Where “knowledge” and “know how” build talent. Vis à vis with Paola Pattacini, Fashion Director at IED Rome

This is the school where international fashion talents like Dior’s Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri and Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli studied.
Founded in 1966 by Francesco Morelli, the European Design Institute (Istituto Europeo di Design, IED) is now a network of schools spread throughout Italy and with two branches abroad, in Spain and Brazil. This is IED’s strength: being a great creative hub with a real presence in the world, a “family” that offers a consistent educational system, but is also able to leverage the peculiar identity of the cities where it is located – haute couture in Rome, leather in Florence, prêt-à-porter and business in Milan, and so on. The school offers a huge range of programs focusing on fashion, design, visual arts and communication.
We had a chat with Paola Pattacini, Director of the Fashion Area at IED Rome, and this is what she told us…

What are you working on at the moment?
We are busy with some projects aimed at giving our students visibility: one is with the University of Mexico, and another one is in Russia. We sponsor students through IED’s International Office and take part in various contests, ranging from CNA Federmoda’s contest to Milano Moda Graduate, to the ColorAMA Award. This is the time of the year when we also focus on dissertations: students are about to finalize their research and are entering the design phase. The whole process will then lead to their submissions to other talent contests, allowing them to showcase their work during Milan’s Fashion Week in September.

What makes IED different from other schools?
Definitely its network. We are present virtually everywhere in Italy – from Sardinia to Como – and have two branches abroad, in Brazil and in Spain. We work together, always in contact, and students work and do workshops together, mingling and exchanging ideas. IED is not just fashion, but also design, jewelry, styling, communication, visual arts – and all of these different areas interact. During January’s edition of AltaRoma, Fashion Styling students saw their creations on the catwalk, during an event that was curated also by the communication and visual arts area. Fashion houses’ style departments engage different types of professionals, while we have all of them within the school. IED is a place where people get used to teamwork.

Enrolling at IED means starting a program in Italy knowing it might continue abroad. Does the school’s approach to education change depending on the specific location?
The approach is the same, but the difference is in the peculiar features of the country where the school is located. You can study in Rome and then go to Spain with the Erasmus program, finding a dose of defiance and open-mindedness that will expand your creative vision. Traveling helps mold creatives, and being a network is definitely beneficial in that.

You are the only school in Rome to offer a first-level Fashion Styling degree program recognized by the Italian Ministry of Education...
Many of our students work as editors or at fashion shows, but we also have visual merchandisers who take care of styling collections and even showrooms. We are working on vintage fashion research classes where students can learn how to determine if a piece is important and what its value is, recognizing its origins from a button hole or a specific sewing. We really want the education we provide to have a cultural basis, because that is what makes the difference for creatives. Our students take semiotics, art history, fashion history and any other subject they need to have a solid foundation.

Have you ever looked at a student thinking she had something special that would make her a successful creative?
Yes. You recognize true brilliance because it allows students to be aware of what they are doing, and where they are doing it, as they do it. It’s awareness. It’s never being late or early to suggest something. Then, you certainly need an enlightened manager like Marco Bizzarri is to Alessandro Michele. Creatives can’t succeed without a commercial base: they need someone to believe in them, despite the small mistakes they might make. So many of our alumni are already famous: Maria Grazia Chiuri, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Marco De Vincenzo – just to mention a few. In the past two or three years, we’ve seen many of our graduates go on to work for famous brands, and we are sure we’ll hear more about their successes soon. A lot of our alumni have become talented model makers for leading fashion houses, or fabric and accessory researchers: perhaps they are not in the spotlight like creative directors, but they have extraordinary careers and are the lifeblood of the fashion industry.

What is your best advice for someone hoping to work in fashion?
Over time, I’ve realized we can teach students anything, except for one thing: curiosity. We can spark it, of course, but curiosity is the little “extra” that is absolutely required to work in this field. I would definitely recommend gaining a deep culture and developing a method, an order and a work discipline. Behaving properly, being on time and respecting professors are rules that help shape students. It’s the starting point if they want their mind to have range and be creative.

As head of the Fashion Area, what hopes do you have for IED?
IED’s peculiarity is that all teachers are also professionals in the area they teach. I hope I can continue to have an eye for the market and for new professional profiles, staying up to date and always guaranteeing high-quality education programs.

Which are the most sought-after professional profiles you cater to?
I’ve seen an increase in demand for illustrators. There is a return to hand drawing, which had been abandoned due to widespread use of computers. Profiles in styling, visual merchandising and model making are also in great demand. Craftsmanship is making a great comeback, and so are school programs that teach professionals to work at sartorial level.

You worked with Gianfranco Ferré for a long time. What did you learn from him?
I was at his side for twenty-two years, when he designed his women’s line and also when he worked for Dior. I was impressed by his simplicity when he welcomed me on his team. I admired his rigor, his method, and his incredible and undisputed talent. He showed me you can be brilliant in education and culture, and I was fascinated by his humbleness and – at the same time – the strength with which he took on the role he was offered at Dior. We were the first Italians to work in Parisian high fashion, and those were years when we worked night and day – but also had a great time.

Do you agree that “outsiders” often see fashion as a fun, sometimes excessive world, without fully understanding that it all stems from hard work to make a product sell and succeed?
I think people looking at fashion from the outside still perceive the sacrifices that are made behind the scenes. In the past few years, there has been a bit of “circus” in blogging, with bloggers constantly out and about wearing new and trendy outfits. That’s actually hard work, requiring huge effort and sacrifices. It’s a phenomenon that has given everyone a chance but is now cleaning up, because after all only real professionals – like Giovanna Battaglia, Anna Dello Russo, Chiara Ferragni – can stand the test of time. Their blogs tell the story of a fun world, but also of very hard-working women with profound culture. So, if someone as professional as them is behind a blog, I can’t help but have a positive view of it, because everything must adapt to changing times.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Unfortunately, these days everyone thinks they can be fashion designers. So it’s part of my job to provide guidance to students, showing them that there is a wider range of professions in fashion. These roles are the lifeblood of the industry, and require no less creativity than being a designer.

Do you dream of anything, professionally?
Right now, I am very focused on education and on transferring knowledge to younger generations. I hope to continue working and studying, in order to understand – someday – how I might approach fashion in a more ethical, or perhaps even “ecological” way. I would like to find a student with a new way of doing fashion according to the canons of sustainability, facing the issues of the world we live in.

Do you think Italian fashion is as competitive as it was twenty years ago?
Yes, it still is. But we are losing track of a few factors. Today, there is a market for extreme luxury and then there is the mass market, so unless you can afford the best of the best you can only find very commercial products. We are lacking a mid-level range, offering good quality fashion with a great creative concept. I believe we need to fill this void with new options and with enlightened entrepreneurs who understand how Italian fashion becomes truly competitive when it pinpoints an intermediate range that is accessible, not commercial and very creative.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© IED - Istituto Europeo di Design


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