Sitting down with Priska Morger

...an afternoon with the creative director of the Institute for Fashion Design Basel Academy of Art and Design reveals why it is time for a new way of thinking about 'how to do fashion'

by Jemma Gray
Priska Morger ‘does fashion’; she has a hands-on approach to everything she touches. This ‘can do’ attitude has meant she has had an incredibly diverse, somewhat accelerated career for someone so young. Morger hasn’t been afraid to move for her work geographically – naming Switzerland, Antwerp and Vienna home for long stretches. Her creative career includes teaching at the great University of Applied Arts under the direction of Veronique Branquinho. She spent a decade as a designer for Haider Ackermann in Antwerp. Prior to this, she was working for another great name as Raf Simon’s first assistant. It was just this past year she returned to her birthplace and the University she herself graduated from to take the role of Creative Director at the Academy in Basel. Education suits her and there has already been noticeable progress.

Can you tell us a bit about what you did before taking on the role at the Institute for Fashion Design at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Academy of Art and Design Basel?
I see myself as a modern pilgrim woman as my life has been quite a journey so far! I just began my role as creative director in Basel last year. Before this I had been living in Vienna for 5 years and working for nearly three years on my co-owned label ‘RADIĆ/MORGER’. As of this year the label is a sleeping beauty! From 2005 to 2009 I was working in Vienna as a creative assistant and instructor for fashion design & theory for guest professor Veronique Branquinho at the Fashion Department at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. Prior to being in Vienna I was actually in Antwerp for 10 years as a Freelance consultant designer for Haider Ackermann while doing this I had my baby, Oleg Houbrechts in 2002. Prior to this I was first assistant designer of Raf Simons in Antwerp for 6 years. I was responsible for the complete line and collaboration in research, technical drawings, shapes, fabrics, casting, styling and shows.

Was there anything while working within the fashion industry that you disliked? What was the catalyst for you moving into education? You had your own label ‘RADIĆ/MORGER’ and were creative assistant to Raf Simons; how have these experiences shaped the way you approach teaching?
I do feel a duty to strengthen the students' critical views on the impact a highly globalized, marketing-controlled fashion industry has on design and society. According to this, the mainstream approach is truly over. Since I began my role as creative director at the Institute for Fashion Design, Basel, I made it a priority to support the students to create concepts that focus on alternatives to the status quo! Specialism and craftsmanship could be one of the keys, but mainly I seek to create a professional playground that is about both applying creative and critical thinking in solving the challenges of our society in the field of fashion design. I do believe that it is necessary to continuously rethink the field of liability in fashion design and to act to that effect in a 'radical way' - that is to say it is time for a new way of thinking about 'how to do fashion'.

What for you, are the main differences between working in the industry and teaching the new faces soon to be entering the industry?
I am personally integrated to the creation’s crowning glory!

You taught the Fashion course at University of Applied Arts, Vienna before returning to Basel to take up the role at the Academy; do you always look for the same things when recruiting fashion students or does this change depending on the course?
To me the most important thing to find in a student is that they are capable of developing their sensitive feelings into their own vision and work passionately and courageously toward this goal. They have to be committed to doing fashion.

Since joining, what have you made unique about studying at the Institute? How has the course changed since you took on the role? (I have heard great things!)
We, as an institution are in a progressive developing process. We have our own new website called doingfashion.ch. I’m trying to draw on all of my professional intuitions that I received through my international work experiences with Veronique Branquinho, Raf Simons and Haider Ackermann into our doing fashion culture. I have a very open exchange with the students to understand their needs. At the moment we are creating our first edition of the ‘doing fashion’ paper. This means we work on our own 'CI' which stands for a flash of great Swiss design. The launch will be during the doing fashion show on the 17th March 2012 in Basel. The paper is the playground where we publish (show) individual works, minds, ideas, experiments and statements to the public outside our fashion design institute. This independent medium is meant to excite our senses with remarkable content and a high level of style with Swiss graphic taste. The first issue is nominated under the aspect of 'TRIAL' with a view of the selected works. It is about 'framing the ongoing' - what engaged our students, team, guest professors, designers, study journeys and so on.

‘Fight mindless uniformity by doing deeply committed fashion’ is the tagline for the fashion course. Does this mean that you encourage students to produce truly original pieces, over for instance, more commercial pieces?
In order to challenge fashion, there is an urgent need to create dynamic diversity in the interpretation of doing fashion design. We cultivate a deeply committed, progressive design praxis and theory in Basel.

Your graduate publication ‘doingfashion’ has strong graphics paired with in-depth content about each designer’s processes. They far outdo the majority of graduate catalogues we see (Antwerp’s SHOWOFF not included)! – Yours showcases more than just the finished product. What was the impetus behind creating these narrative publications? Is it a collaborative process between you and the students?
Doing fashion identity: The focus here (on the graduate publication 2011) was rather upon the development of a strong visual intensity in the form of a “handy newspaper style”, with a high standard of luxury quality. Where many fields interconnect and one may not initially see that a very great amount of work lies behind to show our view of praxis and theory; so the paper aims to expose this. I feel like I have a caring relationship between the students, the team and also an international relationship between guest professors, designers and the fashion industry. This pushes me to present this quality and this variety on stage, whatever the stage will be!!!

What is more important to you when viewing a student’s collection, the process or the product? What holds greater weight?
Even more we support a strong personal vision and each student has to find his/her own way to make up a story that fits into each project. They have to understand the need to be a good team player as well. This means how they can get the right feeling in finding the perfect collaboration partner. This respect seems to me very useful too. It is important to provide the need and the understanding of all our creative tools to the students for them to communicate about their 'doing fashion' vision! The means I am talking about are holistic; integrated thinking through the concept development of a progressive collection. And these ongoing moments we like to capture for the future with our 'doingfashion' publications.

Can the frantic pace at which the fashion industry travels be problematic for designers who want to take their time in the design process and have a strong concept running through their work? Is it the role of the course in Basel to prepare their students for entering the industry?
We like to train our students (the students who choose the course in Basel) with a high level of international professionalism. Supporting them in pursuing their own vision of how to live and transform the conflicts in contemporary global society means that the one universally valid way of doing professional, state-of-the-art fashion-design doesn’t exist if one follows their individual rules of 'doing fashion'.