louise wilson’s successor fabio piras, on fashioning the future of central saint martins

After the sudden and saddening death of Louise Wilson in May, 2014, there was much speculation about who might take over her role as the Course Director of Central Saint Martins’ prestigious MA Fashion course. Wilson's successor, Fabio Piras, is the...

by Adam Fletcher and James Anderson
08 October 2014, 4:00pm

A former student at C.S.M, who graduated from the MA Fashion course many moons ago, Piras successfully ran his own label - showing at London Fashion Week during the late 90s, and is an in-demand fashion consultant and Creative Director. He has been teaching on the very same MA Fashion course on and off for nearly twenty years, so is uniquely well placed to oversee its future successes. As art colleges across the land open their doors for the new term, i-D catches up with Fabio to find out more.

Tell us about when you were a student at Central Saint Martins...
I came from Switzerland, where I would read magazines like i-D and The Face - i-D was amazing, a world I had no access to at that time, but emotionally it was the kind of world I wanted. So I escaped for a weekend to London, then never went back! I had a year of partying - which wasn't wasting time, in fact, because going out and clubbing is part of your cultural background. For that generation, you would see people like Leigh Bowery. My favourite clubs were Taboo, Jungle, Pyramid and The Bell. I am afraid of nostalgia, but it was a fantastic time. I worked on my portfolio in my own time, then I applied to Saint Martins for the BA.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing fashion design students nowadays?
The challenges are the same as ever, but the pressures are bigger. There are more fashion courses than ever. If you were to count the amount of fashion students graduating every year, where are they all going? It must be hard for them to know they are going to be launched so quickly into the professional world. Now you have to experiment quickly and come up with the goods quickly. You can't make too many mistakes, you might only have one chance.

Are students generally more cautious nowadays, because of the high cost of going to college, for example?
Maybe they have been told by their parents or their bank managers that they should be careful with their finances? You can sense they come to college with that pressure. They should just be and enjoy themselves and be free to make mistakes. Also knowing who they are is important - identity, understanding your aesthetic, your world. They forget that, they worry about if they are going to be the next big thing at fashion week. You should have an ego, but there should be a kind of madness related to it as well, which is expressed creatively. 

There is increasing concern among young people about whether or not to go to college, due to the expense, or instead try and teach themselves by using the internet, doing work placements and so on... what do you think about that?
On a personal level, if you really have that energy, if you really have that desire to do fashion or art, then you do it no matter what because that is so much a part of you. At the same time, college is still a wonderful place. You mix with other people, you make friends, that is the base of your career. Your friends later become your colleagues, and you cannot do that if you are working alone. College opens doors. 

How do you feel about the ways in which the internet has influenced fashion design?
The internet is a wonderful tool because it gives you access and it is never-ending. The problem is, when students just use the internet to check something, get one image, and say, "Here is my research," nothing triggers anything. We reject it. It forces them to go to the library, to open a book, to take photos of the pages, to be in that environment where you actually bother to check an index. 

The internet can provide so much coverage and publicity for a young designer, as soon as they have shown their work. Is that a good thing?
It is and it isn't. The downfall is that you believe you are happening, but maybe you are not. It is really easy to get coverage now. You have to be a creative entity, no matter what. You can get to the top and might have hundreds of thousands of people following you on social media, or you could have none, but does that make you a less creative person? 

Central Saint Martins has such an incredible reputation. The application process for the MA Fashion course must be quite hardcore...
On interview days there is on average about 40 students' portfolios, on these tables [gestures around studio] each day, for ten days. There are days where you might make an offer to three students, and days where you make an offer to no one. A lot of people are really delusional and what is really horrible is that you can't blame them for that, because they are young and they have the right to be. But they come from courses and tutors who are delusional, who have given them the wrong training for the past three years. They bring portfolios which are absolutely shocking, and work which is synthetic, cosmetic. There is not a sketch, there has not been a pencil in hand. The computerisation of creative work is so gross! You wonder what they are training to be, because I don't even think the high street works like that. 

How is your vision for the course different from when Louise ran it?
Sometimes I think when people ask me that question, they are expecting some sort of political broadcast! I think you answer that question by doing it. I think that in February the show will be a huge pressure, but at the same time it is a super-positive challenge. And in a completely mad way I am looking forward to it. I have been part of this course since 1995, when I started working with Louise and the team which still exists - a kind of nucleus, tightly knit. I am totally confident that those are people I totally want to work with. At the same time, we have a mission. There has been a level set by the course, and that is what we have to keep going and I am not afraid of that.


Text James Anderson

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