Supporting and enhancing fashion designers across Europe
UF Voic­es — Bar­bara Gessler

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.”

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