I LOVE FASHION TO DEATH | INTERVIEW WITH MARIA LUISA FRISA

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Maria Luisa Frisa has always loved fashion and its complexity: she was thirteen when she asked her mother to buy her first Ken Scott dress. Eclectic art critic, fashion curator, and professor at Venice IUAV University, she argues that fashion is uncomfortable, and needs to be permanently practiced. Fashion creates shapes and silhouettes, it distorts volumes. Fashion finds its definition within its time, and it is way more complex than people think.

Wearing her daily “uniform” of a black skirt and bracelets, she tells her story to MiND.

“I always tell students never to act depending on the outcomes of their choices, but to follow their aspirations.”

“Born in Venice, I graduated in History of Art in Florence. Being a rebel, I started university late, and became an art critic. Then, I met Stefano Tonchi, with whom I founded Westuff Magazine, and there I got into fashion. From that experience, I became consultant for Giorgio Armani, and then it all started. Everything in my life happened by chance, I have never made plans. I always tell students never to act depending on the outcomes of their choices, but to follow their aspirations. I started working in fashion because I understood that fashion is an extraordinary point of view on our time. I started curating exhibitions for Pitti Immagine, and I was called to build the Fashion Course at IUAV, so I moved back to Venice. I realized that university is an extraordinary place because it is not just me teaching, but both students and professors learning. I am the evidence that life is truly incredible: I started working at university twelve years ago, and I have now become professor, the highest position at Italian universities, which I would have never thought possible. In particular, I teach Fashion Curating to postgraduate students, creating a dialogue with them. I never stop studying: so I travel to Rome, Milan, Paris, London to attend both fashion and art shows. I used to attend artists’ studios when I was an art critic, and now I am interested in visiting fashion designers’ ateliers, to understand the processes, and the works by the artistic director.

Frisa believes that fashion is so powerful, that it influences every individual’s life, creating and spreading style.

“Fashion requires a strong mindset, because it needs continuous quick, great ideas.”

“Young people are very often fascinated by this world, because fashion is often not represented in its complexity but in its simplification. On the contrary, fashion must be handled with much care. It is a system that creates culture, but requires great capabilities. Fashion requires a strong mindset, because it needs continuous quick, great ideas. Just being talented is not sufficient.”

Maria Luisa Frisa’s perspective on fashion originates from her experience with Giorgio Armani, first, as an editor for the Emporio Armani Magazine, and after as a consultant.

“I was very lucky to work with Giorgio. There, I understood the complexity of managing a fashion collection, in which you do not just have great ideas for a fashion show, but you also need to give a consistent image to all your projects. Armani was one of the first designers to understand this. In particular, ‘Emporio Armani’, which has recently been reedited, was a magazine aiming at representing the philosophy behind Giorgio Armani’s fashion. It was there, where I understood that talent needs to be taken care of, it needs to be cultivated, and can grow if supported by a strong education. Because simply being talented is not enough.”

Besides curating Emporio Armani Magazine, Maria Luisa Frisa has worked on many other publications. “The shapes of fashion – Le forme della moda” is the one she is most fond of.

“This book represents my opinion on fashion, and seeks, with no simplifications, to make the readers understand its complexity. It is a book which could not have existed before my experience at IUAV. It is the book which, despite never thinking it possible, gave me the greatest satisfaction. It has been very much appreciated by readers and journalists. Besides, all books start from the need to say something and form an idea: my books do not seek to close a topic, but instead, they open it.”

“We live in a society that tends to simplify everything. Instead of simplifying, we should describe complexity in a comprehensible way”.

“Le forme della moda” also showcases Frisa’s opinion about Li Edelkoort’s argument that “Fashion is dead”. Maria Luisa Frisa thinks that the statement by the guru Li Edelkoort was meant to be a boutade, used to draw attention on the fashion system and its mechanisms. Frisa believes that the statement has a relative meaning, because it looks at highlighting some downsides of high end fashion. Those sentences, Frisa says, refer to concepts which, today, have totally been surpassed.

“We live in a society that tends to simplify everything. Instead of simplifying, we should describe complexity in a comprehensible way”.

Frisa argues that, in the retail sector, the multi brand stores will never lose their importance.

“The shop is one of the many sides of fashion. It is essential to empower shops, because they have the same function as an encyclopedia, which is to fulfill the consumer’s necessity of browsing the items of clothing and trying them on. In particular, multi-brand stores should be preferred, because, despite being beautiful, single brand stores are the same all over the world, while multi brand stores are the result of a selection, therefore are more interesting.”

Concerning fast fashion, Frisa states that shops such as Zara, Uniqlo, H&M are very useful to understand what customers want. Maria Luisa has a good opinion about fast fashion, because it allows many people to get dressed correctly and honestly with affordable prices.

“Fast fashion has to co-exist with fashion, but it definitely cannot be called fashion. I do not like the behavior of people who, despite having enough spending power to afford the original haute couture fashion item of clothing, buy the fast-fashion versions of it. I find it stupid: if I like a coat by Céline, I buy the Céline coat, not an imitation, because it would mean I am not interested in fashion. I love fashion to death, I have always loved to get dressed.”

Maria Luisa is a woman who has earned power and respect, demonstrating to her collaborators and students the merit of being a hard worker.

“I believe that authority is a consequence of how you work, how you relate to other people, what example you set, and how you get involved in projects: it is something you earn day by day. If you don’t show you are a hard worker yourself, you will never earn authority”.

Frisa created the Fashion Course at Venice IUAV University more than ten years ago, and it is now considered the best fashion course in the country.

“The former Director of the Design and Arts Faculty, Marco de Michelis, invited me to Venice, and told me, ‘you are the person I chose to direct the Fashion course.’ As many times before, when I am asked to do something I have never done before, I accept. Because it is a way of growing, because if you keep doing the same things, you do not change.”

Maria Luisa Frisa gave us some insight into “Italiana: Italy as seen from fashion 1971-2001” exhibition, which will be opened at Palazzo Reale (Milan) on 20/21st February 2018.

“The exhibition is really challenging, because it is not just about fashion – in fact, the subtitle is ‘Italy as seen from fashion’, which is inspired by the film directed by Pasolini ‘Italy as Seen From The Moon.’ It is an exhibition that tells thirty fundamental years of Italian fashion, from 1971 when Walter Albini started to set up fashion shows in Milan, to 2001, when the twin towers fell, which was the date of the latest evolution in the fashion system. The word “Italiana”, in the title, is used as a noun rather than an adjective, so to narrate the Italian fashion system. It is not about pure storytelling, we are trying to make the audience understand that what is sometimes perceived as a limitation of the Italian fashion, is our strength instead. Despite this sometimes classified as a negative element compared to the French and English fashion’s creativity, our ability to manufacture a series of quality clothes, with great character, is of high importance. The Italian fashion is democratic fashion. It is the fashion that dressed up men and women of the ‘60s after demonstrations; it is the fashion chosen by women who were trying not to be men’s assistants or secretaries any longer, but who wanted to be part of the companies’ boards of administration sitting next to the men. It is the fashion of the men who could declare their homosexuality and could therefore wear soft clothes like Armani’s items made with feminine fabrics. These are the strengths of the Italian fashion, to which we attribute its success. The reason behind the exhibition is for Italy to start talking about itself, and to find places that collect fashion at a national level. Because a fashion show does not just mean putting beautiful clothes on models, but telling a more complex story, because fashion is complex.

“In my opinion, this is fashion, a composition of particularly meaningful items.”

It is necessary to become aware of the fact that, today, Italian fashion is such, because of its long and rich history. Today, the fashion system has changed: the relationship between the fashion contents, creativity and business is more complex. Some authors manage to successfully match all three elements. For instance, what Maria Grazia Chiuri did for Dior is remarkable: she transmitted contents on which no one would have ever believed, such as opening a Dior fashion show with a feminist t-shirt. But she did it, and the market agreed with her.”

For young people willing to enter the fashion sector, Maria Luisa suggests having an understanding of fashion in the first place, in order to understand whether fashion is only a passion for clothes, or if it derives from a desire of expressing themselves.

“Studying fashion, looking at it, understanding it. And having the courage to get involved in situations, because work experiences are truly important. Gian Battista Valli himself had many work experiences, and when he understood it was time to speak his own language, he progressed in his career. We learn by working and getting involved in experiences, without being afraid of making mistakes and falling. Because failure is an extraordinary way of growing.”

People who work in fashion, like Frisa, need to utilize a uniform, the same outfit everyday as a way to identify and simplify things for themselves.

“I consume fashion a lot, at an emotional and visual level. Uniforms make things easier. Let’s think of Giorgio Armani or, more recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri; they are always constructing, creating, making fashion, but they are still themselves. Even though my signature uniform is a skirt with a black top,  I also buy items of clothing I like. I like to buy very peculiar items that are almost objects. For example, I bought the Stockman by Margiela, because it reminds me of De Chirico’ Mannequins. In my opinion, this is fashion, a composition of particularly meaningful items.”

Pictures by Sofia Fernandez Stenström

Venice

Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy