Having recently joined IFA Paris as our Quality Academic Director, Susan Jenkyn Jones shares her past experience and background in fashion with us as she works to continue to strengthen the core programs of IFA Paris.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My background is a little unusual and not very “fashion” oriented. My parents were doctors of tropical medicine and travelled widely around the Far and Middle East. We were a large family, and also had dozens of pets and creatures; insects, birds, monkeys, fish etc. a very colourful environment to grow up in. Nonetheless; I didn’t speak English properly; so I was sent back to be educated in England when I was 10. Consequently, I have some sympathy with people who are struggling with languages. That is also when my fascination with clothes began. My mother often had beautiful clothes tailored in Singapore or Hong Kong, and I was hoping for the same. Instead, I found myself constricted by an ugly and uncomfortable school uniform for seven years. So clothes became a means of regaining a lost fantasy of colour and pleasure. I always loved painting and sketching so I decided to enroll in an Art College.
What is your background in fashion?
My first degreewas in textile design, and I really enjoyed making and coordinating knits, prints and weaves, and this eventually led me into balancing the textures, colours and proportions in making the end result: fashion. I suppose I liked to have that kind of control and use the properties of materials in the designing. After my Masters at the Royal College of Art I went to work at Quorum with a really inspiring team of designers headed by Ossie Clarke, Celia Birtwell and Betty Jackson. About three years later I decided to start my own label to create a more edgy contemporary look.
Why did you decide to start teaching?
After 10 years or so of successfully designing, wholesaling and retailing my own brand, and with two Central London boutiques I was ready for a different kind of challenge – sharing with students some of the vital knowledge that I learned along the way. Unlike today, Fashion courses didn’t teach students about marketing or production then.There is a lot more to success than design skills. I really enjoy seeing and helping students with their research and ideas. In recent years I have also become interested in computer-aided design technologies, internet fashion and consumer interaction in retail and performance environments. The successful practice of teaching and learning using both traditional art and design and new technology is also of great interest to me. During my years of teaching, I also oversaw the quality of the education and courses as I held positions as Course Director at London College of Fashion.
You have taught at Central Saint-Martins and the London College of Fashion, what compelled you to join IFA Paris?
It was not an easy decision, but I definitely wanted a position with the opportunity to be mostly based in Asia. To give up teaching in one of the most exciting environments and the best known of British fashion schools… I had a hunch that since some of the most beautiful fabrics and smart production technology was now in Asia that it would not be too long before the demand and interest in learning design skills, from a fresh new generation would follow. I wanted to know more about the modern oriental perspective and experience the invigorating effect of a vibrant 21st century city such as Shanghai.
How do you think Shanghai competes with other cities as a fashion hub?
Shanghai is superb! The city has all the ingredients that make a place buzz and more; inspiring history, culture, architecture, a melting pot of peoples and fusion of ideas. It is a new fashion capital. In retail, not only are there top flagship Luxury stores selling their collections in depth, but also great local chain store brands and new and pioneering middle range designers have great opportunities to open with small boutiques and find their markets - a phenomena that has almost disappeared in Europe.
How have you seen the industry change since you began your career in fashion?
The appreciation of fashion and fabrics remains a constant but with more fragmented markets and different local preferences; this diversity and range is a good thing - I never liked that old snobbery or dictatorship that the fashion editors or designers used to espouse. There is now more sense of fashion for everybody. Also since the manufacturing has shifted, probably irreversibly to the East and other diverse global locations there is the opportunity for new inspiration and awareness of issues such as sustainability of resources and responsible trade practices in the foreground.
With your own womenswear label, years of teaching and a published book on Fashion Design, you have quite the fashion credentials. What advice do you have for students who are trying to break into this competitive industry?
It may seem an intense and daunting prospect for the wannabe designer, but I do believe that fashion is always receptive to new players with great commitment and style. These days they have to have even more skills on board – including fluency in languages and IT and CAD skills, understanding of the power of media and of course an appreciation of the global marketplace and business sectors. All this takes time to accumulate - In other words a sound education is essential!