Fabio Piras exhibits the kind of touching dedication to learning that usually results in students standing on desks to recite Walt Whitman. Despite the huge amount of respect afforded to him by the MA designers and the fashion industry generally, he remains surprisingly humble about the influence that he has, and describes working with his students as “a huge, huge privilege”. Somehow he also manages to avoid sounding sanctimonious. Possibly because he often pauses to grimace at his own sentimentality or preface his comments with phrases like “well it’s a cliché, but…” or “I don’t want to sound romantic or New Age-y…” Possibly because he balances inspiration with a fierce practicality.
There’s no Dead Poets Society Robin Williams nonsense about ripping up textbooks to throw away important context for Fabio Piras. Instead he reminds his students constantly of the world waiting for them beyond their art, beyond the creative bubble of the studios. “We push them to consider the world out there,” he explains, “…and they hate it, they hate my famous question which is: ‘what is the context? what is the market context? how do you visualise yourself in a professional context?’ I try to change that sentence endlessly, but it’s always the same question. And if you don’t answer that question, what happens is, when you graduate you are forced to.”
He fears that students can become too focused on design as a pure art form, without considering that it is an applied art, and needs to have that practical consideration. He leans back in his chair to mimic the anglophone drawl of many of his students, elongating his words more than usual, “they’re like, ‘oh my goooood, commerrrrrrrcial’”, he gives a short sharp laugh at his own impression and continues, “So they tend to have this really odd equation which is commercial equals horror equals bad design equals non-creative, and actually that’s really wrong, because if you’re not creative, you’re not commercial.”
Despite this capitalist awareness, Piras is at pains to make it clear that financial success is not the overarching dream he has for this year’s crop of designers. Rather he’s most proud of how “resolved” each piece looked on the catwalk at London Fashion Week, and he once again allows his ideals to shine through when he explains what he wants for their futures. “I want them to feel good in what they do. I want them to feel meaningful. There is a moment of integrity that you need to preserve at all costs, so anything you do, everything you say, the way that you do it, needs to be presented at your very best, and that’s what I wish for them, really.” The description is earnest, a whisker away from emotional, and might even surprise some of the students more used to flippant or comical remarks from him.
“I will always see the future of London fashion positively.”
Or maybe not. Even through his critique, his dedication is evident. Piras aims to know each student individually and extensively, an undertaking he describes as “intense, hyper-intense”, and he places a huge amount of value on them as creative entities with their own message, whether he likes that message or not. “I think as a course director, that’s what you need to be: someone that not necessarily puts himself first, because it’s not about you, it’s not about your taste at all. In fact, it’s about you being completely open to being surprised, to territories that you would never touch.”
Outside of CSM, Piras shows concern for the fashion industry at large in relation to young talent. Despite moving to London 30 years ago, mostly on a whim following a weekend trip, (“I lived in Geneva, probably the most boring city in the world”), he still considers himself an outsider, allowing a different perspective. He laments the decline of the city he first discovered in the 80s, of students who could live in the city centre and be part of the community, of “people in their 60s looking cool in night clubs”, which apparently used to be a thing.
Not all changes are bad though, and the optimism is, as always, encouraging. “I will always see the future of London fashion positively. I know it sounds completely way out, but London is a city that constantly renews itself, no matter what happens to it. And it’s proven from horror to deep depression: London somehow turns it all around”. He is also eternally grateful for the change in British food culture, which he describes as “pretty ghastly” in the 80s with a quiet reverent disgust, as though he still struggles with the mental scars inflicted by steak Diane and prawn cocktail.
And for the future, he hopes for more change, for an industry that values designers at the beginning of their careers, just as much as he does. “We rely on this endless, endless sea of young talent… Somewhere along the line you need to support education, and they all do, but they need to support it more.”
Words by Elizabeth Brauders
Photography by Liam Leslie