• Corinna Springer
"It’s not just about design; it’s also about a message, about the direction someone’s looking to go in."


Corinna Springer owns the Nouveau PR agency in New York. After studying French literature and art, she fell into the fashion world in 1996, drawn by its creativity. In 1999, she started working at the Paris PR firm Totem, which counted among its clients the Dutch designers Niels Klavers, Keupr/van Bentm, Melanie Rozema and Jeroen Teunissen. Springer often works with new designers. When she started her own PR agency in 2007, her first customers included Rad Hourani, Odilon and A.F. Vandevorst. “Branding is more important today than ever,” she says.


What was your impression of the level of the Lichting participants? “For bachelor’s students, it was good. I did see a lot of differences between the various academies. With one, there’d be a focus on the approach to textiles, and the next one would be mostly conceptual. I had a sense that the lecturers exerted a lot of influence. [For instance,] the panel heard somebody say, “The teacher said that wouldn’t be the right way to do it and I should do it in a different way.” Of course, that can be a positive thing, too.”


Was there one collection that jumped out at you during the portfolio presentations? “I loved Ilona Putkaradze’s collection with the braids and sculptural tops. She did a wonderful job of presenting herself, and her collection stood out because it was so beautifully edited. It made sense. One thing I liked was that there was only one reference – a Cubist image. The result was perfect and elegant, although the accessories were a little weird.”


Beginning designers come to you for advice. When they introduce themselves, what do you pay attention to? “If I’m thinking about working with them, then I look for creativity, innovation, and the commercial side – that has to be there if they’re going to survive. But the most important thing is: How do they brand themselves?”


Do you get the idea that students know how to do that? “No, the students who took part in Lichting weren’t ready for that yet. But branding today is more important than ever if a label’s going to survive. It’s not just about design; it’s also about a message, about the direction someone’s looking to go in. For instance, when I started working with Raf Simons, it was immediately obvious to me that his label was about a clean, minimalist, graphic look, and that people in their 20s were the target group. I was really impressed by his clear vision, how he translated it into clothing and became so successful with it. That’s the kind of thing I look for a label.”


Does the designer’s personality play a role? “Personally, I prefer not to work with big egos. It’s fine to be shy, and as far as I’m concerned, insecurity’s not a problem either. But unfortunately, in the cruel world of fashion, and certainly in New York, it’s a big disadvantage.”

“The fashion business isn’t fair. With Nouveau PR, I want to give an opportunity to people who don’t have big mouths or pots of money but who do work hard. But the fashion system is very dominant. A designer who isn’t able to adjust well is going to have a hard time. I work within the system and help designers to become part of the fashion world. But of course, the designer always has the last word – that’s the way it is.”


What advice do you give to designers? “A lot of the designers who come to me have just shown their first collections and want a greater level of press attention for the second. When I say, “How are your sales going? Do you have sales outlets?” they always act surprised. I look at the big picture, not just the PR aspects. So I advise them in the sales arena. I’ll often tell them to look for another [sales outlet]. Or I’ll recommend that they use different materials, but usually they don’t listen. I’m not quick to advise them to work with famous people – personally, I don’t like that – but sometimes you have to. So I’ll recommend that they only do it if there’s a match.”


What do you think about designers who get lots of press coverage but don’t sell? “These days, it takes designers a long time to make any headway. But I do work with brands that have, say, two sales outlets. Designers have websites nowadays, and they get private orders – at least, that’s very common in New York. That helps them to earn money.”


How attractive is the United States for European brands? “There’s no point giving a show – there are too many shows there during fashion week, and too many presentations on the fashion calendar. Journalists can’t cope with it all. Also, the system has a preference for homegrown designers, ones who live in New York – they get a lot of support. It’s very difficult for someone who isn’t based there to get to a higher level. On the other hand, it’s very possible to get sales outlets and build up a strong business in the United States. There’s a huge market. But you really need a lot of money to make it there.”


Does it make sense for designers to look for jobs in the United States? “Yes. Americans are hungry for talent. There are lots of recruiting offices and headhunters. But if you want to work here, you need to have a corporate mindset and be able to follow directions. The industry is really not about creativity. That’s Paris or London. In America, sportswear is huge. When I opened my agency in 2007, I wanted to show that there was more than sportswear. Yes, I brand myself too. And things are going well.”


By Georgette Koning