Raffaele Ascione, who had successfully graduated from the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins in 2011, has presented his new collection at the Vauxhall Fashion Scout (check out the images of the previous post), was very kind to have invited us to his super tidy Stoke Newington studio past Sunday evening. He spoke about his new collection, being employed by one of the most successful Italian brand – Max Mara, his past as a professional dancer and personal journey to and experience of the MA at Central St. Martins.
When you first enter his studio at once you notice how tidy it is, there isn’t a single pin on the floor. The room’s walls are embellished with beautiful illustrations, fabric samples, images from magazines, a picture of a dancer, Marilyn Monroe and his pop idol – Britney Spears (he goes to her shows twice every time she visits and he has two tickets stuck to the wall to prove it), as well as of his favorite model – Mariacarla Boscono, precious green cardboard paper patterns neatly hang on one wall and a silver shoe sole. But clothes occupy most of the space, accurately hanging in the garment bags except the one creme silk with milky lace haute couture dress which was gently laying on the bed. ‘This is the dress which will close the show’, says Raffaele.
Raffaele is an example of a universal citizen; being born Italian, grown up in Germany, having studied in an artschool in Ireland and, at last, completing an MA course at Central Saint Martins in England.
A.: How did you get onto the MA course at Central Saint Martins?
R.: After secondary school, I decided to attend drama school, though I had also applied to an art school in Germany. I was a professional dancer for three years and went onto a tour for one year and a half. At the time, my ex-boyfriend was studying in an art school in Ireland and I went to visit him. There he showed me the fashion department and, at that moment, I decided to leave dance and study fashion. My heart totally belongs to fashion, but I will always be a dancer at heart.
While in Ireland, I started discovering designers like Alexander McQueen, Galliano, Stella McCartney and others, whom I now admire, so, after research, I had discovered that many great designers were trained in England and mostly at CSM. That is when I set a goal to study an MA fashion course at CSM.
Prior to MA, I finished my BA in Rochester at UCA and then got head hunted by Max Mara and got a job in Italy. Usually, we would finish around 7pm, so I also had time after work to work on my own designs. I had no life… (laughs).. no, I am joking. I had great time because I was working on a collection based on these american drama series back in the 90’s called Beverly Hills, 90210. I did that collection and included it in my portfolio and applied to CSM while still in Italy. It was a great experience at Max Mara, but my dream was always to do MA at CSM, so, after a year of employment, I left to study because I got accepted. I actually got myself a tatoo inspired by the collection as a prize.
I remember it was a hot summer day in Italy, and I got home on my bike after work when I saw an envelope in the letter box from UAL. My ex-boyfriend, who had studied on MA graphic design at CSM, told me ‘Raffaele, you will know… if you get a thin envelope then you didn’t get in, but if you receive a thick envelope, then, it means that you did get in.’ It was a big and thick envelope.
A.: Was it something you expected?
R.: No. When one has dreams, there are certain expectations and very often expectations turn out to be something else. It was so much more than I expected.
A.: What was MA course like?
R.: A lot of people think that MA at Central Saint Martins is very conceptual, but it is not. It is about making really beautiful and interesting clothes. It is about a raw talent and really great ideas. I suppose, every year there are students who set up a certain trend. For example, Maarten van der Horst who did Hawaiian thing, and it was everywhere. It really prepares you for the industry, you get a lot by being taught by Louise Wilson, you learn how to work with people and learn a lot about yourself. You start doing things that you were scared of doing before and start constantly question your work. Louise teaches in a very coherent way, sometimes even aggressive, if she is frustrated, but you start to learn to love that side of her because that’s who she is and that is the way she teaches. I was very nervous sometimes because I was scared of going into a meeting with her and not being able to understand her guidance ship… that was my fear. I didn’t learn about pattern making or sewing on the course, but you learn how to focus on your work and ways you can translate your ideas. When I started at the course, I was quite advanced in technical skills learnt back on BA, so it really helped. There are many talented designers on the course who do not have great technical skills, but they collaborate with people who do, and that way they can translate their ideas
A.: In few words, what was the most valuable lesson you learned from Louise Wilson?
R.: To constantly doubt my work. Always question and push yourself out of the comfort zone. Take risks.
A.: What happened after MA?
R.: After the show, you feel like in a bubble because all you worry about before the show is how the clothes will look on the catwalk. Only after few days, you realize that your clothes are out there, magazines start to contact you, shops want to see your look book, stylists want your clothing for editorials and a lot of opportunities and commissions arise. After four-five weeks I was featured in Vogue Turkey. I did commissions for Lady Gaga, Jessie J, POP Magazine and the Uniform Project. And we recently shot my collection for the Wallpaper magazine’s April issue.
After MA, graduates try to get a job and be employed by a company. I also needed to find work, so I visited many agencies, one being Smith and Pie in London, and dropped off CV’s. It was a bit of a frustrating time trying to find a job because when you attend interviews and people look at your portfolio, you get various responses like ‘you are over qualified for us’ or ‘your aesthetics are too strong for our brand’ and, funnily, during the interviews, I was being asked why don’t I start up my own label. So, I thought, ‘yes, why don’t I’?
A.: How was it to start from scratch and who supported you?
R.: First, you sort out organizational bits and paper work like studio, funding and sponsorships, then you just go for it.
What I did was post my project on www.sponsume.com, which is a website where you can post your project and raise money for it. A good 700 pounds came from there, Sophie Halette has provided with lace and I also got sponsored by an Italian zip company Lampo (works with such brands like Gucci and Fendi), which has provided me with zips that I have designed myself. So, when you learn how to raise some money and get sponsored, it already gets much easier. I have also applied to Fashion East, which didn’t work out because they decided to support designers from the previous year, but then Vauxhall Fashion Scout has contacted and gave the presentation space, for which I am really happy.
Support comes from everywhere, and I’ve been very blessed with friends. My best friend Claire Davies does shoes for me and I have known her since studying in Ireland. Actually, people that you work with are your classmates. And a lot of them are in the creative industries, so I can go and ask for an advice if I need to. And we collaborate, share information and help each other to lend jobs and commissions. It is all about sharing the knowledge. Also, it is important to have someone who’s advice and opinion you could trust. Sometimes, I would have loved to go and speak to Louise, but I stop myself because I think that my time on MA is finished and it is part of the learning and growing process.
A.: How was it to work for Max Mara?
R.: It was amazing. A great experience and a glance into the industry. I’ve learned a lot.
I was hired as a junior designer and there was a big team of us because Max Mara is such a huge brand. We were given a lot of responsibility because when senior designers worked on other projects than the main lines and were short of time, it was up to us – junior designers, who carried on the work. I am lucky that I speak Italian because from the beginning they have included me in many projects and meetings. I’ve learned a lot about fabrics, how to work with the production, pattern making, textile teams, and you get to meet the fabric suppliers… it was a lot to take in, but it was a great experience. Also, the accommodation and food was taken care of, so it was wonderful.
A.: What was the inspiration for your new collection?
After I’ve finished the MA, I thought that I want to do a collection based on things that I liked for a long time and things that I’ve been collecting. These are the two most important aspects. I have always liked studio 54, the 70’s disco era …that’s why I did long skirts and flairs on the trousers. The entire collection is based on a silhouette. A lot of things are based on a baseball sweatshirt that I’ve had for a long time, the raglan sleeve, the shape and fit are inspired by that sweatshirt. And obviously, I am inspired by my love for working with lace.
When leaving his studio, his friends Anisha and Oni arrive. Oni wearing a Whitney Houston shirt , his way of paying respect to the great singer. Raffaele hugs them and says, ‘that’s what I mean by saying that friends are a blessing and that we all help eachother in fashion’. Anisha works for PR and Oni for IMG models, and they came to help embroider all evening. In fashion, friendship is everything.
Interview and writing by Altynai Osmoeva