Young designers taste haute couture

January 3, 1997

FRENCH luxury goods companies have launched two projects aimed at finding talented students who can bring new ideas to a sector steeped in tradition.

The 75 fashion houses, jewellers, perfume and fine wines firms that belong to the Comite Colbert last month selected the winners in a new Grand prix Colbert for young designers from over 1,000 entrants at design schools in seven countries. A finalist was chosen from each country which entered the competition, including Britain.

Alain Teitelbaum, Colbert committee president, said: "Design is as important for us as research and development is for industry. We need to discover new talent among young designers and attract graduates to management."

With the latter aim in view, the second project involved teaming up students from a Paris design school, Ecole Camondo, and from the political science school, Sciences Po to work for firms.

For the past eight years, the Comite Colbert has been running a seminar for third-year students at Sciences Po on the luxury trade, with 15 company directors doing a session each year. The students have to write a dissertation.

Olivier Mellerio, head of the Colbert Universite du Luxe department which runs projects with higher education, said: "This was the first time we put Sciences Po students face to face with design students. It now has to go further, last longer and be integrated into their courses - but it is very promising."

The students said they enjoyed the experience. Bertrand Schuller from Sciences Po worked on a champagne packaging project. "We had to translate our marketing jargon for them and try to understand their design jargon - it was an opening into the real world."

Business realities also impinged when the champagne house did not adopt the packaging idea.

Valerie Rozanes said: "I was finishing design school and it was an opportunity to work on a real project, keeping within a budget and responding to marketing needs."

The French luxury houses do not spend a lot on higher education, although several thousand pounds a year go to funding a chair of design at Colombia University in the United States.

Mr Teitelbaum said: "We give our award winners a chance to make a name for themselves and even if our houses cannot absorb them, they will find jobs with others because of France's reputation."

The award winner of the Grand prix Colbert from the Royal College of Art would however like to find work with a Paris house. Silversmith Amelie Gerstenberg of Germany says that London is the best place to learn design, but Paris is the best city in which to work.

"The Royal College was great because they have design and graphics, there are lots of exhibitions, lots of tutors and a very international atmosphere," she said."Now I've finished, I'd like to work in Paris because it has more luxury design than Britain or Germany."

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