Illustration by Elisa’s friend Gladys Perint Palmer 

Elisa Palomino has led a long and varied career in the fashion industry. After graduating from MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins she travelled the world working at such estimable labels as Moschino, John Galliano, Roberto Cavalli and Diane von Furstenburg. This year she returned to CSM to take up a new position as Head of the BA Fashion Print course and we’re very grateful to have her back! 1Granary was delighted to speak to Elisa and we’re sure that you’ll enjoy her interview as we have. Read on.

Tell us about your time at CSM.

It was the most magical time I’ve ever had in my life! I was quite young and naive when I first arrived at Charing Cross, I was so amazed by everything around me. I lived with a lovely guy who was in the year above me, and we hung out with a lot of different people, there was always someone around. There were a lot of underground clubs going on at that time that we went to. It was really fun and special.Elisa in her childhood.

Who were your classmates at CSM?

Lee McQueen was studying MA at the same time as me, he was also quite shy, and we became friends. I had quite a protective attitude towards him, especially at the beginning when he didn’t deal much with other people. I remember once it was his birthday, and I bought him some flowers from the market in Charing Cross. He was so touched when I gave them to him, and he told me that no one had ever given him flowers before.

There were some great BA students as well like Giles, Antonio Berardi, Matthew Williamson. Of course back then you didn’t know these people would go on to do the things they have; they were just Tony or Lee. But looking back, somehow we knew that there was energy and such talent in these people, so I wasn’t surprised, especially with Lee, that he was successful straightaway. It used to be a requirement to go to the Paris shows. I remember when the BA student used to have to go to the Paris shows, we snuck into Jean Paul Gaultier and he was doing those fabulous jackets that held themselves open without any fastenings. Lee said, ‘They’re okay, but I can do better.’ He came back to the studio and put one together in no time and of course, it was ten times better.

How does it feel to be a teacher here now?

There are brilliant tutors here and it’s great to work alongside them. Coming to a job like this from working in the fashion industry can be hard, so it’s wonderful to be cocooned in this atmosphere where I feel so protected and there’s so much love. It’s like coming home. I feel like I never left.With Nathalie Gibson

How do you see the BA Fashion Print course?

I think the BA Fashion Print is really amazing. It’s hard work, but I think it puts our students on top because it is very demanding of you. You learn to master everything.

Was teaching something you always thought of doing?

Teaching comes very naturally to me. When I first started working, I went to Italy. They have a very different culture there and don’t believe in working with students. Hopefully that is changing. Working at Galliano was wonderful because John always, always, always wants to work with students. When I first got there, Galliano was so tiny; it was John, myself, and a few designers. I slowly started introducing the idea of interns and created a small atelier of students. We mixed dyes, created prints, and knitwear and did a lot of very detailed handcrafted work, so that was really how I started teaching. The students would go back to college, having learnt so many new skills, you could really see the development between the time they came and their final shows. They were always so amazing and so detailed. It’s so great to push people, and see how they grow, and what they can really do.

Tell us more about working at Galliano.

It was fabulous! It was one of the best experiences of my life. Everyday was like ‘wow’! John is so generous and there is so much to learn from him. It’s just the way he is: he loves to help people. John was always so grateful to the students who worked for him; he knew that if you didn’t have the right people, it just wouldn’t work. Galliano studio is a consummation of everything you learn at CSM. When I first arrived there, it was like being back at college! He kept asking, ‘Where is your sketchbook, where is the research?’ It was like he is my tutor. I just thought it was so lovely, and it worked because he is always pushing you to the levels that you never would have reached otherwise. Nothing was ever good enough, but in a good way, he really knows how to get the best out of people. He found inspiration in us and always made sure everyone worked together, and when it finally would come out in the show, it was so rewarding!With John Galliano

What were your first impressions of Galliano?

We met for the first time in Paris, and it was like meeting a soul mate… you know, when you see someone at the other end of the room and think ‘wow’. It was very powerful. We are kindred spirits in a modern way.

How did he divide his time between all his projects?

I think that when something is your passion time doesn’t matter. I don’t think he enjoys having holidays; designing is his life and he doesn’t mind. Doing our research trips with him were like a holiday, whether it was Spain, India or anywhere. Every season different people would go with him, so everyone would get a turn. He is very democratic and generous like that. He loves meeting people and being on the street. There was never a dull moment.

What do you think made his designs so iconic?

John is the king of the cross-reference. If he is doing a collection inspired by Africa, it would never just be Africa, but it would be Africa and pinstripes or something. Every look in the show would use at least ten different techniques, which would gather together all his references and all his ideas. Personally, I think that’s what makes him so fantastic.

What are your fondest memories of working with Galliano?

Every day working with him was like magic. The first show I worked on was inspired by children, and he decided to try and view life through the eyes of a child. There were all these children wearing the clothes of a grown up and these massive shoes! Then he just got a model and started putting things on to her, it was crazy! He was so playful and it was very interesting to watch. He really pushes things. Just being around him, working with him and listening to his stories, as he is a great storyteller, was really special!

And what about the perks of the job?!

Well, there were lots of sample sales! They were open to everyone, so the students would come back after a few months of interning with thousands of pounds worth of Galliano and Dior for maybe …€100! (Laughs)

How did working with all these designers affect you when it came to setting up your own line?

You learn so much from them: different ways of working, how the markets work in different countries, and working with the factories, being in the print room. Having been to CSM, gave me an edge because I already knew a lot about the technicalities of fashion. You get to know what can be done and what can’t, so nobody can fool you with that!

Sometimes people just want to jump into the dream job and once they’re there they don’t really appreciate it. But if you experience different things when you come to your dream job, then you have all this knowledge, and you can be more discerning about what you’re doing. Of course being a designer means being creative, but there are so many other ingredients. You have to sell yourself, even in America you can be super-talented, but unless you can sell yourself, you’re worth nothing.

What advice would you give to students?

Make the most of all the opportunities you get at CSM. You have wonderful tutors here who will give you all the basics from pattern cutting, to toiling, to helping you build up your core ideas. Use every workshop you have and try to learn all the techniques you can. Make lots of contacts and have a voice. Be really loud and say, ‘This is who I am and this is what I do.’ Build up your personality and put it into your work because that will be your trademark, it’s what people will notice.

Finally, what is CSM to you?

It is pure, raw creativity. There’s a whole world out there for each of you… it’s like a blank canvas because you can do things here that you couldn’t do anywhere else.

Interviewed by Zoe Dickens and Altynai Osmoeva