Niklas is a 26-year-old designer from Hamburg, Germany. After a brief acquaintance with architecture, he changed to studying Fashion Design in order to express all of his creativity. After one year in the eccentric and experimental London, he moved to Paris in order to learn the traditional French way of making garments. This is where he is today – finishing his internship at Lanvin. Let`s find out more!
When and how did you discover fashion?
I bought my first Vogue magazine at the age of 6 or 7, and I was incredibly inspired by everything in it. It was so creative. At that time, I obviously did not understand what fashion was. It was like a dream world to me. As a child, I was quite shy and I lived in my own head, so it was my escape. I saw all the beautiful fabrics and all the details of clothes, and I loved it. I have always painted, and I have built little houses in my garden, so fashion was a new way to express my creativity.
What did you study after high school?
I studied architecture, as it has always interested me a lot. My family lives in a very old house, and we kept on changing something all the time. I came up with ideas, and my parents went along on doing them.Mostly, they were simple renovations concerning decoration or changing colours. However, sometimes things stopped working, so we had to come up with the ways to make them work again, change them in a way that would make our house modern, but still keep its old-fashioned style. Studying architecture was interesting and helpful, but not creative enough, so I gave up my studies. After that, I interned for a German fashion designer Stefan Eckert.
Does your architectural background affect the way you design?
Yes, absolutely. Architecture was a perfect starting point for me. Without studying it, I would be a completely different designer. I see a lot of similarities between architecture and fashion.
How did you get your first internship at Stefan Eckert`s?
I simply went to his store and said that I loved his brand and wanted to intern with him, that I wanted to learn. At that time, I could not do anything related to making clothes. For instance, I could not even sew, but I did have some sketches. He had a look, and found them interesting. Also, he said that I had a 3D-way of thinking and that was great. My drawings were already quite technical, and I had clear ideas about how exactly to produce the clothes that I was drawing. He saw a potential in me and agreed. As a result, I interned there for 5 months.
Would you suggest doing the same thing to others?
Yes, definitely. Not only it is important to show your interest in a brand that you would love to work for (even if you are not experienced enough), but it is also a way to be courageous. You should just go and talk to people, show them your work. You should not only seek experience, but learn how to talk to people, to communicate with them. It is important for your self-confidence. It won`t work out if you stay within your own world, your comfort zone. And it does not matter if you will hear “no” at first. At least you have tried, and you must try again.
What happened next?
After interning, I moved to London to start my fashion studies. I did “Fashion Design One Year Intensive Course” at Marangoni and a “Draping Womenswear Design Course” at Central Saint Martins. It was stressful to do both at the same time, but I had so much energy! After London, I realised I wanted to go to Paris to learn the real French craftsmanship of high fashion, so I continued my studies here in Paris, learned French and graduated from École de la Chambre Syndicate de la Couture Parisienne in 2014.
Tell me about studying at École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne!
First of all, it was very different from my studies in England. It was very traditional, very French. After being in London for a year, I was used to a different way of doing things, so I had to adjust to the French way of working. It was so much about technique (including haute couture). We concentrated much more on the details, on the making. It was amazing.
What can you say about your teachers there?
They were very experienced. All of them came from incredible French houses like Dior, Saint Laurent, and Hermes. They taught us the traditional way, but also told us about what it was like in the real world, so it was the perfect combination. Moreover, in our last year of studying we had special classes dedicated to doing interviews and finding job, all that stuff; they were preparing us for our life after graduation.
Did you find friends there?
Yes, I did, a lot. At the beginning, I was shy, and it was difficult because of the language. There were very few foreigners, 80% of the students were French. Everyone was nice and helped a lot, but they spoke only French. It was not easy at all, but it made me learn the language much quicker. Now I realise that it was exactly, what I needed.
Was there a feeling of a competition?
Just a little bit. Everyone was doing their own thing really. At this school, a lot of attention is paid to building a personality of each student. Usually teachers spoke to all of us separately, and we had our own projects to do, so we were doing our own thing, not really competing with each other. At first there were about 60 people, but in the last year, half had to leave and get an internship or job an only 30 could stay to get the Master`s degree. I was lucky enough to stay, but the last year was especially hard.
What was your schedule like?
In the beginning, it was really busy. We had classes from 9am to 6pm. There was so much to learn from drawing to draping, history, etc. At the end, it was different, as we had our own projects and had to plan our schedule ourselves.
Do you think that education in fashion is important or that one can learn everything by practicing?
I think, it is both. When you go to an educational institution, you learn the basics, but when you intern, you get to do so many different things, and most of them are totally new to you. For example, now with my internship at Lanvin, my boss teaches me a lot. Of course, it is possible to skip the educational part, but I think going to an university is important for your own personality. You get a chance to explore yourself in a very different environment.
Some designers start their own brands right away, but others, like you, work for the big fashion houses. Why did you make such a choice?
For me, it was important to learn and get some experience. Fashion is not only about creativity, it is a business too. In the beginning, I was a real dreamer and wanted to create haute couture pieces, but with time, I became more realistic with my designs, which I like even more today. In addition, you need to learn your customer and understand her/him. I think, it takes quite a while to be ready for your own brand.
How did you get your internship at Lanvin?
Right after my graduation, I applied for an internship at Lanvin. So I got invited to an interview and after some e-mailing back and forth and a phone conversation with the person from the Lanvin team, I finally got great news: I got accepted for an internship as a design assistant for 6 months!
What is the structure of the design team at Lanvin?
Well, there is the Head Designer of course, Alber Elbaz; a Studio Direction, Senior Designers, some Junior Designers and a lot of Designer Assistants. Some Assistants work there and some intern. An internship lasts 6 months, and afterwards you can apply for a full-time job. This is exactly, what I am going to do.
How did your first meeting with Alber Elbaz go?
I was extremely excited, and it went very well. He is such a friendly person, that I was not intimidated at all.
What is it like working there?
It took me some time to understand, how everything works inside of the company. After a couple of weeks, I got used to it, and everything became clear. There is a particular structure of how work is organised, so it is very convenient. The atmosphere is very warm, and everyone is friendly. We work closely with one another. Alber Elbaz comes to the office regularly every week and gives the direction for the upcoming collection, and afterwards we develop those ideas. It is funny, because every time the team expects Alber to come, everyone is very excited about his visit, and it feels like before big exams at school.
Is there any tension?
Before fashion week – yes, but apart from that everything is organized well, and everyone loves their work, so it is a pleasure. Of course, from time to time, we have to stay really late and work, but everyone helps each other and we have dinner together, so it honestly does feel like we are a family. Yes, it can be very hard, but at the same time, I love it.
What is your working day like?
Lately I have been working on the research. I spend a lot of time at the library and in the Studio, where I make some pieces, as work at Lanvin is quite technical. But I also do research for fabrics and finishings at the Atelier and fabric storage of the company. We come up with ideas and try them with the materials right away; we have a look at the results and keep on improving them.
After 5 years in fashion, would you say that it was hard for you to start your career?
It was challenging, that is for sure. However, if you are passionate about it, you will be able to handle it. Also, it is important to continue being yourself and believing in yourself; to have a strong personality. Moreover, I have always had a feeling that everything will work out for me somehow.
What made you believe that?
Fashion is the one thing, I love the most. I could not imagine doing anything else, so I just kept on telling myself that everything will work out. There were difficult times, but then I simply worked on my projects and everything got better. Today fashion feels like home to me.
See more of Niklas’ work here.