Talent Meet Talent: In Conversation With Vogue's Sara Maino
As Head of Talent at Vogue Italia, Sara Maino is second to none at finding the hottest new talents the world over. For the Vogue Talents for Asia initiative, a unique partnership between Vogue Italia and Elite, she paired six of the best new designers with six Chinese mega-brands for capsule collections. The designs will be worn at the photo shoot at the Elite New Wave event, closing the World Final 2015.
Gayeon Lee, new talent from South Korea, will work with one of China’s most influential brands, V-Grass; up-and-coming brand Youjia Jin, from China, with SC Fashion; Le Saunda will work with new label Abcense, from Taiwan; Italian newcomers Minimal To with Peacebird; and Cynthia & Xiao, design duo from China, with Shanghai-based YI, and Israeli designer Eliran Nargassi with Canudilo H Holidays.
We caught up with Sara to find out how she does her day job.
You do a lot of work with new talent; what is interesting for you about this year’s Vogue Talents for Asia?
Sara Maino: This initiative gives designers experience on how to develop a collection, because these designers are young. To work with the big brands that have been associated with the project, some of which are on the stock exchange, it will be challenging, but also a good experience.
What we try to do at Vogue Talent - it’s not a matter of giving money, but contacts - the right people at the right moment. Moreover, with these capsule collections, they have the opportunity to go to a trade fair in Milan. That’s why this project is different to others out there; they are sustained long-term.
It’s giving them insight and opportunities, but the chance to develop?
Yes, exactly. It’s about giving them an opportunity to work with a big brand, understanding the mechanisms that big brands have to work with - the deadlines, the amount of production, the costs and everything. And if it works, they’re going to get royalties, so it’s also a way of gaining money through working.
How did you match the designers with the brands?
For me, it was a bit of challenge to put together those who were not similar to the style of the brand - not the opposite, but a contrast. The Chinese brands want to support a new designer, to see a different point of view and how they can evolve their collections. V-Grass, for example, it’s not classic Chinese, but it’s classy. I matched them with designers who are different in style [Gayeon Lee]. Le Saunda is a massive brand, they have over 800 stores, so it was interesting to give them a shoe designer who doesn’t do classic shoes [Abcense], it’s a little bit more on the experimental side - I think these brands are looking for a challenge.
Do you believe that designers in Asia produce fashion in a different way to other parts of the world?
It has changed. You might have thought that Asian designers were very clean and androgynous, and not very feminine, and you still see this kind of style, but there are new designers who are very interesting. It has changed.
It’s interesting if there is a clash of culture and creativity, maybe the designers are a couple and one is European and one is Asian. Then there’s the social media aspect, it’s also very easy to get more ideas. Before, to get ideas, you had to travel. Now, with the internet, you can travel all over the world, and it’s up to you how you use it, but travelling is still important.
You scout for talent all year round. How do you stay sharp day-to-day?
It’s not that I choose designers based on personal taste. You travel, you go to different countries and meet new people. Whenever you do, you want to freshen up and start from zero, which is not easy. I see so many collections, sometimes I get the impression that everyone in the world wants to be a designer, which of course is not true! [Laughs] Sometimes it’s scary, because it’s true that the world is really big, but sometimes I think, “how will all of these people start their own brand?”
How do you personally re-set your mind?
For me, I travel a lot. I travel a lot for work, but when it’s vacation time, I like to travel myself to see different cultures and exhibitions, but then sometimes I like to stay home and switch off! I’ve been travelling a lot in the last few months, so I’m staying in Milan, right now. Sometimes it’s too much, you need to stop and focus.
What do you think about the relationship between designers and models?
We always see it with the big brands, the designers get a model as a muse. It’s their mirror in life, to express their creativity. It depends on the designers, but it could be really important because they could be a muse right from the beginning - Riccardo [Tisci] did one of his first lookbooks with Mariacarla [Boscono] and she is still one of his muses even though he has many. It’s usually male designers. Now, there are bloggers and it-girls who are muses, whereas before they were models, actresses - Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn - but you have to accept change.
Photo: Youjia Jin
Is it always important to have a muse?
If it happens at the beginning of their careers, it can make a strong statement. But things are always changing. I’m always asking myself, what’s going to happen after Instagram? You never know. These things evolve, and models evolve, too.
Photo: Gayeon Lee SS16
Are you looking forward to the EML World Final in Milan?
Yes of course! Last year in Shenzhen was the first time I went. You were asking me how I stay inspired and for me, seeing all the young people together is amazing. Of course, I’m not old [laughs] but they are so energetic, so happy, also scared or shy, all these things that you had when you were younger, and to see them thinking about the future, it gives you the energy to go on. I’m really excited to see the new faces from all over the world. It’s also the mix of culture that is very interesting. I think it’s important for models to meet people from all over the world.
Where should people see in Milan if they have never been?
[Laughs] Well, I don’t want to be banal but the place which Franca [Sozzani, Editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia] has chosen for the Vogue Italia and Elite event is the most beautiful place in Milan! [Villa Necchi Campiglio, location of the Elite New Wave Party at the World Final 2015] That is one of the top spots, where people have to go when they go to Milan.