Stylish?;
Ania Marincek’s Tears of Lava; Emma Bruschi’s Almanach and Eva Verwicht’s Folies Creatures were among my personal favourites.
Emma Bruschi’s work in particular, caught my attention. Her experimentation with non conventional materials such as straw and cultivated bacteria (of the Kombucha variety) illustrated the extent to which the next frontier within fashion and design will be the realm of regenerative materials, bio tech and innovation. Sustainability is ushering in a new era of craftsmanship.
Special guests included Made Visible x Archives who exhibited their initiative for visibility in road traffic. Victor Prieux who designed the collection is a HEAD (2017) MA graduate, which further reinforced Jean-Pierre’s comment about community: the students they nurture, never truly leave, they come back to support their former school.
This year’s presidents of the jury were Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, creative directors of Botter and Nina Ricci. For those of us lucky enough to arrive a day early, we had the pleasure of listening to Rushemy and Lisi’s talk about their journey into the world of fashion and design. Speaking with them later that evening about their candid conversation and public celebration of their shared Caribbean and European heritage, gave me so much hope for the future of design.
To see that descendants from both Curacao and the Dominican Republic operating at the highest level, pioneering their own label Botter, while taking over the reins at a heritage Parisian fashion house Nina Ricci resonated with me on a personal level. As the descendant of both Cuban and Jamaican heritage, I very rarely – if at all, recall reading about any designers from Caribbean in the mainstream European fashion scene. Representation matters, and this design duo, leading the jury, also further reflects the extent to which the event organisers wished to bring in a narrative that was more eclectic and diverse in its cultural perspective.
Thomas Clement was awarded the Bongénie Bachelor Prize (and a cheque for €5,000). Giulia Chehab won the HEAD x La Redoute prize for her presentation, and her prize also includes the opportunity to design a capsule collection with La Redoute which goes on sale from March 2020. Meanwhile Emma Bruschi won the Mercedes-Benz Master Prize which also included a place at the next ‘Who’s Next’ or Premier Classe trade show in Paris and a cheque for €10,000.
What is fashion for? For those of you who are familiar with the @WorkinFashion.me ethos, you’ll know that this question informs everything that we do on this platform. While sat on the front row, watching these designers leave their mark – listening to the applause their work attracted alongside the occasional whoops from friends in the audience, watching them embrace Emma after the award ceremony – cheering for her backstage – the community – I was reminded that this is what fashion does. Fashion is not just about the aesthetic. Its cultural significance is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The process of design, manufacture and performance is a collaborative exercise, that when executed properly – brings people from all walks of life together. This is the manifesto the city of Geneva delivered on Friday 8th November 2019.
I didn’t just see a graduate fashion show. I was reminded of why I started this journey with @workinfashion.me in the first place, and why I wish to continue. Fashion doesn’t have to be frivolous or fickle. When positioned at the heart of a community, when made accessible to anyone with vision and creative talent, it can be a powerful force. I am grateful to the faculty and the students at HEAD for reminding their international guests of where we should all have our resources focused: towards the celebration of our cultural heritage and our local communities.
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With special thanks to Jean-Pierre Greff (Director of the HEAD School of Art & Design), Sandra Mudronja (Head of Communications HEAD School of Art & Design), Yannick Aellen (Mode Suisse), Jean-Pierre Blanc (founder of the Hyères International Festival) Romain Casella (founder of MAY Concepts) and Sofia Pandolfo for introducing me to Geneva’s world of fashion, art and design.