Fashion Moments: Acceptance to St Martins

This is my one year anniversary post! I thought I’d celebrate by sharing a story about one of the most exciting life changes I made, 11 years ago in Paris.

I hated living in Paris. When I was there, in the very late 90’s, Paris sucked. There were no good parties, everyone was rude, and eligible men were scarce. Now things have changed, there are a few good parties.

When I was working as an assistant designer at Sonia Rykiel, I was living with a girl named Susanna, who was designing at Emanuel Ungaro, and a guy named Alexi, who was an assistant to Mario Testino (Alexi Lubomirski is now doing quite well for himself, he has been shooting a lot of magazine covers.) Alexi was an absentee flatmate, he basically spent his days traveling around the world with Mario, usually to shoot the Brazilian supermodels, while Susanna and I sat miserably in our Paris apartment, wondering if there was anywhere we could go out and have fun.

Mario Testino's Brazilian beauties, Gisele and Fernanda. (Plus Frankie Rayder, centre.)

I had to get out of there, preferably to London, so I applied for as many jobs as possible and tried to get on to some MA courses as well. I saw that the Royal College of Art‘s application required a toile as part of the admissions package, and since I was too lazy to make one, I only sent an application to St Martins. There were several other designers at Sonia Rykiel at the time who were St Martins alumni, and they told me I’d get in no problem. So I caught the Eurostar to London and went for an interview with the notorious Louise Wilson, to try and get on to the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design’s MA in Fashion Design. (Read this post on Louise Wilson, Course Director for the MA in Fashion and one of the most influential people in my life.)

Louise Wilson.

As I waited for my interview, I noticed the others looked very nervous. Should I have been nervous too? I wasn’t, because I had been told so many times I would get in no problem. It was this arrogance, not the quality of my design portfolio, that got me in.

The girl before me came out of the interview crying. Not a good start.

I walked into the dark office, and carefully sat down. Louise looked at my (totally rubbish) portfolio, and started the insults. They ranged from “Why are you leaving Sonia Rykiel, you’ll never get another job that good again”, to “What the hell is this shit” (about my designs), to “Do you honestly think you stand a chance in this industry?” (about my future.) But being arrogant as I was, I contested every single one of her insults, and walked out of there feeling quite confident. I’d realized by then that my design work was rubbish, but I also knew that the interviews were scheduled to last 15 minutes each, and there was no way she’d spend 30 minutes insulting me if she didn’t think I was worth the time.

Then I played the waiting game. I can’t remember how long I waited, and I certainly don’t recall the anticipation or nerves I must have had while waiting for that letter. Things were grim in Paris, Susanna and I were broke, sick of meeting idiotic French guys, and bored of having nowhere fun to go out. The letter arrived on a Saturday. We didn’t have plans to go out that night, so were probably going to hang around in the livingroom (no TV) and listen to The Stone Roses and eat couscous. The letter was very thin, usually an extremely bad sign. But the news was good, I had been accepted!

Susanna and I proceeded to jump up and down screaming inside our apartment for an hour (which got us a complaint from the loser building “manager”, otherwise known as the syndic) and we decided we absolutely HAD to go out. We opened a bottle of vinatge Veuve Cliquot that had been in our fridge for months, drank it, and walked (no money for taxi) to the only cool Paris club at the time, which was the Favella Chic. (Note that Favella Chic was only cool in Paris in the late nineties and early noughties. The London one SUCKS.)

The St. Martins campus on Charing Cross Road. Not the most inspiring of buildings from the outside.

Thankfully we knew the bouncer, got in free of charge and danced the night away. Giambattista Valli (Susanna’s boss at the time) was kind and bought us drinks. We danced on the tables with all of the Brazilian supermodels and partied until the early hours of the morning. There is nothing better than that feeling that something good is going to happen, a happy change, and an escape from a miserable situation. That was how I felt when I got accepted to St Martins. And the best part of it is that when I look back on my move to London and my time at St Martins, I can no doubt say that they were certainly some of the best years of my life.

Image sources:
St. Martins building
Louise Wilson
Mario Testino photo

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  • Chloe

    Oh, I love this story! Glad I got to hear the FULL version 😉 I love the part about The Stone Roses and couscous, haha. Happy Anniversary!