Language Partners, the Universities of the Arts London representative office in Brazil, has asked Renata Estefan to answer few questions about her journey in Fashion studies as well as the main questions students have been frequently asking her.
LP: What made you choose Central Saint Martins?
I always wanted to open my own label and work for some specific great ones. I know there are very talented people who would want to do the same and i would have serious competition. So it makes sense for me to get the best education when you want the best job.
LP: In your opinion what makes CSM such a great Institution ?
It is a combination of things but of course the main reason is the people who teach there. They are just brilliant. The way they think, the way they teach, their brutal honesty, how they treat you and what they say to you. They will never tell you what to do, you are free there. They will just guide you through your style. If you care, they will care enough to fight for you and they will care enough to shout at you as well. And of course CSM understands the power of investing massively on the creative side of fashion. There are more people who you can pay for their techniques than people who you can pay for their brilliant insights!
LP: What would you advice students to do if they are not sure to which university apply for ?
If you don't know what college to apply for you have to research deeper until something about one of the colleges will definetely captivate you.
Go to the websites, check the students final work, their level, what happend to them after graduating. Ask people about the programs and what level of hard work you would have to put on in each college. Read about the tutors reputations. You have to know those things. People come to CSM and give up because they think life shouldn't be that hard. They clearly were unaware where they were getting themselves at. Just think where you want to be in the future and what college has been preparing people well to reach a similar position to the one you aim to be. And the main thing is: you have to think how much are you willing to devote. I mean time and energy. Everybody says they want to direct a big fashion house but almost no one wants to do what it takes to become the director. Everybody wants to set their own label but few want to do what it takes to actually be good enough to run one. Same thing happens for getting a place in a competitive Institution. It is like it has been said: " They dont want it bad, they just kind of want it. "
"(..) There are very talented people who would love to do the same things i want to do so i have serious competition. It makes sense for me to get the best education in the world if i want the best job."
LP: In your opinion what is the main difference between LCF and CSM ?
i would say they are completely different in many aspects. For me the main difference is on the approach, which you can see on the final shows of their students. LCF has a more technical- commercial approach, CSM has a more creative approach. You have to think and decide which one will suits you better, and suits your goals better.
LP: How is it to study at CSM and what was the most challenging thing at being a student there ?
It is a competitive environment and intense as hell. I had no personal life for a long time. At the whole program at Graduate Diploma I struggled a lot, none of my projects were successful until the last one. The brilliant side is that you are surrounded by brilliant, devoted, passionated, hard-work people. Your tutors are reference in what they teach and they really care about those who cares. And that you might go to the toilet and bump into John Galliano. What more can you expect from a fashion college. The big challenge for me was to convince David Kappo, that i was not about to do something boring and sexyless on my final project. But as i did do boring and sexyless things before at his course he had all reasons to think i would do it again! The word "boring" still hunts me when i am working at home, i can't count how many times i heard that from him.
LP: Tell us about your journey in Fashion Studies.
I have done 3 years of BA, Fashion, at a technical College in Brazil. With my BA final work i got a place at Fashion Folio, directed by Professor Patrick Lee Yow at Central Saint Martins.
At Fashion Folio i applyed for Graduate Diploma in Fashion, directed by David Kappo and, fortunately, i was offered a place at his course.
The goal has always been getting a place at the MA - WOMENSWEAR with Louise Wilson, but i knew i needed to get my work at the right level for that as it is the most prestigious and competitive Fashion MA in the world. So i had to do it step by step. Happily i was successful and Louise liked my final work at Grad-Dip.
LP: How was your interview with Louise?
It was very remarkable to me. She came to take a look at the final years exhibition and she was going through my work . At the moment i couldn't even look at her, i was very aware of her geniality and personality and her opnion was the one that meant more to me than anyone else. So she said loudly: where is this girl ? And my tutor said: "there she is ! Renata , come here!" I came closer and Louise said: Oh Hi, you have a great work ! Really really, beautiful. ( among other things ). So she offered me a place at her course at that same moment. I remember when they left i ran outside and wrote her words on a piece of paper i found on the floor. I was afraid i would forget or think about it too much and fantasy it was something different than it was.I know it might sound stupid but i still have that paper and i still read it quite often.
(..) If you have a plan B you are likely to end up sticking to it. So my plan B is always finding another way of solving my plan A.
LP: Tell us about your interview process in Brazil.
My interview happened in Brazil at the Softel Hotel in Rio. I contact Language Partners office and they took care of the rest. I heard about the International Office in a exposition and every step i made was through them, from interview and burocracy to finding accomodation in London. The office brings international tutors and according to your portfolio level they tell you if you get or not an interview. I got one and that was the interview i was rejected for Grad Dip, CSM. And thank God that happened because i would have been the most unprepared student in the whole institution if i hadn't gone through Fashion Folio first.
LP: What did you learn at Fashion Folio ?
Everything. Fashion Folio is the most complete course i have ever known. Patrick also teaches at BA and i couldn't choose a fairer way to describe him but as an academic genius. No wonder Fashion Folio students are so apreciated wherever they go next. They are fast, creative , persistent and they can take criticism better because they had to listen to Patrick shouting at them before. You learn about it all. You learn about doing a good work and you learn about being a good designer. They teach you about sketchbooks, projects, research, drawings, idea and design development, interviews, how to dress, how to present the work etc. The main thing you learn there and i will not be able to explain clearly, is how to look. They teach you how to look at things. You just change the way you look. You think you are looking now but after Fashion Folio you realize you have never really looked at things the way they should be looked at. I know it is complex but that is what it is . i can't put it in any other way. Also what is great about this course is that you have others CSM tutors coming in for tutorials. At my year, it was Elisa Palomino, who worked as Head of Studio at John Galliano and also for many prestigious designers and she is a prestigious designer herself. Today she is the Head of Prints at CSM. Her tutorials add more than you can ever imagine, to you as a person and as a designer. Fashion Folio has been opening doors for many students, they go into BA at CSM, LCF, Graduate Diploma etc....
"When a tutor reachs a certain level of geniality you can still hear his voice when he is not there. I am on opposite side of the globe and often when i am working on my ideas I can still here Patrick's voice in my head shouting the six words with the same particular entonation they always come out with:
"No! No, no, no, no, NO!"
LP: knowing how hard it is to be accepted at Grad-Dip, what was your plan B in case of another rejection ?
If you have a pan B chances are you will end up with it. So my plan B was always finding a way to solve my plan A. So I would have applied again and again until i get the place where i truly wanted.
LP: What is the main things you would say they expect to see in a student applying for CSM ?
LP: David Kappo is the course leader and tutor at Graduate Diploma. How was it to learn from him ?
Amazing. He knows what he is doing and he is able to deal with students with different styles of work and apreciating each style. His course is very competitive because in a short period of time, it is a one year course only, students reach an extremely higher level of portfolio of work than when they came in. Students ask me how is David. There is only one to say it: really tough. And that is what makes students grown up and mature. I remember days i didn't even want to wake up because i knew with the work i had he would shout at me. I remember when one of the best students in our class was looking upset and i asked her what was wrong and she said walking with her work in her hands after showing it to David: "i am thinking about running away..."
But you have to understand that If it wasn't for David critics we would certainly not have had the opportunity to re-think and question ourselves as we did and therefore higher our level of work.
LP: What was the worst thing you heard in his critics ?
There were so many tough critics. I remember him looking at me in the eyes and saying pausedly in a scary super calm tone of voice while he was tearing my pages apart to show everyone the poor quality of my presentation : " You came here as one of the strongest ones and now you are just mediocre. ( He paused for a moment and kept staring at me ). You will walk through that hall and look up at the third floor , where the MA is, and you will see your friends sitting there, but not you. And you are gonna ask yourself why."
There is another unforgettable one. After 30 days working non-stop on a dress during vacations i proundly showed it to him, he looked it top to bottom and said : "I think my biggest nightmare has come true."
And later on, we were talking and i mention the fact that i was the only student coming to work during vacations and he said: " Too bad for you, because maybe if there was someone around they would have told you how horrendous your dress was."
I cant avoid smiling when i tell people this things now because the terror inside us was so big that, looking back, you want to laugh!
Another emblematic time was when he was looking through my line up with around 30 looks maybe , and he started droping his head down in dramatics breaks, as if he was falling asleep until he almost touched the table. Than he pulled his head up and said looking at me : "BORING."
The word boring still hunts me. He doesn't know but i used to dream about this word. When i was buying fabrics nothing was ever good enough because i could hear David in my head saying BORING to every choice i was about to make.
Oh and just for the record, he might read this, he was always right.
" It is not how many pages your portfolio has but what is in the pages. The better you become more refined become the work. And it will come the day you wont have to carry a portfolio anymore or even say your name because people will already know you and have heard about you and what you do."
LP: Can you tell student about Graduate Diploma ?
It is a one year course. Very demading and intense. It is perfect if you can't do the BA or you have done a BA but are not at a MA level yet. It really pushes you and students who graduate from this course end up with a very mature and sophisticated portfolio getting places at MA at CSM, LCF, RCA or even going to the industry where they work for great houses such as Mcqueen for example. David Kappo, who also teaches at BA is the course leader and tutor. He is very tough, honest and he does expect you to work hard, of course. At the end of the day we have to keep in mind that the critics are about the work, so no matter how hard they are, they are there to construct you, not to destroy you. Once the students understand that they start benefiting from being surrounded by those extremely demanding tutors. At Grad -Dip there are students going into womeswear, prints, menswear, textiles etc. The way it works is you are given several projects, briefing, and you have to do them according to the timetable. Some last two weeks, the ones you actually have to make the garment last 3 weeks. And the Final Project last around 4 months when you present it on a exibition open to the public where MA team will take a look and select the portfolios for the interviews. During the projects David Kappo will be seeing your work and giving you his advices and opnion about how it is going , what you could change, re-consider etc. At the final critics day , there will be an externor critic and you will have to present your project to students and tutors and listen to what they have to say.
1- Fashion awareness.
2- Good sense of self-criticism
5- Work with a personal identity.
" When i got a place at Central Saint Martins our tutor sat us around a table and after staring at us for a moment he said: Welcome to hell."
LP: What is your main advices to students who are preparing for a interview now ?
1- Organize the work so the interviewer wont have to wait for you to put everything together . 2 - Dress accordinly. You should represent the work. 3 - Know the answers. It is an interview! They will ask you fashion questions and also question about yourself. Not to mention the trick questions. Louise Wilson once asked us the names of designers she had graduated in the 90's specifically.....
LP: Did you know the answer ?
No, but i should have known.
LP: What was her reaction when none of you could give her the names ?
I could give just 3 names i think. All i could think was the ones who had just graduated with her, recently, the new ones.
Some students gave another names... She was not surprise of course. I guess she had to deal with unprepared students all her life. But she said: " you are applying for my course and you can't name people i graduated in the 90's. " And kept silently staring at us.
" At Grad Dip, if it weren't for David Kappo's tough critics i would not have had the opportunity to re-think, re-evaluate and question myself, and therefor higher the level of my work."
LP: So answering some of the most commom question students ask: how many pages should a portfolio have ?
No one can answer that. A portfolio is nothing but a beautiful presentation of your best work. It might be that a person has a portfolio with 80 pages and another person who has one with 10 pages will get the job instead. The better you become more refined is your work and it will come the day you wont even have to carry a portfolio anymore or even say your name because they will know you and they will know what you do. It is about the content and not the numbers of pages. But as a student, i know students like to hear precise answers so my portfolio for the MA had around 50 pages front and back.
LP: What goes inside a portfolio ?
Inside a portolio will come your projects. The best of them that you will select from your piles of skechbooks. It should come your research images, or any other source of research, drawings, fabrics choices, fabrics samples, 3d experimentations, finishings test, print test if that is the case , your cuttings, drapings, fittings, toiles, everything that is part of your idea development and at the end it comes the final line up with around ten outfits and you should choose 2 outfits to actually make.
LP: What is the main thing they look in a portfolio ?
A strong personal identity and a soul. They want to be able to tell that the work belongs to you when you are not there and when there are others 200 portfolios next to yours.
LP: What is a sketchbook and how can students understand it ?
It is definetely the most important part of creating a collection! Sadly most universities in Brasil do not recognize the importance of developing a sketchbook. In my country we have images for research and we have to come up with final looks just by looking at them. No idea development, no recording of a complex process, no mistakes and no experimentation. It is insane. I am sure you can sit on your chair and draw a collection but without a sketchbook you will certainly be drawing garments that either have already been done or lack in concept and originality. Sketchbook is the whole long process it takes to create an original and referencial collection. The difference to a Porfolio is that a sketchbook will also contain the hundreds of samples and test you did but wont use at the final looks. It will contain the ruff work, the mistakes, pictures of fitting, toiles etc . It is the non-edit version of the portfolio. It goes from research, through idea and design development to fittings and final looks.
LP: Do you have to know how to cut, sew and draw for this course ?
You need to have the basic knowledge at least so when you ask someone to sew or cut for you you can explain how you want it to be done. I had help of a great pattern-cutter for my final project as i would not be able to finish on time if i was doing it all by myself. Many students pay per hour machinest and pattern-cutters to come to CSM and help.
The same with drawing. I was not good at all at drawing when i started, it used to take me hours to draw something simple. So i used alternatives ways such as collages, and montages to show them what was in my mind.
But during the course i was practicing a lot of drawing because i know how easy your life gets when you can express your thought with a pencil and do not have to print papers to cut shapes etc.
" I am sure any fashion student can sit on his chair and draw a fashion collection. But without a sketchbook you will be creating either garments that have already been done or garments that lack in concept, identity and originality."
LP: Can students rejected for MA still try Grap- Dip ?
Of course. And it would make a lot of sense.
How many project do you need in order to apply for Grad - Dip ?
I think they say 3 or 4 projects on the website but i can tell you that one very rich project is enough for them to know if you suit the course or not.
What advices would you give to students who just started considering going to study in London ?
Sit down and research all short courses that interest you. Take short courses first. Both at CSM and LCF so you can get to know each College and have a clear vision of what they are. Contact Language Partners Office if you are applying for a full time course and they will help you with everything. Don't freak out with burocracy, make a list, put on your wall and do step by step. Forget the fact that if you have done a BA than next step is a post graduation and after a MA. It does not work like that when you graduate in countries with such a difference in education style as England and Brazil. Even with a PHD in Brazil you might not get accepted at a BA course in England's greatest Colleges. It all about the level of the work you have , not the level of the course you have taken. Sometimes its important to take a step back so you can move foward. As i did.
" They are not the people who will know the people you want to know. They are the people you want to know themselves!" ( About CSM tutors )
" If you want to become a reference in whatever it is that you do you should do it better than any other person and that includes doing it first. "
LP: Why do you think they dont teach sketchbooks in Brazil ?
They dont think they need it. I have heard many brasilians universities saing that this kind of super creative side of fashion doesn't suit Brasil's market or even worse, brasilian students. That in order to make students get internships they have to teach them how to sew, use Corel Draw and cut. And because this is a commom thought here you can understand why Brasil doesn't set trends and their fashion remain as a late poor version of what has happened one whole year before in europe and north america.
It shoudn't have to be like that. We should have designers able to come up with referencial ideas, emblematic creations and original and strong thoughts. I know i sound hard but isn't it? If you want to be a reference in whatever it is that you do you have to do it better than any other person and that includes doing it first.
Some universities do teach sketchbooks but it is not about investigation and freedom of exploration of ideas as in London Colleges. Students are still forced to stick to Pantones numbers and padronized size of cuffs and lapels. How can you come up with something new if you have to do what has been done ? You can't.
LP: What are the main things CSM tutors tell students ?
I am sorry but i suggest whoever wants to know that to work hard to get a place there because their emblematics shouts sentences are a prestige you need to deserve! ( Laugh )
But i can tell you when i walk across the halls, i often hear the unmistakable voice of Patrick Lee Yow shouting :
- NO! No... No.... No.... No... NO!
Lp: Please tell us another sentence they usually say !
This is a commom one and you have no right to answer it.
- " Would you show this to Tom Ford ? Than why are you showing this to me ? "
" It is all about the level of work you have in your hands and not the level of course you have taken in your life. Sometimes it is important to take a step back so you can move forward."
How is life in London, accomodations, fees, etc ?
London is the most creative city you can find in the map. So many amazing museums, exibitions, courses, markets, streets , Colleges, art store, fashion supplyers, fabrics shops. I love fabrics, the smell they have , texture. I remember when i went to Berwick Street and i saw all those amazing fabrics stores, i started to cry. We have nothing like that in Brazil.
It is easy to make friends in London because many young people are in the same situation as you. International students, lonely, studying. The night is amazing, amazing pubs and bars.
Accomodations: either you stay in a student residence like Nido or you share a flat with someone.
Fees! I know fashion students who make it in London with 3000 reais including rent. But most fashion students , considering all the material we spend , spends 6.000 reais per month.
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