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Meet the Judges: Nadia Albertini, couture embroidery designer

30 May 2016 by Roger Tredre

Photo credit: Anne Laure Camilleri

Mexican-born embroidery designer Nadia Albertini, who worked for many years with leading fashion names in Paris, is now based in New York. And she’s coming to London to judge Texprint 2016.

She’s a busy, super-creative designer – and her focus is embroidery. Nadia Albertini has built an international name for the exceptional quality of her work, and is full of passion for her craft.

She grew up in Mexico City where she spent her school years learning silk painting, screen printing, dyeing and hand embroidery. After graduating from ESAA Duperré school in Paris, she started to work as an embroidery designer at Chloé. And she never looked back.

 

Where are you based these days?

I spent 11 years in Paris, working for various companies like Chloé and Chanel. I am now based in New York. We’ve been living here for a little bit more than a year now (I moved here with my husband Ben) and it has started feeling like home. I currently consult for three companies here.

At what point did embroidery design become your main focus, and how did that come about?

My grandmother taught me embroidery when I was six years old. I used to spend a lot of time with her, watching her embroider colorful floral cushions. During my studies at Duperré in Paris, I got my very first internship at Chloé, in the embroideries department. All the things my grandma taught me were very useful there and I loved it so much that I just kept doing it… And it has been almost 10 years now.

Do you think there's anything specifically 'Mexican' about your design work?

I don't think my designs are specifically Mexican. I draw inspiration from pretty much everywhere. I adapt my design esthetic and style to the theme of the season, no matter whom I work for. But surely, what Mexico has given me is a great freedom in the way I approach the design process: enjoy what you do and be passionate about it.

And it’s also about teamwork: it’s all about collaboration and creating links with people. What I mean by that is that we need each other: the brands need me to create the designs, and I need the artisans to actually make those designs.

Photo credit: Anne Laure Camilleri

How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?

Embroidery is gaining more and more importance in fashion but surprisingly, there are not many schools teaching it. Young designers are the future of our industry, so I want to make sure they have access to these techniques. They  must learn how to use them in order to incorporate them in their professional work later on.

So, for me, it’s important to pass on what I know through teaching or mentorships. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and it’s a part of my job that I truly enjoy. It started when I taught the Couture Embellishment short courses at the London College of Fashion from 2010 to 2014. Then I gave workshops at Central Saint Martins. This year, I taught in Tokyo and next year, I’m planning embroidery workshops in Bogota and Buenos Aires.  

What do you look for in great embroidery and textile design?

I want to be surprised and intrigued. Surprised by the techniques, traditional or modern, or a balanced combination of both. I want to ask myself: “How did they do that? What is it made of?” And intrigued to the point that I want to meet the designer, know more about them, their background, their world.

Can you explain the parameters of your job?

I work for fashion brands designing and developing their embroideries.

At the beginning of each season, I meet with the creative director and the design team. We exchange ideas for the collection and I bring my research: pictures, swatches, vintage trims and materials that I think could fit the theme. Once the direction is decided, I design embroidery swatches that I develop with our embroidery manufacturers. They can be made in India, France, Italy or China. I make small embroidery examples myself, on the frame. I need to show things as clearly as possible. And then I make sketches, collage, I give material examples to explain what we want.

I have very close and very good relationships with all the ateliers I work with. I have been working with some of them for years now, so we understand each other quickly. I travel often to develop the swatches directly with them. But if I cannot travel, we talk every day, either on the phone, through Whatsapp or email. They send me pictures, I make comments, they correct and then show me again. We have very little time to develop each collection so these periods are quite intense for everyone.

Once these swatches are back in the studios and are approved for the collection, it’s time to place them on the garments. It’s layout time, as I call it. We engineer the motifs onto the paper patterns, for garments, shoes and bags. Sometimes it’s done with the computer, sometimes by hand, either drawing or collaging. You need to know garment construction well for this process: how to avoid darts and reduce the density for gathers, how to play with the weight of beading if the fabric is bias cut. Is a fabric going to tear with X or Y technique? Should the fabric be fused before or after beading? Is the embroidery too dense for the garment to be comfortable to wear? Is the leather supple enough to be embroidered?

My work also involves planning the work calendar, managing the budget and negotiating prices of all the embroidered styles.

 

What’s a typical day like for you?

I work for three very different companies, so each day is different and we have different styles of work in each of them.

I always start my days by checking emails. I have two phones, so I get about 80 emails every morning that I try to answer as quickly as possible. I’m in the studios at 9.30am. I work with the teams on the current projects: it can be research, fabric manipulations, weekly touch bases on the developments. It can be a creative session or a more strategic and planning-related meeting too. I like taking time to have lunch outside the office - it’s a very French thing apparently. I read the news or a novel or plan my weekly schedule.

My workday normally ends at 19.30. I go back home, have dinner with my husband or friends. I usually work on my personal projects in the evening: the book, or more research for one of my clients, courses planning, etc…

Where's the growth coming in your business at the moment? Any particular projects you would like to mention?

I’ve been very lucky in New York, I have good clients and lots of interesting work at the moment. I’m developing embroideries for the Spring/Summer 2017 shows that will happen in September and should start on Pre-Fall 2017 collections soon.

On a more personal level, I am working on a book project. It will be published in Japan in 2017 and it will contain embroidery tutorials, embroidery DIY projects. And I would like to start teaching on a more regular basis in New York, so I’m looking for new opportunities there too.

Finally, where do you find your inspiration?

I really enjoy the research part of my job. I have always kept examples of the embroideries I have done in the past, so I have a very good swatches library. I also keep tons of binders with inspiration images: from pictures, posters, interiors images, collage, illustrations. I love going to the library. To the Bibliothèque Forney in Paris or to the NY image bank and to the Condé Nast Library in the One World Trade Center. I also use Internet a lot and magazines. A lot of the inspiration comes from the materials themselves: how to use that sequin in a new and interesting way? What can we do with this gold cord? Or with ric rac? How to combine wood and pearls? 

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