Getting to spend a week in Paris with Cherie Serota, director of fashion merchandising at LIU Post’s College of Management, was clearly an eye-opening experience for almost a dozen students who joined her for their study abroad trip in March.
“You got to see a totally different side of fashion that we aren’t really exposed to in the classroom,” said Rebecca Joy, a senior fashion merchandising major from Long Island.
In the world capital of high fashion, they met a host of industry insiders, ranging from a haute couture designer to a renowned museum curator, a fashion historian and a well-connected Parisian stylist. The creativity and energy of the talented students they met at the International Fashion Academy of Paris truly inspired them.They had guided tours of the Louvre with a focus on how the paintings reflected the trends of what the women were wearing, learned how the fashion industry took shape in the Palais Royal, and walked through Le Marais, an historic neighborhood once home to unknown designers whose work is now synonymous with luxury brands.
At the Yves St. Laurent Museum, they saw the former townhouse where the famous designer lived and worked but now preserved as if he’d just put down his colored pencils and left the studio for a runway show.
They had a private meeting with Laura Gauthier, the creative director of the couture line, Fete Imperiale. She took time off from preparing for her upcoming fashion show to be held at the Ritz Hotel the following week so she could share her vision with the visiting LIU students.
When this group visited the Lilievre Showroom, founded in 1914 by Henri Lelievre and famous for its luxurious woven fabrics that have entranced haute couture designers ever since, they met Laurence Francois, showroom manager, and Marie-Catherine De Masin, director of international sales, who recalled how the designer John Paul Gaultier had come there with his entire entourage to work with her and her staff to create new designs. The students also got an inside look at how jacquards and damasks are intricately woven on the factory’s special looms.
“The fabrics were so beautiful, so amazing!” said Ruoyun Wu, a sophomore business management major from China.
For many of the students on the trip the highlight for them was the chance to visit the townhouse of the famed couturier, Azzedine Alaia, who died last November at the age of 77, and view a small retrospective exhibition of his oeuvre. Alaia’s dresses have been worn by both former First Lady Michelle Obama and France’s former first lady Carla Bruni.
Kwanecia Burke, a sophomore fashion merchandising major from Long Island, said she wasn’t very familiar with Alaia’s work so getting to see his pieces first hand was inspirational. “They were cut differently and put together really elegantly,” Burke explained. “I really liked that.”
Cherie Serota credited the Parisian fashion stylist Cecile Hasroyan, for taking them inside. “This is something that we would not have seen if we’d just been touring on our own,” said Serota.
Later, at the Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Pamela Golbin, director of fashion and chief curator of fashion and textiles, spent almost two hours with the students discussing her long and interesting career as well as the intimate conversations she crafted with famous couturiers, such as Poiret, Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, Madame Grès, Pierre Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent and McQueen that she shared in her new book, “Couture Confessions,” published by Rizzoli.
“Normally you would not you have such an incredible opportunity to interface with a chief curator like Pamela Golbin,” explained Serota.
Ashley Rodriguez, a sophomore accounting major and a Dean’s Scholar from Long Island, was especially impressed because Golbin, who was inspiring in so many ways, was an American who’d come to Paris on an internship two decades ago.
“What was really interesting about her was that not only was she talking about what she does,” recalled Rodriguez, “she was also talking about how she got there and how the job kind of found her.”
Of course, considering where these students were coming from—and that few had ever been to Europe before—they couldn’t help but compare how Parisians’ every-day work clothes differ from Americans’ average attire.
“In the U.S., I feel like we’re a lot more laid back in what we wear,” observed Alison Hughes, a senior fashion merchandising major from Long Island. “In Paris when people go out, they’re dressed to the nines—they’re not walking around in sweat pants and sweat shirts!”
But now that they’ve seen Paris and experienced it from an insider’s point of view, they’re eager to return.
“I have found my soul-city, for sure,” observed Julia Porter, a freshman from Virginia majoring in fashion merchandising and marketing. In fact, she and Ashley are thinking about their next trip. “We already agreed that within the next 20 years we are going to go back,” said Rodriguez.
No doubt they will.