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In September, she won the MAD graduation prize and on November 30 this year, the Belgian Fashion Award in the category 'graduate of the year'. Leslie Nonvignon is definitely an ambitious emerging talent to keep an eye on. With her graduation collection named ‘Rite of Passage’, she creates a bridge between her identity quest as a creative mind and the representation of the past and present Africa to create a collection composed of ‘totem’ silhouettes. Leslie offers to our gaze a codified collection where symbols of her African culture come to life against a mystical backdrop. MAD had a talk with Leslie, about her awards, her future and her view on today's fashion world.
Can you introduce yourself? Who is Leslie Nonvignon and what are you currently doing?
"My name is Leslie Nonvignon, I am 28 years old. I was born in Paris in the 9th arrondissement. I completed a bachelor's degree in foreign languages, both English and Japanese, before starting my studies in fashion design. I left Paris for Brussels and started my studies at the Haute École Francisco Ferrer. So for the past 4 years I have been studying fashion in Brussels."
"This summer I moved to Paris again. I had some small sewing projects here and there. But the most important thing for me was to be able to rest for a while after my studies. So I didn't immediately start looking for a job. I wanted to take some time for myself, also to be able to make some pieces for myself. Because during my 4 years of college, I didn't really had the time for my own projects besides my school projects. So this summer I got myself back into sewing. Currently, I'm looking for a job. Preferably a job as an assistant stylist or assistant product manager. That's what I did during my internships."
Can you tell us a little more about your graduation collection "Rite of Passage"?
"During my last year of studies, I created the collection I submitted for my nomination for the Belgian Fashion Awards. I had been thinking about designing that particular collection for a while. I really wanted to work around the theme of identity, diaspora, the fact of coming from an African country. But also growing up between 2 cultures and the importance of thinking about our identity and origins. Because a designer is always inspired by his or her environment or background. So how does that dual culture influences the creative process? And how do we draw inspiration from certain elements of our culture or the way we were raised? How do we translate that into a collection? My collection is a first step in this process for me. I could really incorporate my own inspiration and ideas into it. And of course my African culture, more precisely my roots of Benin and Nigeria, where my parents are from."
"That last year of my studies was really an opportunity for me to work on this. It is also my goal to create multiple collections around this theme. So currently I'm still working on small projects around my collection. Like embroidery and certain techniques with a link to Africa. For this I turned to Dominique. She also helped me with my graduation collection. Through techniques such as weaving, we try to create interesting textures and motifs. I am currently trying to take advantage of the fact that I can put my focus on this for a while, now that I don't have a job yet. Because I am well aware that when I have a job, it will be much more difficult to work on my own collections."
How do you see the future?
"I really want to work in the fashion industry, and I really want to create. I already got some proposals to work in sectors around it, like merchandising, or assistant for luxury brands and being in charge of dressing famous people. But that doesn't interest me. I really want to work with my hands. I already did an internship at a luxury menswear brand during my studies. There I was assistant product manager and I had to communicate with suppliers abroad. I had to receive and examine prototypes and research the material used. Being that or assistant stylist interests me the most. I really want to work on collections from the beginning to the end. Being able to follow the creative process, from sketches to technical drawings and finally the quality control of the pieces. I think it is interesting and it’s also in line with my studies. During my internship, I was able to gain that experience. Whether it's a small company or a big brand, it doesn't matter to me. It's really about gaining experience and learning in the field."
Is it a dream to start your own brand?
"I think it's every young designer's dream to continue building their own brand, to be able to develop their own idea of fashion. I would prefer to do that with No Bounds, the label with which I developed my end-of-year collection. I don’t want to start my own brand right now. I have the feeling that I need a little bit more experience and background for that. I want to gain more knowledge on different aspects such as communication, digital tools and social networks. In order to build a brand that is viable on the long term. I want to delve a bit more into the industry before I start developing my own brand professionally. While I have another job, I hope to maintain some of my own projects at the same time."
What did it mean to you to win a Belgian Fashion Award?
"I was totally not expecting that Belgian Fashion Award. Just like the MAD Graduation prize. Coming from a Belgian school, a Brussels school, to be nominated for such a category is really incredible. Receiving the MAD Graduation prize, being recognized by MAD means a lot to me. I think that also gave me the visibility for my nomination for the Belgian Fashion Awards. So I am very grateful to the MAD team for giving me the opportunity to build on my experience as a young designer. And that Belgian Fashion Award trophy was really the cherry on the cake. The Belgian Fashion Awards is an incredible event with so many creative people who are just starting out or have been in the industry for a while. I was so honored to be nominated along with all these young designers who just finished their studies. We all delivered great work and created unique, personal collections. That category also represents the glory and quality of the Belgian schools."
"For me personally, it was also a confirmation of my work. The message has come across, my work appeals to people and it was not for nothing. The fact to be recognized by people from the field with experience and who have an external view, that is very motivating. It gives me energy to step out of my zone, to take risks. It's the engine to go further and launch my brand."
Do you have any tips for young fashion students?
"One of the advices I would give to young students or to my young self if I could is to not give up. You're going to encounter a lot of obstacles as a young designer without experience. You're going to have difficulties to get ahead, both in your way of creating and with the people you'll present your collection to. It's important not to lose confidence, to believe in the message you want to give through your collection. You must put that message ahead, as your goal."
"In addition, it's also important to surround yourself well. Family, friends and mentors are precious. And to know that there are always possibilities and solutions, also for financial issues. When it's your dream, your passion, you can't let that down. Sometimes you will hold yourself back, you will say to yourself ‘this is not for me’. But it's just a goal to break barriers. I think that's a very important message."