• Catherine Baba
“Today the Internet makes things easy and accessible, and that's great, but the downside is the information overload, which means a lot of work gets lost. Research is so important. The biggest challenge for a designer is being able to turn creativity and imagination into something that has a consumer-friendly aspect.”


The Frenchwoman Catherine Baba is a fashion and film stylist and consultant. She’s also in the process of starting her own fashion label. Baba says she found Lichting refreshing. Above all, she advises young designers to put plenty of energy into research: “It sets you apart.”


What were your expectations of Lichting? “First of all, out of curiosity, I wanted to know what the future generation of fashion designers is interested in and what direction they’re taking. To be honest, I didn’t have any expectations; it was the first time I’d attended an event that wasn’t centred on one academy but on the crème de la crème of seven academies. I observed it with a virgin eye and took everything in.”


What most impressed you? “In a manner of speaking, I could feel and smell the vibrations, and it was clear which direction every student was moving in. That was refreshing.


“I was impressed by the quality of the presentations. It was very high, very concrete. That’s so important if you’re a newly graduated designer who’s going out looking for work and you have to present yourself to the head of a design studio, or to headhunters. Having ideas is important, but most designers have ideas. Ultimately, it’s about a combination of presentation, personality, execution and portfolio. It’s also really important to be able to explain your work; not every collection speaks for itself.”


As a panellist, you talked to the designers and viewed their portfolios before the show. Did that influence your choice? “Certainly. In particular, the vision and the collection of Sanne Schepers, the winner, spoke to me. As it happens, I found her portfolio much stronger than her collection. Her portfolio heavily influenced me, more than her clothes.”


As a stylist, you see a lot of brands and new trends. What do you know about Dutch fashion? “I know there’s an up-and-coming new star, but I can’t recall her name—oh yes, Iris van Herpen. And a while back, I saw the collections of the Dutch designers Steffie Christiaens and Ehud in Paris at the Totem press agency. I sense a ‘Dutch wave’ emerging. Iris is the beginning.


“I remember the earlier Dutch wave, in the early 1990s, with people like Alexander van Slobbe. The Belgians made more of an impression on me back then. Strikingly, even though Belgium and the Netherlands are next door to each other, their aesthetics are very different.”


What advice would you give student designers? “I’d say to immerse yourself in research. It sets you apart from other designers. The research I saw with the Lichting candidates definitely could have gone deeper. Fashion goes further than last season’s collections. Fortunately, the history’s there. And the Internet is an avenue, an access route, that’s open to everyone.


“I think different kinds of research—from films to exhibitions, contemporary or historical—can be very important for ending up with a good collection. Fashion history is also important for learning and for figuring out what we should do  next. I found all the students’ knowledge limited in that area. Every fashion student should know designers like Madeleine Vionnet—there’s more out there than Raf Simons.”


Should Dutch designers stay in the Netherlands and build their careers, or should they leave? “First of all, every person needs to figure out for themselves where the best place is for them. If it’s New York, Paris or Milan, then they need to go there. Or they can remain in the Netherlands.


“I asked all the Lichting participants which fashion house they’d most like to work for. I did this to get my feelings confirmed and to hear their motivations. Lanvin was one of the ones named, and it’s a great brand, but the horizon’s broader than that. It’s broader than popular houses like Lanvin, Raf Simons and Dries Van Noten. I was surprised that no one said Prada, because it’s a continuation of a fashion institute; it’s a laboratory. If a student wants to go further with research, then Prada’s the ultimate place.”


As a stylist, what can you do for young designers? “As a stylist, I like to mix young designers’ work with established names. Styling today is a juggling act. There are always limitations that are part of the job. Magazines like Vogue, but also big independent ones like Dazed & Confused, have a lot of advertisers that stylists are required to work with. Many people don’t know that. Stylists respect that. Ultimately, creativity is making something out of different elements.”


Can designers with no sales outlets make a name for themselves if their designs get into the magazines? “Er, not really. The advantage is that publications are like shop windows; they promote work, and you can make a press book of them and show it to potential financiers. But getting photos taken purely and solely for the sake of the images? That’s not how the industry works. And doesn’t every designer want their designs to be worn? Otherwise, you’re not serious as a designer, and it’s just… fun. Et voilà, pourquoi pas? But structure is important for a designer, and you can’t take that for granted these days. As far as that’s concerned, there were more possibilities in the early 1990s.


“Today the Internet makes things easy and accessible, and that’s great, but the downside is the information overload, which means a lot of work gets lost. And that brings me back to research—it’s so important. The biggest challenge for a designer is being able to turn creativity and imagination into something that has a consumer-friendly aspect.”


By Georgette Koning