"It's a beautiful project, and I am pleased about it."
It was a weekend of fashion in Zurich. Yannick Aellen, founder of Switzerland’s most prominent fashion event “Mode Suisse”, brought together fashion enthusiasts, designers, buyers and the media under the roof of Allgemeine Berufsschule Zürich (ABZ) to celebrate and create awareness for Swiss fashion design in the course of Mode Suisse Edition 16. We took the opportunity and talked to him about the Swiss fashion scene and diversity.
You have been organizing Mode Suisse for eight years in a row. How did everything start and where did it go from then till now?
There was an edition Zero. I think it was 2010 and it was already fantastic. There was no serious platform in Switzerland taking care of selected Swiss fashion design on a sustainable level, and therefore we decided to go on with it. We started to accompany the designers from season to season, and we worked on an international level very fast. We were going to Beijing, London, Milan and now to New York. The kick-off was very quick and quite easy because there have been some strong designers out there and I already had a lot of experience because of my work for the Swiss Textiles Award. I was already established in the Swiss industry, and people and the media followed us quite fast. We got Engagement Migros as a primary sponsor for Edition 2, and also organizations such as Pro Helvetia, Hulda Gustav Zumsteg-Stiftung and Zurich Silk Association are supporting us till now.
What was your greatest sense of achievement as Mode Suisse organizer?
It was a historical fashion moment in Switzerland when Engagement Migros, Pro Helvetia, The Zurich Silk Association and Hulda Gustav Zumsteg-Stiftung - four very different but significant players and supporters - decided to sign a contract for five years to help Mode Suisse to grow and supporting Swiss fashion. We are still struggling, we work on a tight budget, but we don't have to worry anymore until 2021. It gives us the freedom to focus on the designers and how the platform could develop and become stronger. That was definitely one of the most essential achievements but also being able to present five designers at New York Fashion Week this season. We are also very proud that the German Vogue and Italian Vogue are writing about Mode Suisse and also the DACH-SHOWROOM that we are hosting together with our incredible partners from Austrian Fashion Association and Berlin Showroom is a big step for Mode Suisse.
How would you describe the Swiss fashion scene?
Switzerland is a small country, and also the fashion scene is not the biggest. It's complicated because there are four languages. With the project Mode Suisse, we can connect the designers and regions of Switzerland. Besides that, the scene is a very friendly one, the designers talk and help each other and are happy to work together - it’s all about sharing. Unfortunately, the people in the streets are not the bravest fashion audience in the world if you compare it to London or Paris. They like to feel safe, and therefore some pieces are hard to sell.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing for local designers to establish internationally?
First of all and especially nowadays there’s such a tough market, nationally and internationally, and therefore it's important that you believe in your product and that you love what you do. It doesn’t always have to be international. People sometimes look for a niche and would even travel to another city to get that dress. If you want to go international, you have to be aware of how much work it's going to be and how intense it is and that you also need a financial backup. We see all these amazing brands who won awards and sold on an international level but didn't survive. It's tough, and if you go international, you really need to want it.
Especially Zurich is a very luxurious spot. Isn’t it hard to get the attention from the Swiss for smaller designers and brands?
Yes, exactly. This is what I explained before, people here are not the most fashion-driven ones. Some of them are, but if they spend their money on clothes, they often go for Louis Vuitton or Gucci. It's a niche, but when you have your clients, they really love local brands as well. In the end, it has to be a good product, and if it is, you can get your clientele.
Besides Mode Suisse, together with the Austrian Fashion Association and Berlin Showroom, you have created the DACH-SHOWROOM during Paris Fashion Week. How does the fashion of the DACH region appeal to the visitors of Paris fashion week?
It's a beautiful project, and I am pleased about it. It happened very organically, and we believe a lot in it. As I explained before, we are proud that someone like the designer Julia Heuer was able to find her international clients via DACH-SHOWROOM. We also have designers like Nina Yuun, who is selling and Julian Zigerli or After Work Studio who have a solid collection this season. I totally believe in this approach of togetherness - German, Swiss and Austrian designers under one roof.
If you could change something in fashion, what would it be?
I think it's a crazy thing with the rhythm - designing two collections per season and still asking young people in all the disciplines to be creative and spend so much money at least twice a year. I would love to change it to one collection per year, and I am happy that the market is already going into this direction. Do your main collection once a year and add a couple of pieces for the other ones. Slow down and go deeper.
In 2015 together with Christa de Carouge and Julian Zigerli, you organized a fashion show in celebration of the 35th anniversary of Werkheim Uster where models with disabilities owned the catwalk. What role does inclusion play for you in fashion?
Thanks for asking this question. Indeed it was the most touching project I have ever done in fashion because it brought together really amazing people like Christa who we miss a lot, she was a wonderful person, Julian with whom we have been working for so many years now, and it was really fantastic when we did this very kind project. Even some Swiss supermodels participated and mixed up with the people from Werkheim Uster. The designers we work with all have this spirit, and it's also something I have always focussed on. I have been casting for many years at Paris Fashion Week, and I remember these days where I sometimes had to force my client to be a little bit more diverse when choosing colour types or hair types. Happily, we live in a more open-minded world now, and that fashion sends a clear message - it's one world, we are part of it, and we should make the best out of it.
You also acted as model scout and consultant for Heidi Klum’s Germanys Next Top model. How come - isn’t it a completely different metier?
I did this project for about ten years, and it was impressive. I've always been interested in the fine line between commerce and design, and this is what excites me about my job. I love talking to someone who is working in a commercial field because that can influence the creation process. Both universes can enrich each other. When I did my job there, I fought for girls who have not been suitable for a TV-format but then Toni won! (Toni Dreher-Adenuga) She was the model I was really fighting for in the show. We had her back for Mode Suisse Edition 16. She really added something unique to the show.
Regarding the 16th edition, What are you looking forward to the most?
It's about what I just said before, but especially for the MADE VISIBLE with ArchivesTM collection, the cast, all the designers, of course, the location. I am super excited, the weather is nice, and it's going to be the first completely open-air Mode Suisse. It's great to work with so many wonderful people, and this is what I am always excited about. We have our six talks about structures in help for independent designers at the Landesmuseum, and we have a new shop there as well, which is called "Sélection Mode Suisse Chez". I am going to New York Fashion Week and the next DACH-SHOWROOM in Paris.
We loved being part of Mode Suisse, and we're looking forward to the next season in Zurich!