A CONVERSATION WITH BARBARA GESSLER
On the occasion of Europe Day, we are launching a new series of interviews presenting different perspectives on United Fashion, starting with Barbara Gessler. As head of the Creative Europe culture sub-programme, she is one of the key figures making United Fashion happen.
Good afternoon, how’s your day so far?
My days are pretty much taking place in the office or in meetings, unfortunately. But there are also possibilities of going out and meeting stakeholders, visiting projects or going to conferences from time to time. Today was an important day because we had a meeting with our bosses- the directors, the director general and the deputy director general. Therefore, it was a particular day today, not as every day.
How did you become a head of the Unit Creative Europe at the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture? When did your affinity for public affairs started?
I studied public administration, so I´m a proper Eurocrat. I studied something that could lead me to this career, which is in a public administration. And it just so happened that I´ve always been following, since my studies, the areas of culture, audio-visual, education and areas that are very much people and citizen centered. Now I´m happy that I managed to work in this area, which is not a given. Usually, as a civil servant, you are expected to be circulating around various areas in the administration and I´ve done a variety of jobs, in environment or in communication as well. I´ve been also representing the Commission in Germany, I´ve been responsible for a region, which implied a lot of contact with citizens and a lot of explanation about the EU.
As a head of European Unite for Creative Europe, what is your relationship with culture in general and what sub-field is the closest to you?
I would have always said film and the movies, because that is where I started. I wrote my thesis about the European support to the film industry. But I must say, the longer I work in a non-audiovisual area like now, the more I like the performing arts. And I discover all the other areas as well, such as design, visual arts or music. Therefore, I discover something new every day, hence I can´t say anymore, which area is the closest to my heart. But I´m currently a little bit more focused on the theatre.
In past years, I noticed one interesting thing in our sector. The areas and the different parts of the creativity sector are more and more converging. One doesn´t exist without the other anymore. If you go to the opera today, you will most often have audio-visual elements and you will see also dance elements and fashion as well. When I go, for example, to La Monnaie located in Brussels, I see a lot of great Belgian fashion designers, who are doing costumes. It´s like a box of chocolate. And as I like chocolate, I also like this part of the creativity sector a lot.
How can you describe your relation to fashion?
I like fashion a lot. I have been thinking about it lately and it hasn´t always been like that. Coming to think of it, maybe it´s also Belgium that inspired me to become more fashion oriented and more interested in this area. I think, here in Belgium, there is a very strong sense of the importance and the relevance of the sector. Moreover, you can find great designers and great creatives. I must add, the longer I live here, the more I´m into fashion. So, we must make sure, that with this project, we focus on young talents, the emerging creativity and those that have it more difficult to enter the market and the career.
One of the projects supported by this fund is United Fashion. What was your first impression of this project? Was it love at first sight?
First impression was obviously made by people that talked about it and presented it. They made a very professional impression and gave a very good overview of the challenges the fashion sector is facing. And the necessity for Europe to get involved and to tackle some of the issues that young creators are facing. They struggle to go to the market, to cross the borders with their design, to meet with the buyers, and in general, establish on the market. The United Fashion project has always seemed a good idea. On the other hand, I have also always found that it is not a given, that it´s not something that you can very easily convey as a message, that Europe should get involved in this area. Because very often people link fashion only with high-end brands. But these brands have marketing resources and a power that are immense. So, we must make sure, that with this project, we focus on young talents, the emerging creativity and those that have it more difficult to enter the market and the career. There I think is what this project from the beginning perceived as the fact, that it would be of great importance to have an action on this.
What are additional loves in your life?
I have a dog. So, my husband and I spend a lot of time outside. Indeed, I love to travel. Even though, travelling lately has become a bit of a double biased area, because of the environmental cost. Therefore, we tempt to think twice before we travel. But I still love going to other countries, meeting new people and discovering their ways of living. And, probably like everyone, I like being with friends and sharing a good meal and a nice glass of wine. I think it´s also something which inspires me a lot.
The one country that I really want to go to is Japan. Also because of the fashion. I gradually discover the kind of fabrics they have, and the aesthetics of Japanese design intrigues me. I think, I would also be very interested in discovering Japanese landscape. And I also think, that people are very different from people in Europe. And, of course, I love Japanese food.
What do you think is a future for European culture? Do you want to contribute to changes in this sector?
I think we have now a momentum for the European culture since we can see that we have to safeguard quite a lot. As seen with the burning of Notre-Dame, we might see that our culture is not a given, that it might not be here forever. Therefore, I think we have to constantly innovate and invest in culture at the European level. When I say on the European level, that mainly means safeguarding national, regional, local cultures, traditions and creativity, and exchanging it.
We have to invest more in getting to know each other and becoming familiar with other artistic works. Then I think we will have a good future. Because there is a dominance in many areas of global players. We have talked about the audio-visual earlier, so examples such as Netflix or Amazon appear. The tendency of us seeing the same things, buying the same things and being exposed to same things. And this tendency is on its raise. But I think we have much to gain from keeping who we are and not giving into general one-size-fits-all culture. And there Europe is extremely rich, because of many countries, many regions, many different people and the culture sector is extremely varied. And there, I firmly believe, is our unique selling point. And we should not give up on that. This is also what we fight for in our programme and with the United Fashion project.
Words by Chantal Rocher
Images by Eline Willaert