Who You Wannabe ? (what I would say to my sixteen y.o self)
When I was 12, I went to the opera with my Maman and I decided I would be a Costume Designer. I remember it was an Offenbach’s opera with playful and colorful costumes.
I had the chance to have very open-minded and supportive parents so they put me into Art School on Wednesdays afternoons (in France we don’t have class on Wednesdays afternoons during middle school). I discovered lots of different mediums and I realized I wanted to invent new objects and things rather than drawing or painting just for the sack of the art. My head was bursting with ideas of objects I wanted to have in my life like a crazy flying scooter and some kind of playful chair that would have many purposes. I was not really good at drawing or representing what was surrounding me and I realized I didn’t really have the patience to learn to draw perspective. At that time, the art school I was going to was really free about these “rules” and the things usually required to be an artist. On the contrary, my teachers were encouraging me to just have fun exploring new ideas and the questions I had about life in general.
In middle school, I was also involved into a Contemporary Art group lead by my English teacher. We went to many exhibitions and I was always amazed about how art is not necessarily about good techniques but rather about questioning the world around us. At that time I didn’t really know anymore what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to be someone who would ask questions and explore different ways to answer them.
When you’re 16, teachers and parents start to ask you what you want to do in life. When I think about it as a young adult I realize how it is so easy to fall into a trap. I’ll always remember the look of the school advisor when I told her I wanted to do costumes for theater. The first question she asked me was “what do your parents do ?”. She could not understand that I didn’t want to work in a hospital like my father and she tried to warn me about the risks of trying to be a creative in this very difficult world of ours.
I was lucky enough to be serious at school and I had good grades so nobody had a reason to tell me I could not do what I wanted to do. I did a literature baccalaureate because I love reading and I had a real woman crush on my French teacher. She was so smart and I was amazed by her passion about the literature of the 18s century. I also had eight hours of Philosophy every week and lots of History and English classes. Although the last year of high school was truly demanding and stressful I was in fond of my classes and the few great teachers I had gave me enough confidence to be able to challenge my knowledge and write essays about very particular subjects.
After high school I was (again) very lucky because I got accepted into the first year of a famous Design School in Paris called Duperré. I even got accepted into the National Art School of my hometown but going to Paris was much more appealing for many different reasons.
I think I got a bit disappointed by what I studied this year in some ways and I didn’t work as hard as I should have because too many news things were happening in my life at the same time. I think I didn’t realized this was just the beginning and that I had to provide a lot more of dedication to actually continue on this path. Somewhere in my head I was thinking that the hardest part was behind me.
I didn’t get admitted in the Fashion Design class I applied for at the end of the year and at this time I lived it as the biggest failure of my life. Eventually I got received in another school, far less famous, which happened to open a new Fashion Design class. It was in Strasbourg and I was devastated to move out of Paris. I didn’t have any friend there and I never heard about this school before.
These two years happened to be great : I met my best friends there and I loved the city. I worked my ass off because I wanted to prove that coming from this unknown school will not ruin my dreams. Because the city was smaller, I saved time and money by riding my bike everywhere and I was able to go to many exhibitions and shows every week. I decided to be a sponge who would soak up as much inspirations and knowledge as possible. I did two great internships in big opera houses and I ended up being admitted into the school I dreamed off since I was twelve (and I was also admitted in couple other great places !).
I moved South this time and started my Master’s Degree at the National Drama School in Lyon (known as La Rue Blanche). These two years there were creatively amazing. I grew up a lot and I made - again - great friends. I did my internship at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and I had to go through a lot of challenges there. It gave my a whole other experience about working in costumes and in a very different environment than the one I was evolving in. I happened to meet my husband in some of the unforgettable outdoor summer parties this city offers and I got to step out my comfort zone by sharing my bedroom with another girl in a very dodgy house in South Brooklyn (good thing I had other amazing roommates).
After my Master’s I did another year in Set Design where I learned the many facets of lighting and I built small sets models in cardboard. I had amazing teachers but I found the whole thing very academic and I think I was looking for something else.
Then I had a difficult time because I didn’t really know how to step a foot into the Industry. I enjoyed my studies but I found out pretty fast that it didn’t teach me anything about dealing with the issues of real life’s work (and this might be a whole other article !).
Of course I had a lot of privileges because I had the chance to pursue the studies I wanted to do and my parents have always been very supportive (thank you papa et maman). I was lucky enough to live in France and be able to do a Master's Degree for free within an amazing environment where schools provide everything you need to learn your craft. I was also lucky because I believe competitions are also random sometimes, especially when you get chosen with 5 other persons from hundreds of people. I know not everybody is as lucky as I was and I understand how telling to young adults “to pursue their dreams” can sound very naive if they have to deal with bills and responsibilities as soon as they get out of high school. What (my very short) life taught me is that you don’t really need to do fancy studies to succeed/do what you want. Studies might give you confidence that would help you getting in it but what truly matters is your flexibility and ability to look at the big picture : What is meaningful to you ? Who are you ? Answering these questions will help you building your path because there is not one good way to succeed in a field. There are as many ways as people but you need to figure out who you are first.
Photo ©Manuel Alves Pereira, La Chute, 2004