• Margareta van den Bosch
"Designers are often focused on their own lines. I always advise them to get a few years’ work experience first. That’s always useful when you start your own label."


For more than 20 years, as Hennes & Mauritz’s influential head designer, Margareta van den Bosch determined the fashion landscape for millions of people. For the past two years, she’s worked as a creative advisor, doing jobs such as supervising Marni, Versace and Maison Martin Margiela as they design one-off collections for H&M. If designers once turned their noses up at working for the Swedish chain because of its mass-market image, today’s young talent regards H&M as a well-respected training ground.


Why did you want to take part in the Lichting panel? “Competitions are good. I regularly go to [the] Mittelmoda [Fashion Award] and ITS [Fashion Competition] in Italy. I wasn’t familiar with Lichting. In all the years I’ve been working in fashion, I’ve enjoyed sitting on juries and scouting for talent. We also work with talent scouts; in our London office, there’s somebody who specifically looks for prints and checks out the academies. We’re constantly looking for talent, and I’ll be reporting back on Lichting too.”


“I also follow young talent because H&M works for young people, and we organise our own competition for students, for which we used to go to all the degree shows and hand-pick the participants. [Today, students send in their portfolios – ed.] Thanks to all the applications, I have a good overview of education in various countries. So I know there are a lot of academies in the Netherlands and that the level of education there is high. What I think is good about Lichting is that the instructors select the participants. They know the students, and that’s a guarantee of quality.”


Do you think competitions like Lichting help to develop talent? “There are quite a few talent competitions like Lichting, but they’re good because they allow students to show themselves to the fashion industry. H&M takes on 30 interns a year. I think other companies should be open to competitions too. They can also be good for development within a company, perhaps more than we realise.”

The Lichting candidates had to present themselves to the panel. How did that go? “It was quite difficult sometimes. But I don’t expect students to present themselves flawlessly. They’re often nervous, and I certainly understand that. If the panel noticed someone wasn’t a good talker, we paid more attention to his or her portfolio of work.”


What matters most to you when designers apply for jobs? “Designers have to keep in mind the type of job they’re applying for. Also, it’s important that there’s some structure in the work they show. Showing a massive amount isn’t good, but neither is making a tiny, strict selection. I want to see that somebody can do different things. And a designer has to show personality. It’s also important that they understand themselves, and that they’re open, and not too focused on certain unrealistic things, like starting their own label right away.”


Do you recognise talent right away? “Yes, you can recognise talent from a person’s degree of creativity and personality. But it’s extremely difficult to say how they’ll subsequently develop. Are they flexible? A talented person can do a lot of things, work in high fashion and low. Designers are often focused on their own lines. I always advise them to get a few years’ work experience first. That’s always useful when you start your own label.”

Which traits are important for success in the fashion industry? “Talent, creativity and experience. Beyond that, every type of job demands additional qualities. In couture, things are done differently than they are at a company like H&M with a very broad audience. We have to be open to what’s going on in the world, think about people’s needs, and be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer – that broad audience.”


Can you usually tell from portfolios that students are thinking about the customer? “To be honest, no. And that’s unwise, because if you’re a student and you want to start your own line, you need to think consciously about who that customer is. What does he or she like? What are the key items in the collection – pretty jackets, fun parkas? And what sorts of things should you add? You need to think about the colours that suit your label. And every type of business has a different type of customer, which also affects the collection. Empathising with the customer is so important.”


Speaking of learning, what should students come out of school knowing? “How many possibilities are open to fashion students. Instructors should advise students against fixating on their own collections. I know some schools really push that. And that’s a shame, because there’s so much you can do. You can write about fashion, or become a stylist or a print designer and work with the clothing designer. And when it comes to products, you can design accessories or be a concept designer. It’s a good idea to work a few years as a buyer – after that, you’ll understand what sells.


“It’s also the instructors’ job to teach students to be professional. Look at architects – they need to be able to design exclusive houses but also normal ones. For a designer, if you design an extreme collection, you also need to be able to translate it into wearable, saleable fashion.”


“And subjects like sustainability should be integrated into the curriculum. This should be pushed – there’s a great need for an understanding of sustainability. Students themselves don’t always have access to the possibilities, but they should be aware of them.”


What does the future look like for new graduates? “The current crisis presents opportunities for small businesses – it opens things up. Businesses that, for example, work in an artisanal way or with tailoring are making a comeback. That’s a new movement, but we’re not there yet. Everyone needs to work toward sustainability. We and other big companies are concerned with it, but producers and small businesses have to join in.”


“As a student, you can start with recycling, if, for example, you can’t afford expensive eco-friendly materials. But I can imagine that that’s not the number one issue for a student working on a degree collection. I’m not an expert myself – there’s too much going on to keep track of it all. We explain it all on our website and have various projects. Yes, students can learn from us.”


By Georgette Koning