Nothing Good Ever Came Easily

...contemplating why you sometimes have to step outside of your comfort zone to learn that – as Morcheeba put it – “There’s a world out there, beyond compare”.

by Danaja Vegelj
I remember sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport, Terminal 2B. It was a sunny Saturday morning, early in September: “I hate airports”, I found myself thinking. “I have hated them since the day they stopped promising careless trips to the other side of the world, or the infinite discovery of the new and unfamiliar. I’ve hated them since the moment adventure became necessity.”

When I moved to Paris to work and study last year, I developed a special love-hate relationship with airports. I resent the time lost waiting at check-in; I detest the infinite queues in toilets, the fast food culture, the plastic trays and the over-priced mud they serve in place of coffee. I dislike the kids that hit me on the back of my head with their utterly irritating toys while demanding coke and jelly candies from their ever-patient mothers. I hate the express culture that forced upon me a kind of lifestyle that I refuse to live.

The love part of my relationship? Airports forced me to examine why I left home in the first place.

It took me a college diploma, years as a stylist and writer, and an overwhelming economic crisis to realise that the comfort of my cozy apartment in the centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia, was no longer enough. Perhaps the discovery had something to do with inspiration, brought about by romantic foggy mornings in Montparnasse, my annual ticket to La Cinémathèque Française, which provided me with an infinite supply of Godard’s films, the galleries and libraries, the exciting new discoveries while wandering the Parisian streets alone at night. Perhaps it was the simple awareness that sometimes you have to go beyond; to step outside your own comfort zone, to pack your bags, take a deep breath and start living again. Ironically enough, I had to go through French bureaucratic hell to realise that problems can always be turned into opportunities, if you allow yourself to look at them from a different angle.

It must have been late October when I met Koji Tatsuno, a Japanese designer, who migrated to London in the late 1980’s with nothing but the determination that he was going to make it in the big unfamiliar world called “The West”. Several years in, he founded his own fashion brand, recruited the genius Alexander McQueen, educated Stella McCartney and Julien Macdonald, landed the cover of Italian Vogue and added the personal contacts of Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Naomi Campbell to his ‘little black book’. The taste of finding his way stayed with him for a long time; now living in Paris, he can clearly say he has seen it all.

As a fashion industry professional, I have come across its glitter and its dirt. I am not saying I know much about the world of multi-million contracts, or the inside of Riccardo Tisci’s office in Paris, but I had my taste of creative freedom, and the positive and negative sides of it. I have seen how experience—the feeling it leaves on your skin, the taste it leaves in your mouth—can change the way you view reality. Home might be a safety zone, but comfort alone will never make you step forward, take a risk, and walk the line. As Andrew O’Hagan, editor at large of Esquire Magazine, would say “I have met several mediocre designers who went and failed, and plenty good designers who never left and forever regretted their youthful decision”.

A common disaster for young designers seems to be that they are never entirely satisfied with their home market, yet never determined enough to get an alternate taste which, is hands down, much sweeter. Why is this? Anja Dragan, who interned for Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam says she finds the coziness of the Slovenian market satisfying for many practical reasons; designers here are able to afford their own studios in the very centre of the city, soaking up creativity, sometimes worrying about nothing but whether or not they’ve got the right music on their iPods.

Is this enough? The time is now and the place is home. You can be labelled any given country’s best designer, but still not be able to make enough money to earn a decent living. Anja illustrated her point of view with a very simple comparison: There is an annual exhibition, held by the Department of Textiles at the Slovenian Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering, where the students, over a two week period, sell an extraordinary amount of work (the work is not only unique, but also sells at a very decent price); at the same time the Design Faculty in Copenhagen does much better: each year before Christmas the students organise a similar exhibition where students sell their designs and earn 80 percent more money. The reason? People in Denmark value unique design and are happy to invest in it.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Certain experience can only be gained by actually living it. Not theoretically, but physically. Success calls for an individual definition, but no matter how it is translated, it always goes hand-in-hand with precious experience and wider horizons. The necessity of having to face the new and unfamiliar, forces you to find different ways to survive. When (and if) you return home, you can understand the value your knowledge and grow through it. As Peter Movrin, another great young Slovenian designer, whose talent was instantly recognised abroad, put it: “I do not fear anything. It might be an instant thought, but the wish to get a taste of the foreign markets is too strong and the ambition too constant.”

At Ljubljana airport a couple of days later, when I finally boarded the plane to return to Paris, I realised what it was that made me leave the first time: It was my ambition and my desire to examine the limits of my own creativity. It was about personal growth, it was about finding myself. When I did, I knew exactly where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become.