The Accademia di Costume & Moda: an education for tomorrow’s talents. Interview with Lupo Lanzara

Accademia di Costume & Moda was founded in 1964 by haute couture designer, costume designer, writer and journalist Rosana Pistolese, and has represented the best in education ever since. Today, it is a cultural beacon for the promotion of Made in Italy. We talked about it with Deputy Chairman Lupo Lanzara, who told us how the school now actively partners with players in the industry, churning out some of the most important talents on international catwalks. Indeed, the school’s graduates include Frida Giannini, Academy award winner Manlio Rocchetti, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele and dozens of other professionals who went on to become costume designers, entrepreneurs, head designers or line managers at the most important Italian and international fashion houses. In a few days, during Rome’s High Fashion Week, fifteen “2018 Talents” from the school’s first-level undergraduate Academic Diploma in Costume and Fashion will show their capsule collections on the catwalk. Two winners will be selected for the Fashion and the Accessories categories, and the “Pitti Tutorship Reward” will be awarded. Wanting to know more about this historical and prestigious Academy, we talked to its Deputy Chairman, Lupo Lanzara.

On January 27th, the Talents of Accademia Costume & Moda will be on the AltaRoma catwalk. Tell us about it.
The “2018 Talents” project is dedicated to the Three-year Costume and Fashion Program, which students can attend to achieve a First-Level Academic Diploma recognized by the Ministry of Education. It is the only three-year program in the world to merge costume and fashion in the same educational path. Fifteen young designers are selected for the show by an external panel in July, based on their portfolio. The interesting part in this project is the collaborations it starts with real companies. Students are tutored by their teachers during the development phase and have access to some companies in the fashion industry – some supply fabric, others develop specific processes or provide very famous maisons with leather. We collaborate with twenty-three companies that represent the excellence of Made in Italy and support students in developing the collections they finally present during AltaRoma. There they are judged by another panel, made up of talent scouts, creative directors and designers from important fashion houses, and representatives from the world of institutions. Meanwhile, students with a passion for costume design find very interesting opportunities thanks to the solid collaborations the Accademia has started with some famous theaters: they work with professional costume departments to create costumes for important plays, like “La Dame aux Camélias” performed at the Quirino Theater.

What makes a “talent”, in your opinion?
When a boy or a girl are very young, it’s hard to say for sure if they’ll go far – but you can immediately tell if they have that “extra spark”. Success only comes with hard work. School must prepare students culturally so they can develop their design skills, learn to know themselves, overcome their limits, discover their identity, understand the industry and gain working tools. Their career only starts once they start working, and the biggest satisfactions take years of hard work and sacrifices.

You’ve said, “Students are the best part of my job”. What have you learned from them over the years?
I learn something from students every day. They can listen with great curiosity – you can see it in their eyes. They are unguarded, and trusting others is perhaps the hardest thing we ever do in life and in interpersonal relationships. The first thing I’ve learned from my students is the art of listening, and listening with trust.

What is the best advice you could give to a young person who wants to work in the world of fashion?
I always recommend getting a very good education. It is crucial in the creative process to know how to be curious in every possible way: read, know, look around. This is especially important for someone hoping for a career in fashion. It’s also important to never give up, because life always has its difficulties. What makes the difference is our ability to face the challenges on our path, and to question ourselves, because it allows us to adapt to change.

What features make Accademia di Costume e Moda different from other schools?
We put students at the center of everything we do, and have a cultural platform that is well connected to our city. There probably are no “better” or “worse” schools, just schools with a different identity. Ours is closely tied to costume design and its relationship with fashion. When kids ask for information I always present the teachers, programs, school ranking and tell them about our alumni – but first and foremost I suggest they listen to their own intuition, to understand if the school’s identity matches their own.

How did you fall in love with the Accademia?
In the days before my grandmother passed away, I read parts of her biography and understood her vision in leading the Accademia. After she died, I though I might complete her mission. I had never planned for what I do now, before that: I used to be a business consultant, I had studied in London. But in the end, like I always tell students, “never say never”: you can’t decide the first job you take will be what you do for life. Sometimes you have to think in a more strategic, broader way, about a “path” that can help you acquire the skills that will make you unique, and therefor interesting for fashion houses.

Which are the biggest challenges you face in managing an articulated structure like the Accademia?
Leading and managing a school is a very complex job, because we end up managing two souls. We don’t sell a product, but people’s experience – which are also creative experiences, in our field. The challenge is to create the ability to listen, to correctly coordinate and to shape a group with a shared vision, which in the end leads to students’ wellbeing.

What has your biggest professional satisfaction been in these years?
Having contributed – with my team of teachers and collaborators, and thanks to the infinite generosity of part of the industry and institutions – to making the Accademia shine with the same light it had with my grandmother, founder Rosana Pistolese, and my mother Fiamma Lanzara.

How have students changed the most, in the past few years?
Kids today are definitely not the same as they were eight years ago, but the way they approach the complex and industrious reality of the Accademia is basically the same. They are charged by great enthusiasm in the first year, then often go through a crisis during the second year, due to either the amount of work required or a search for their identity. The third year is always very stressful, as the first collaborations with the outside world begin. These dynamics are always the same.

How do you think the Accademia will evolve in the next few years?
We are working a lot on internationalization and on the High Fashion, Costume, Jewelry and Knitwear master programs. We actively collaborate with over eighty companies to create a bridge between them and students. In the next few years, I would like the Accademia to be an increasingly important point of reference in the field of education in Rome – a city that has so much to give, if you know how to experience it and “live” it in the right way.

Rome is often compared to the other “fashion capital city”, Milan. What is the city’s potential in the field of fashion, in your opinion?
For a young man or woman, studying in Milan, Florence or Paris is all the same. I believe that studying in a city with close ties to art and history is crucial to build a platform of inspiration with continuity over time – something that does not emerge from education alone, but also from experience. Rome, with its beauty and ability to excite, always leaves its mark. And that can be the beginning of a young mind’s creative inspiration. It is not by chance that Rome is where stars like Maria Grazia Chiuri (who studied at IED and now works for Dior) and Alessandro Michele (our alumnus, now creative director at Gucci) emerged.

Which of the activities carried out at the Accademia makes you the proudest?
I am very proud to have built a direct relationship with companies, meaning both the fashion industry and the maisons. It allows students to access an academic-cultural education as well as to see a real concretization of their journey. In this process, we’ve had the precious help of our alumnus Marco Mastroianni, who started a range of collaborations in which my work team then came in with great professional skills. Everyone really challenged themselves to create this connection between companies and students, and that is definitely what I am the most proud of.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© Accademia Costume e Moda


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