Corinne Prose: freelance and loving it
Corinne Prose is one of those people who never stops, constantly bubbling over with ideas. But she found her path as a freelance designer through pure chance, after initially studying art history.
“I was flicking through Marie France magazine when I discovered Esmod fashion school and my calling as a designer. At the time, I was thinking about maybe becoming a university lecturer. But I didn't know that there were design schools where you could study fashion. I found that out from an Esmod ad. So, I looked into it and enrolled for the next academic year.” There was just one thing - Corinne was expecting her second child at that point, so she had to double check that her due date was before the semester started in September...
With a one-year-old daughter already at home, Corinne studied fashion design and pattern-making at Esmod Paris from 1983 to 1986. Those two years were certainly busy, with a packed timetable to attend while she also worked part-time as a primary school teacher.
“It was a lot of work, but I was motivated because I didn't want to keep being a primary school teacher. Although I love children, it wasn't my calling. I took out a loan from the bank to pay for my fashion studies. My two kids were in crèche. And I was teaching primary school in the mornings and going to class at Esmod in the afternoons. So that left me the evening and night to plan my lessons and do classwork for Esmod. Even as passionate as I was, I had a hard time keeping on top of everything...”.
Although she knew she was not the best in the class, Corinne still wanted to work in fashion. So, she decided to specialise in Children's Fashion in her second year. But then she got the news that she hadn't been selected to continue past the first year... “When I found out, I went to see the school’s director at the time and convinced her that, even if I wasn't the best student, I was probably the most motivated. I asked her to give me a second chance. And she said yes!”.
In her second year, Corinne won a competition held by knitwear brand Ozona. Buoyed by her winning Jacquard design that would be added to their range, she pitched herself to work for them. A brave move, but one that paid off when she landed her first freelance contract with the company. “I didn't do a third year at Esmod”, she explains. “I didn't feel like I could keep on teaching with two children and do my schoolwork. So, I decided to get started straight away.”
With a strong foundation from her first two years of study and internships completed through Esmod, she knew well how the fashion world worked. “Esmod was a great launchpad for me.”
Planet Esmod: When did you know you wanted to be a freelance designer?
Corinne Prose: I always knew I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Even before fashion school. I've been freelance since the beginning, which means I am completely independent. I'm an entrepreneur, I've never wanted to be someone's employee. It's also allowed me to travel very widely, to Japan, China, Pakistan, and so on.
P. E.: How did you keep the momentum going and find your next jobs after the first one?
C. P.: Riding the high of the Ozona contract, I pitched myself to other brands at a trade show. I convinced the artistic director at Babygro to entrust me with the Baby collection that was sold in superstores at the time, Dinou. I decided to share this sizeable contract with a creative friend who I met at Esmod. We also worked together on socks for Kindy.
P. E.: Was that a one-off project or a lasting collaboration?
C. P.: I worked freelance for Kindy for 12 years! We implemented computer-aided design processes for them, which was quite radical at the time. It was also quite time-consuming. It took an hour to print one page in colour... But even so, it was faster.
P. E.: Do you miss this pioneering era?
C. P.: Yes and no. Technology has thankfully progressed, but nowadays, clients ask for ten times more work than before. When I started, designers were only in charge of creating. Now, we're asked to produce technical documentation, calculate prices, compare suppliers, etc. It's become a very technical profession. That's another reason why I have no desire to become someone's employee. What I like most of all is creating. I'm not so keen on negotiating with suppliers. Even if I am doing so at the moment for my personal project, Le Mouchoir Français.
P. E.: What different fields do you work in?
C. P.: I like doing a range of things. I design clothes, but also accessories, schoolbags, décor, etc. I like to stay eclectic.
At one point, I had quite a few contracts, so I decided to start
an agency, Avril Studio. I became more of a sales director and agency head, managing up to ten employees. We were specialised in kidswear. We made trend books as well. But then, our biggest client, Carrefour International, decided to design its Kidswear collections in-house. Given this represented 60% of our turnover, the agency had to close. But we had a good ten years even so!
P.E.: How did you come back from that?
C. P.: Going back to freelance, I immediately concentrated on another project, creating a manga-inspired brand, Kawaïko. In 2009, I even had a boutique in Paris selling garments made locally. I imported kawaii-style shoes from Japan and the United States, as well as make-up, Japanese magazines, concert tickets etc. It all worked well, but after the 2008 financial crisis, it became a lot harder. So I closed the brand, but I kept the licensing contract with Clairefontaine for the stationery. Since then, I have been working freelance for different brands. Until recently, I designed schoolbags for Système U.
On the other side of things, I also work with my partner, Stéphane Dehaumont, who works in publicity. We share a website, ‘les-dudes.com’, which showcases graphic charters we've created as well as collections under license. That is why we founded the company Commune Licence. We've also worked with the former director of Disney France on various brands. Another thing we created was the graphic charter for the TF1 show, Koh-Lanta [the French version of Survivor]. It provided them with enough material to create products, t-shirts and various licences. We also created fashion brands under license based on companies with strong images, but which originally come from other sectors. Our new idea is called “Les Muses et Moi” [The Muses and I]. The concept is to take works of art in the public domain and make designs that can be used for textiles, décor, accessories etc. For example, I've worked with Japanese artist Hokusai and Art Deco artists.
P. E.: What projects are you working on now?
C. P.: I recently got involved with the website “Le Mouchoir Français” that sells cloth handkerchiefs made in France. I brought a more creative side to the founder of this concept. The company is also part of a circular economy - a co-op does the hems, they use organic cotton, etc. I created a dozen collections that were printed to order, which meant that they didn't have to manage stock. Since then, I've created my own handkerchief brand – “Le Carré d’Artiste” [the Artist's Handkerchief]. We sell my collections, but the idea is to get artists involved in limited edition designs as well. Their work can even be licensed. Or we could do a design competition with Esmod students - why not?
P. E.: On that topic, what advice can you give to current Esmod students?
C. P.: They need to ask themselves a few questions. They need to learn what their profession means and how to work in an ethical way, ideally. The most important things are to be open-minded, stay curious and ask questions. We never really know what we are going to be at first, but opportunities arise through working. If you are curious and imaginative, your own path will open up. It's important not to be too hesitant as well. You need to be able to follow your instinct and your impulses.
P. E.: What is the best thing Esmod offers, in your opinion?
C. P.: The school gives you an understanding of the fashion world which will keep you in good stead for a long time after you graduate. When I was at Esmod, I really valued the people I met there and the contacts I made. You can also learn a huge amount just by being a dresser at a fashion show, for example. Then again, you always learn your true profession by doing it. But at school, you'll have heaps of foundational experiences. It's important to do it if only to understand how everything works. And personally, I would do it all again.
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