• Shelley Fox
“Students have to realise they’re players on an international market. Whether you’re profiling yourself as commercial or as an artist or a designer, you have to be the best.”


Britain’s Shelley Fox ran her own fashion label from 1996 to 2006. Since last year, as the Donna Karan Professor of Fashion, she’s headed the brand-new two-year master’s course at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She also teaches at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where her lessons focus on research. “Talent is difficult to define,” she says. “You see something, and you have to draw it out.”


You often have to evaluate students. What do you notice? “With students, I often see that concept and theory get the upper hand and get in the way of truly progressive, innovative clothing. Dedication, craft and technique are also important to the final result. Ultimately, it’s about using the right fabrics, workmanship and cut. All these things need to receive equal attention at the concept stage.”


What especially struck you about the Lichting participants? “When I looked at their portfolios, three of the 14 students had a clear vision—it’s not important whether or not it was realistic. The concept plan was in harmony with the process, the portfolio, the work and the method of presentation.


“Something else that struck me was that the words ‘commercial’ and ‘wearable’ were often misinterpreted. ‘Commercial’ is understood in terms of trade. But Comme des Garçons is commercial and running a multimillion-dollar business. They’re selling clothing that’s wearable as well as interesting.”


As an instructor, how do you recognise talent, and what’s the best way to develop it? “You see something, but what exactly that is is hard to define. You instinctively feel that there’s something there that needs to be drawn out. You can’t give a person talent. They either have it or they don’t. As an instructor, you’ve got to recognise talent and nurture it by giving the student confidence during the course of study, by helping him or her forward as a mentor.


“I see my job is that of a facilitator: I make things possible by providing the right ingredients, such as film, photography and fashion theory. You create well-rounded people through the way you put together your curriculum.”


What’s your impression of Dutch education? “At the bachelor’s level, classes in London and New York are more international. That’s because those cities are bigger, global and more international. I was recently in Denmark, and there I only had Danish students. In the Netherlands, likewise, almost everyone I see is Dutch. It’s interesting: their Dutchness shapes their identity.


“Fifteen years ago in London, almost all the students were Brits. Today, there’s no comparison—there’s a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Europeans.”


Do you think there’s a characteristic Dutch design style? “It’s difficult to define Dutch fashion. It’s quirky—very different. I’m sure it’s got to do with the influence of the small cities designers work in.


“I don’t know Dutch designers’ names, but I know the photographers Blommers/Schumm.”

How does fashion education look now, and how do you see its future?  “That’s a tricky question. It’s more on the radar than ever, and it’s more international than it used to be. But a lot of things are undoubtedly going to change because of politics. Fashion education is getting expensive. Where Britain is concerned, I’m afraid the increases in tuition fees will continue—they’re talking about tripling them.


“In the 1980s and ’90s, and until recently, anyone could study fashion without much money. Today and in the future, students will have to pay through the nose, and that investment—that money—will have to yield something. Students are very preoccupied with this. As a result, they’re taking fewer creative risks, playing it safe so they’ll get jobs.


“The success of the British fashion system once lay in the fact that it was affordable for everyone. When I was a student, I spent four years doing research and experimenting.


“The fashion landscape is going to change; you’ll only see students who can financially afford to study. Students’ expectations will also be higher


“I view this in a pessimistic, worrying light. In the Netherlands, the subsidy system is going to change drastically.”


What do you think Dutch fashion education should focus on? “With reference to Lichting, I’d say the whole picture is important. Not just concept or execution. It’s about technical skills, good ideas and, very importantly, an eye for what’s going on at the international level.


“The Alexander McQueen exhibition in New York was so amazing, you walked out of the building with your mouth open. The knowledge McQueen acquired at school and in the industry turned him into a true artist with unbelievable skill. He had a command of craft and workmanship, and he was a good businessman.


“Students have to realise they’re players on an international market. Whether you’re profiling yourself as commercial or as an artist or a designer, you have to be the best.”


By Georgette Koning