Today we have the third installment of our ‘Fashion Professions’ series for you, in which we regularly show a glimpse behind the scenes of jobs in the industry. In parts one and two we brought you insights into the life of a beauty editor and a marketing writer, today we’ll take a closer look at the professional life of a fashion designer.
And not just any designer, mind you: we are honored to publish an interview with Austrian-born, Berlin-based designer Marina Hoermanseder! Marina will tell us herself what life as a fashion designer really looks like, and what skills are indispensible for this career path.
In the following interview she’ll also take us into her studio and give some tips to make your applications stand out from the crowd.
Marina Hoermanseder got into fashion in a rather roundabout way. If things had turned out just slightly different at certain junctions, she may still be diving for fish in Hawaii at this very moment. But the urge to move into fashion proved stronger.
How did you get into fashion?
I started sewing when I was 14, using an old Paff sewing machine that my mother owned. My mother wasn’t a pro, of course, but she did put her heart into sewing all kinds of costumes for us every lent (which is like Halloween in Austria). That was my way in, I got to experience all kinds of materials and the process of turning them into garments.
I also found out a couple of years ago that apparently my great-grandmother was a haute-couture seamstress in Paris. Looks like the creative gene is in my blood.
My teenage experiments were not always works of wonder, to be honest, but I did learn a lot aboput the process trying things out in different ways. Who knows where I would have ended up if I wouldn’t have found my way into fashion? Maybe I’d have started an apprenticeship to become a carpenter or something likt that.
It really took me a while and a whole lot of detours to arrive at where I am today. After graduating from highschool I entertained the dream of becoming an actress and enrolled in an acting class at the Conservatory in Vienna. But I saw pretty soon that classes in pantomime and kinematics were not exactly what I had envisioned for myself.
I needed something else, so I cut sort of a deal with my father, kind of a compromise. I would learn something ‘proper’ first, and would then try myself out creatively. So I did a Bachelor in International Business. Upon graduation I didn’t feel like the process was quite finished yet, and added a Masters degree. Another compromise with my father followed, he gave me his blessings to do a term abroad in Hawaii. I had a secret dream since childhood: to study marine biology on that pacific island. The course was different in the end, but the dream really came true.
In 2010 I graduated with a Masters degree and applied to the ESMOD in Berlin in the same year, where I passed the entrance exam and was accepted.
For three years I could let my creativity run wild, follow my ideas wherever they took me. I covered the whole spectrum, everything ranging from melted orange plastic bags to all kinds of other bizarre designs. Everything.
I prepared for my final collection by working with a leather upholsterer. I had my mind set on creating an orthopedic corset made of leather. To make it all work I called everyone I knew. I didn’t know it then, but Lady Gaga would eventually wear one of the pieces of the collection, and my strap and buckle designs resonated positively all the way to London.
In September I was offered a chance to present my work at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which gave me only three months to create an entire collection.
I didn’t have any employees at that time, not even a studio. I ended up doing all the work in my flat on the kitchen floor, with a huge amount of help from my friends. There was no square centimeter in my humble home that was not covered in textile or leather at some point. I literally took the finished pieces to bed with me. Thinking back, I honestly don’t know how we did it, but somehow we managed to finish all in time. My father used to tell me at several points during that period: ‘The master excels by being resourceful’. I never forgot that. I guess he was right. So I had my first show in January 2014, and that’s when it all started for real.
‘The master excels by being resourceful’
Which skills, maybe unexpected ones, would you consider indispensable to be a designer?
You definitely have to be aware of the fact that self-employment and a growing team of employments requires a whole set of management skills. Without leadership skills there is no way you’ll be able to coordinate a team of twenty creative individuals.
However, I would say one of the things that helped me the most, one of the single most important skills on my way, was a rather humble one: the ability to say ‘Thank You’.
Politeness and gratefulness are unfortunately not commonplace in the fashion industry. But it’s the wrong approach to consider yourself on top of everything just because you are a designer.
What does your typical working day look like?
That’s one of the great things about the fashion design profession, no day is like the other. Typically I’d say I come into the office in the morning and do some admin stuff for about an hour.
Then I take time for my employees. I get updates on everything, see where it all stands, help out with potential problems and organize materials and other items that are still missing.
As the day unfolds, usually all kinds of requests start coming in. Someone calls to say that Rihanna is in town and she needs one of my corsages, just that moment I get a delivery that I then have to redirect to another location, plus the studio needs to be arranged to be presentable because a purchaser is coming over.
It goes on like that all day, and suddenly it’s dark outside and I feel I’d need another 12 hours for my own to-do list. In other words, I’m still working on a more regulated schedule, but on the other hand I also think that a standard 9 to 5 setup would not be the right thing for me.
My first exclusion criteria is when someone spells my name wrong. Typos and mistakes in your application are just generally a no-go.
It is important for me to see straight away why the applicant would like to work in my company, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the most elaborate and expensive application. A well-presented, conscientious, creative application with a good portfolio showing five favorite pieces instead of fifty, all sent via e-mail, that is all it takes.
I also have my doubts whether the main focus really is on the work, when someone shows up at a job interview too spruced up. Creativity is always the much more important factor for me.
Do you have any tips and advice for fashion students and garduates when it comes to internships and job-hunting?
How do you envision the future for your label?
I am currently working on a new concept, which is still in its infancy right now. The label Marina Hoermanseder will continue as you know it. In addition, we will launch a new line in a lower price segment, where we will present pieces that are fun and affordable. The collection will include T-shirts, sweaters and key fobs, among several other items. We will not sell these items at shows, distribution will be exclusively online. I hope to reach the girls that follow us on Instagram or Facebook, but who can’t afford our clothes. That will change with this collection.
My dream is to make the brand more widely available, at least in some ways, so everyone, also the girl next door, can become part of team Marina Hoermanseder.