Nathalie Doucet is the President and Founder of the Arts of Fashion Foundation. She has been a teacher and mentor for fashion students around the world for more than 10 years.
In what year did you start the Arts of Fashion Foundation?
In December 2001, Didier Grumbach, President of the Fédération Française de la Couture in Paris, put me in charge of re-organizing the US national student competition known as the Air France Competition. In January 2002, the Foundation was registered in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a non-profit 501 (c) 3 while I was teaching at the University of Cincinnati. In 2005, the Foundation was transferred to San Francisco where I came to teach at the Academy of Art University.
How many different programs does the foundation offer?
The Master Class Series offers students the opportunity to work under the direction of world-renowned designers to stimulate their creative ability. Students are asked to construct specific fashion projects with the guidance of the professional designers, and to present their works in the fashion show along with the finalists from the International AoF Competition. Additionally we have a partnership with the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in the Le Louvre Paris. Students are exposed to different design techniques and haute couture craft in order for them to increase and develop creativity during a 4-week long summer session.
The professional part of the programs of the Foundation are the Tandem Series and the Fashion.edu Series, providing open dialogue amongst guest speakers, professionals, faculty members, and emerging designers, and which are constantly addressing the challenges and opportunities of the fashion industry and academia.
Introduced in 2004, the Carte Blanche Series exhibits the works of fashion designers and artists from around the world. This series allow designers to present their work on the runway or mount exhibitions in host galleries and museums.
Lastly, The Debut Series is premiered and aimed at promoting and assisting rising design talent within the United States. In 2009, the Debut presented its third edition of young design talent with 3 emerging designers: Amy Sarabi, Chelsea Snyder, and Julianne Thibodeaux. In addition to showing their garments on the runway, the designers received a stipend helping in the construction of the collection.
How many applicants to do you get each year for various programs?
In 2011, we received 336 applications from 32 countries and 96 schools and universities. 50 students are selected to participate in the International Fashion Competition.
Who are some designers that have participated that are now designing their own collections?
I would say: most of them! The Arts of Fashion Foundation invites entrepreneurial profiles, which are able to take distances from the system. Anthony Vaccarello, Christophe Beaufays, Wendy and Jim, Cathy Pill, Sandrina Fasoli, Sandra Backlund, Aurore Thibout, Christian Wijnants, Matthew Ames, Natallia Pilipenka Christine Phung…Others creative minds are still working behind the scenes, such as Julien Dossena at Balanciaga, Isabelle Steger at Jill Sander, Laurent Edmond at Gaultier, Julie Perrin at Jerome Dreyfuss and Matthieu Blazy at Margiela.
Do you yourself have a design background?
I graduated in Textile Design from Duperre, the Ecole Superieure des Arts Appliques, Paris in 1984, worked at Cacharel for a couple of years and then in 1986 I launched my own line of luxury ready-to-wear for children called “Chatmotomatic.” In 1996, I did my masters degree at Institut Francais de la Mode in Fashion and Textile Management.
What did you do before starting the foundation?
I have been a style coordinator during my last years in Paris, mostly working with luxury brands through an agency. In 1999, I was invited to teach in the United States by the Savannah College of Art and Design. The University of Cincinnati hired me in 2001. This is a Co-op program where students spend half of their year in the industry. I was able to see the real need to teach creativity in fashion to students in order to rejuvenate the industry. This is where and why I decided to create the foundation.
You have at times compared the Arts of Fashion to Hyeres competition in France. In what ways are the two most alike?
For sure, I would love to create a unique and neutral space and place in the United States, where professionals, educators and designers from all over the world could meet, a type of Sundance Festival but for fashion. Unfortunately we have not been able to gain the same attention here in California as Hyeres and its International Fashion Festival in France. Hyeres is the reference for the Arts of Fashion on this point.
What is the overall goal of Arts of Fashion?
To create an international platform for creative, emerging and entrepreneurial fashion designers and fashion artists in order to meet, exchange, collaborate and develop projects in a neutral and respectful environment.
Having worked with design schools all around the world, which do you think has the strongest design talent right now?
It is difficult to respond in a simple way. Everybody knows the renowned schools around the world, however with the Arts of Fashion competition, I have been able to discover some very creative programs in Colombia, Romania, Switzerland and of course China and South Korea. It seems that it is more a question of curriculum and professors from what I have been able to observe.
What is in store for 2012?
I have been invited to participate in the Jury at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and will attend their fashion week!
On April 21, the first jury session for the 2012 competition will be held at the De Young Museum. Fashion professors from Australia, Colombia, Sweden, Portugal, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong will meet to choose the final 50 participants for this year’s competition in October.
Do you think being located in San Francisco, rather than New York, helps or hurts your programs?
Actually New York may have been easier for the Foundation. The Arts of Fashion Foundation has pioneered another view on fashion that is difficult to integrate into the culture even in San Francisco with its rebel city’s reputation. Time will say.