SUSTAINABLE THOUGHTS: FRANCESCA CEFIS

If you follow Francesca on Instagram you know that she is literally all over the place. One day she works in Copenhagen, the next in Cape Town...China, Japan, London...then she shows up on the streets of Paris fashion week, back to the base in Milan and straight after that she’s seen on some beautiful Mediterranean island.

To get real inspiration she stay’s an extra day, just to hang around, watch people and  get absorbed by the atmosphere. You realize fast that Francesca is a true curious artistic spirit, that never stops. She works mostly as a fashion stylist but also as an editor and a fashion consultant. We have collaborated with the styling of the last four 5preview collections and I’m fascinated by her relation to clothes. How can you relate when you’re all the time in the middle of a fashion whirlwind with the “latest, coolest and most beautiful”? We sat down to have a chat.

Emeli: Tell me a little bit about your past and how you ended up where you are now!

Francesca: It started as a coincidence, I studied fashion first at St Martins then at London College of Fashion. When I had to shoot my final collection, I worked with a photographer that told me I was really good at styling. A thing that I never considered doing before. I’ve always been interested in fashion. Since I was a little girl I have made my own clothes, I loved dressing up, fixing my hair...

Emeli: You sewed the clothes yourself?

Francesca: Yes, I did, and up-cycled things I already had. I loved it and I still do. Now I don’t really have time and I’ve lost the routine. It’s like drawing. In university I drew all the time but now I have completely stopped. But I’m not good anymore so now it’s a bit left in the corner.

Emeli: We are many, myself included, that made our own clothes when we were teenagers because we couldn’t find what we wanted in the stores, maybe growing up in the countryside before the era of Internet. But you grew up in the city centre of Milan...

Francesca: I was young and didn’t have my own money, so you know, you need to find your ways!

Emeli: And what kind of things did you create?

Francesca: Mostly dresses, but I also modified the things I already had. I changed the sleeves of sweaters and shirts, I deconstructed trousers to re-sew them. Do you remember when the first Vetements jeans came? The supercool ones with the front seam? I made the exact same one when I was ten and my dad gave me his old huge jeans. I didn’t know how to downsize them so I just made the front seam and cut away the excess fabric. I still have them.

Emeli: I still have the first T-shirt I made. It was in daycare and I drew a sailing boat with EMELI written under it in capital letters. But back to London! What kind of clothes did you do there?

Francesca: I did some quite conceptual designs, with a lot of material research. For example, during my final year, I contacted this old shepherd from Biella, and I got wool from him that I used to make fabric. And I made these chunky sweaters out of it.

Emeli: ...and after school you went to work at Fendi?

Francesca:Yes, to draw bags and accessories. I worked as an assistant to Marco de Vincenzo. It started out as an internship and then I stayed for a while.

Emeli: What do you think about the difference from working with the designs from scratch in a design studio compared to as a stylist, putting together things from others...

Francesca: Sometimes I really miss the creating stage of the process, and I consult for different brands, starting up their collections and jumping in now and then during the process to see how it develops. I love to see the ideas take shape. It’s a beautiful process. But when you’re in it all the time the process can be too long.

Emeli: I also love the initial idea-stage. Or the idea of the ideas. How it starts. And then the final result. How do you survive in a world full of new cool beautiful clothes? You are so exposed to it through your job, but it seems like you’re immune to it somehow!

Francesca: I wear my uniform: black jeans and a white T-shirt! I think it comes naturally when you are overexposed to something, after a while you get used to all the amazing things around you. It’s like someone working in a museum among all the most beautiful art-pieces in the world, after a while you don’t process anymore how good they are. You can live in the most beautiful city in the world, have the best looking boyfriend but after a while you’ll look at him and think...hmmm.

5preview Francesca Cefis

Emeli: It must be the best thing to do, overexposure. I see a lot of people using shopping to hide their anxiety.

Francesca: That’s consumption culture, from the 80’s and forward. We are what we buy. That’s what they taught us. I think it’s difficult to reverse that concept but instead I see a lot of people that only need to BE. So new doors are opening. We live in the consumption era, and we haven’t found a substitute for that yet. Before, consumption was only for rich people, now it’s for everyone. So the higher economical classes move forward towards other things: health, hobbies, sport...But the social scale is broad. Before the consumption will end, centuries will pass meanwhile the economy moves forward.

Emeli: But wardrobes are exploding of clothes and the houses are full of objects...I’m filling mine up with books for example.

 Francesca: Meh, but it could also be a beautiful thing, done in moderation! In general, I don’t do shopping, and I don’t buy a lot of things. When I travel sometimes I find amazing objects that I bring home, like memories. I bought my apartment 2 years ago and it’s already full of stuff anyway. Sometimes I have a clear out and give away things to friends, or sell it. And I always regret it! I end up at a job and I think “Goddammit now I would have needed those shoes that I gave away!”.

Emeli: What parameters do you use when you get rid of things? Like Marie Kondo that empties her wardrobe and puts everything on the bed, to take item after item to see if it “sparks joy”?

Francesca: No! If I put everything on my bed it would take me 150 years! I have just divided the wardrobes in different categories: coats, trousers, man (I also have a lot of men’s clothes for work)...I divided everything in different sections, and then every section in colour. So when you open the wardrobe you have an immediate overview. I have always found the wardrobes of the business men, the ones you see in the movies, very organized and sexy. But when I dress I find it also necessary to contradict the rules a bit, so every now and then I like to dress with a colourful mix and match of extroverted garments ... what I really never do is put on a skirt! But never say never!

Emeli: So you mix private and work clothes in your wardrobe?

Francesca: Yes, I do. I just use a few things myself, and they’re easy to find in there. I think 80-90% of the clothes in there I never use privately.

Emeli: They say that people use 20% of their clothes 80% of the time...

Francesca: For work I use everything but you know me, I dress really basic. For me, clothes are the vehicle to express myself (as far as work is concerned) as far as private life is concerned, I am more a uniform type of girl.

Emeli: There I find some difficulties. I feel that I need to express different parts of me in different situations so I need a vast range of clothes. It’s probably a question of maturity! I really want to come to the day when I can go to a punk concert in these shoes (white Adidas Stan Smith) and feel comfortable. But I’m not there yet.

Francesca: But aren’t we all like that? I don’t think it’s that bad, you probably follow a red thread subconsciously, I’ve never seen you in a latex mini skirt for example! (laughs) But I also have a few things that are “nice to have”. Like beautiful old kimonos I got in Japan...

Emeli: Me too! Quite a few! There you have the memories from the trip, the amazing material, the prints...

Francesca: Exactly. Especially those things that are not fashionable but traditional. There I am more likely to invest. Where you can see craft methods that people do not even know anymore. Also in the real fashion, the haute couture, you can find incredible garments. The problem now is that fashion is equal as a hoodie with a logo. If the trend now is a neon yellow hoodie, everybody gets one...

Emeli:And the year after you’re so sick of it that you would never wear it. But when you talk about haute couture, is it the quality you’re after?

Francesca: Not only the haute couture but in general. And now fashion turned into something different. The streetwear for example comes from a “street-concept” with guys that wore the same hoodie until they were 50 years old. There is something beautiful about it. Now in fashion they take the iconography of that world and concept, but then it’s all about compulsive consumption so now if you get a hoodie...you throw it away after 2 months.

Emeli: If it is like that we don’t really need quality. It’s just thrown away.

Francesca: It’s like the question of technology, now they do transience object – that are only meant to last for a specific amount of time. They do it on purpose so you’re forced to buy new ones all the time.

Emeli: But we cannot even permit ourselves to move forward like that! We’re running out of raw materials! Cotton for example...

Francesca: For real?

Emeli: That’s what I’ve been told.

Francesca: Basta! No more natural materials, from now on we’ll only dress in nylon and lycra! (laughs) I guess that is why we should really start thinking about the meaning and the value of objects, things don’t last forever, we should treasure them way more than we done so far.

Emeli: Let’s talk a bit about the concept of the daily uniform! You told me your idol in “daily-uniform-dressing” is Phoebe Philo, because of her unique but not forced style. How do you pronounce that name anyway?

Francesca: “Fibi Filo”

5preview Phoebe philo

Emeli: Thanks! You’re the first person I meet that pronounces that without feeling ashamed.

Francesca: Yes? (laugh)

Emeli: What is it you like with her way to dress?

Francesca: One thing that is for sure is that she dresses “no logo”. It’s androgynous clothing and very often, almost always, trousers, slacks. It’s the classic clothing of the working woman. Comfortable, but not large “pre-maternity” style. She dresses in a very elegant way, super minimal with a touch of quirkiness sometimes, that actually challenges the basic uniform concept. She has, according to me, an aesthetic that the modern woman needs. I saw the other day, when I went back to Milan, and with the heat when people go out on the streets, that the general style has become really vulgar. All the girls wear really short shorts and mini tops. Yes, we wore similar things in the 90’s, but when we went to the beach!

Emeli: Yes, and we made things ourselves because we couldn’t find them around. At 13, I was a little D-I-Y punk, I got old military jackets that I painted on the back with the logos of the bands I listened to, bleach spots on the jeans, homemade tie dye T-shirts...

Francesca: If I need to buy something, like a T-shirt, I don’t go to to the main streets, I never go there, I prefer to go to something local like the haberdasher’s shop where the old people goes.

Emeli: I really like workwear suppliers and military surplus shops...

Francesca:Of course, because they’re selling things that are made to be used, there is another kind of ethic behind the things. They’re made for a purpose. But if you get a nice shirt from the chain stores, of course there are nice things at the big retailers, often when you are in a social situation there are hundreds of other persons that are wearing the same thing. And it’s so annoying, because a white T-shirt is the simplest thing in the world, and there are so many different T-shirts, why do we have to buy the same one, all of us? It’s so easy to go to the closest shop in the city centre, but at the same time you kill a market where there are small “bottegas” and more personal boutiques. Because they are endangered.

Emeli: The people in the fashion business, that cannot take it anymore, the people that quit to move to the countryside to grow a garden. How come, according to you?

Francesca: Because it’s a really stressful world, an industry that only spins faster and faster. There was a lot of money there but not anymore and to survive now you need to have a lot of passion and dedication. And to be disposed to renounce to some important things in life.

Emeli: But this money that is not around anymore...how, if people always buy more and more?

Francesca: But people spend less! The chain stores work well but smaller brands struggle to survive. For the chain stores and luxury brands business will always work, it’s the smaller independent brands and businesses that struggles. It’s like the supermarket-concept. It’s not like people stop eating or buying groceries, but the smaller shops close down because there are supermarkets, that give you worse quality but they have red tomatoes all year around and people think it’s a good thing. The small shop gives you better quality, and the tomatoes might cost a little bit more but you can only find them in summer or whenever the tomato season is, and they taste much better. And then people start to appreciate local grown or good raw materials and they open up biological supermarkets, that are exactly like they were ten years ago, but much more expensive.

Emeli: With organic tomatoes that have grown in the gardens of ex-designers and stylists...But why does the fashion business have to be so fast? And even faster for each season?

Francesca: It’s the competition. Before fashion was for a little group, now it’s for everybody.

Emeli: I see a lot of creative people, completely sucked dry from their creativity...and they want to do something completely different. You don’t really have time to truly find inspiration. Or to put yourself in a mood where you’re open to new ideas and thoughts.

Francesca: I read an article...Creativity and intelligence, the creative brain is not necessarily a natural dote, but comes from the research the person does. When you open the channels of your mind you’ll be more open to experimenting and the creative part of the brain will develop. If you sit in front of a wall or a corner your whole life, you’ll never have very interesting ideas. So if you’re always in front of the same thing without interruption, without going to a park or a museum or you never do little trips or interact with people that do different things from you, if you miss that in your life sooner or later the wells of inspiration will dry out and if you don’t recharge it will just end. The moment you decide to jump off the carousel ride you’ll probably have difficulties to decide what to do instead and when you leave the business there are hundreds of people standing in line to take your place.

Emeli: I’ve heard that in Asia they have started to use AI to develop new collections based on algorithms and statistics. They create technical drawings that are sent to the factories, and a big part of the creative staff is no longer necessary.

Francesca: Really? But when everything is mechanized you still need the real person to call when things goes wrong. I still believe in the human mind and uniqueness of the individual, and we cannot be told by machines what to wear!

Emeli: What are the challenges of your job as a stylist?

Francesca: I love challenges, even if it’s tough sometimes. This is a job where you need to be nice and friendly with people, you can’t arrive to the client’s set with a moping face. Maybe you’ll only meet the crew one time in your life but still you need to behave like they’re your friends...therefor what makes me really happy nowadays is to work with people I consider intelligent. Smaller brands and budgets but with people I truly like and appreciate. But business is business. In general, as a stylist, I try to suggest ideas that you might not understand now, but when the collection comes out 6 months later you’ll say “Cool and fresh!”

Emeli: That’s why I really like to work with you, I know that you’re very curios and are always looking around, you see what others do and have a strong identity. And I trust you!

Francesca: We’re not saving human lives here, it’s still fashion. So even if I might put some earrings when I shouldn’t nothing will happen. But sometimes there are discussions... I’m quite confident in what I’m doing because I really believe in it. It’s difficult for me doing things I don’t believe in.

Emeli: You work worldwide with many brands and magazines. Do people talk about sustainability?  Have you noticed a change lately?

Francesca: Everyone is talking about sustainability at the moment! I personally grew up with an extremely attentive mother (no plastic ever, no new clothes, no chemical detergents and great attention to water consumption etc.) so for me it comes naturally. I think that now many are interested in the issue by trend and/or business but still lacking a real education in this regard.

Emeli: Working with clothes, I often find it difficult to separate private and work. My own style reflects on my job and vice versa, and it’s exhausting! How do you deal with that?

Francesca: For me, clothes are the vehicle to express myself (as far as work is concerned) as far as private life is concerned, I am more a uniform type of girl.

Emeli: You always work with new, very “forward” things that maybe come out to the stores 6 months later. How often are they interesting nowadays? How can fashion be reinvented?

Francesca: Mass production somehow ruined a lot, from ideas to the quality. But there is hope, I see so many new artists and new ideas all the time. One thing I believe is necessary today for those who have not yet done so; inquire/study and develop an ecological conscience. I am sure that from there a lot of great ideas and projects can be born.

Emeli: Could you give me some advice on how to create a sustainable wardrobe...? Where you actually use more than 20%.

Francesca: It’s a difficult question, I need to think a little! If you keep a lot of clothes in there they might become fashionable sooner or later and you can use them again. But I believe more in quality if you talk about sustainability. If you get high quality garments they’ll last.

Emeli: And according to you, how do you recognize the good quality? The price?

Francesca: No! That’s really a scam. Like “I’m going to an expensive restaurant so the food must be good”, and then think about the crappy expensive food you’re sometimes forced to eat in airports. Clothes can be expensive for different reasons, maybe the shop has a high rent because it’s in the city centre and they need to raise the prices, or maybe it’s just branding. Like the printed hoodies we talked about before. To recognize quality, I think is a cultural thing, you need a little practice and experience. Some lucky people get it from home, others needs to study. You need to be curious! The curiosity brings you knowledge. At least for all I care. I study a lot because I want to learn new things all the time!

Emeli: Tell me a little about your favourite clothes, that you will keep forever and never get rid of!

Francesca:I have a blazer from Celine that is to die for! It’s simple but a perfect fit. I have my kimonos that I got in Tokyo. I have some PERFECT cashmere sweaters that I got in flea markets that I just love. I’m terrible at washing my clothes properly, I put everything in the washing machine, but still they’re perfect after a long time. Not my colours, one is beige and the other one brown, but when you wear them, they’re just beautiful! I just use cashmere in wintertime because of my delicate skin, and I have quite a few cashmere sweaters, but these two stick out. It’s the kind of cashmere that doesn’t exist anymore! They don’t pill, they don’t break...

Emeli: They probably have nice long fibres, not like the ones you find at the chain stores for 50 €, but definitely in vintage stores!

Francesca: Shoes. I have some really old shoes, real python leather loafers (I’m vegetarian since forever and I believe in animal rights – I got these in a second hand store!) that I got when I was 15. Jeans! My beloved Levis 501, mostly vintage as well. I modify them, crop them, I like to have my trousers a little bit above the ankle. I have some 90’s dresses from when I was a kid, they’re perfect and I still use them. They make me feel pretty! Men’s shirts, stolen from my ex-boyfriends. (laugh)