Having recently produced an eye-catching graduate collection (showcased during Paris Fashion Week) in which sleek tailoring is paired with abstract embroidery, Nafsika Skourti now speaks with Style.com/Arabia about her trials and tribulations, being a hustler, and building the foundations of a modern brand in the Middle East.
ON APPLYING TO CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS
I applied to Central Saint Martins thinking that I would go into sculpture, but very quickly I could see that it wasn’t for me. Sometimes, when you really want something, you become scared of going for it. At that early stage, I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to state that I wanted to be a fashion designer. So I applied to the Foundation class, got in, and began preparing a portfolio for Fashion Communications. Halfway through, I made a U-turn and finally applied to Fashion Design. I didn’t get in. My review said, “Original work but not enough of it.” My portfolio wasn’t focused.
I called my parents and told them that I wasn’t in university, because if I wasn’t going to go to Saint Martins, I wasn’t going to go anywhere else. So at that point, I was 19, from Amman—I mean, it wasn’t like I was from some big city where I was exposed to things—and not in school. And I wasn’t even street smart at that point. But sometimes when you are “so nothing,” you don’t even realize how “nothing” you are—and, you know, that can work in your favor.
ON HER TURNING POINT
One night I was on Facebook and wondering, “What am I going to do?” So I Googled this brand named Jasmine di Milo that I had heard about, and I wrote the design director a message. To my shock, she replied and gave me the name of her studio manager and by the next week, I was working. I was 19-years-old with no degree, no experience, and no skills, but I was a hustler. It’s cliché and I don’t want to sound like Oprah, but: follow your dreams.
ON STUDYING FASHION DESIGN
I ended up reapplying and got accepted to Saint Martins, after all. It was an amazing experience because they don’t spoon-feed you there. You’re given a project and there’s a huge emphasis on research and development. There’s also an obsession with newness and what is now, and how can you push yourself further.
ON MARCHESA NYC, PARIS’ MAISON LESAGE, and KUMBAZ IN JORDAN
The third year is the sandwich year at Saint Martins and it is the best year ever. Following two years of study, the school suggests that you do an internship and you have to take this time to hustle and get into the industry. I worked at Marchesa in NYC and it was great. After NYC, I headed to Paris. The [embroidery] course at Lesage is very expensive and there were only a few students in the class—me, a really rich Asian girl with a Louis Vuitton bag the size of a ship, and a French girl who was there thanks to a loan from the French government. I spent four months in Paris applying beads, hour after hour. I ended up with back problems.
Afterwards, I came back to Jordan to begin working on my graduate collection. I started working with Fatina Asfour who has the only couture house in Jordan—she’s the person who is keeping Jordanese embroidery alive. At that point, embroidery came full circle for me—from Marchesa, to Lesage, to Kumbaz in Jordan, where I worked for two months.
ON HER GRADUATE COLLECTION
I asked myself, “How can I do something that nobody else can do?” That’s an edge that you have to develop and maintain—produce something that’s never been seen.
I was watching Disney’s Fantasia and there’s this scene where they are making vibrations with a string. Fantasia is all about how you can translate a song and give it a story—translate abstract ideas into visuals. And that is something that I’m very good at. I looked at those vibrations, took some screenshots, and thought, “How can I do them as embroidery?” And that’s where the zigzag embroideries come from. In fact, the teacher said that it was the first time that she ever saw such abstract embroidery.
The collection heavily features menswear details (cuffs, suits, pinstripes), intended to represent the corporate, bored man in an office: the slave to the money machine. A second element is more of an essence—the essence of our souls—which is communicated via the print-spheres featuring color radiating outwards. The embroidery is a metaphor for that moment when you break from the daily grind—that transition, that moment when you are true to yourself.