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Meet Caroline Simonelli: Mentor, Teacher, Fashion Designer

Caroline Simonelli Atelier, a Lebanese/American designer who teaches Fashion Design and Creative Draping.

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Meet Caroline Simonelli, a Lebanese/American designer who teaches Fashion Design and Creative Draping in New York City, Brooklyn and Beirut. Caroline teaches at Parsons School of Design – The New School, Pratt Institute, Fashion Institute of Technology as well as the Creative Space Beirut, where she is the co-founder.

She has just launched her own online creative draping course called Atelier-Creative Draping, where she teaches soft draping – which she affectionately calls soft sculpture. The class’s main focus is to provide you with the tools to hone the concepts and apply yourself to your creative ideas more effectively.

S You once said in an interview that you felt your life starts again after 50, in what ways?

C I truly believe that life starts again after 50. After 50, you become more in the moment, more conscious and positive. I started couture when I was 52, and I don’t feel like I’m aging at all. I really feel ageless now – if anything. There’s a career shift before and after 50, it’s like a chapter changing. You get the chance to make the chapter about you, make it yours.

S There are days where we all feel burnt out, so what kindles that spark and inspires you to start again?

"You can’t try, and you can’t try not to try."

C The key really is to start slow. Sometimes, you listen to a song and something clicks and you get a spontaneous burst of energy and creativity, but sometimes, you go from easy to hard and create a momentum to get to your goal. If you know there is something you want to do, but can’t – and it’s causing resistance, then make goals towards it and you’ll eventually have enough of a driving force to get you there. I really admire talent, and honestly, I find that talent inspires me a lot. Seeing something I like and being grateful for it, then using that as fuel to do my own work makes me feel happy and inspired.

S You’ve designed for major brands, you’re a successful entrepreneur, a leading educator, what qualities do these roles require?

C Ever since I was young, I’ve always been ambitious. I always knew deep down that I could do it, against all odds. No matter how hard things got, I would just keep trying. Coming from a poor immigrant family, I know how it feels to go to school and not have money. I put myself through college. I figured out where I could get grants and scholarships and had this entrepreneurial mindset at a young age. I got into Parsons and then, over time, I taught and even spoke at the Lebanese American University about my life. 

In a sense, you can only get into Creative Space Beirut through talent, and I realized early on in my life that I had the talent to get into Parsons. I made a full circle.

The other qualities you will also need are courage and faith, to get through any obstacle and face any hurdle with bravery and resilience. You should remain steadfast and not be afraid to make mistakes and push your boundaries.

S When it comes to creative and new talents in the industry, what do you think/hope they can carry forward in the future? What change do you wish to see in the industry?

C The first thing I want to see is kids educated properly. I want them to be able to access good education and leverage it to their full potential. I had this opportunity to let my students repurpose a bunch of shirts. We used the deadstock fabric to make something else with a lot of creativity. We adhered to the mantra “ Waste not, want not. ”

I also was a pioneer in making use of Lycra in garments to allow for a much more inclusive, ‘One-Size Fits All’ approach, because simplicity and comfort is important in fashion too.
I also would like to see a rise in norm-breaking, genderless fashion; fashion that is seasonless and timeless as well as classy – and I want everyone to be able to wear whatever they want.

S With so many new skills becoming a need in the ever growing fashion industry, is there still a need for traditional skills? In turn, is the industry in danger of losing a wealth of expertise?

C I try my best to make difficult things look easy because honestly, traditional skills are important, and if I can help in simplifying the process, then maybe more people will be willing to learn.
Automated and digital fashion is tough. It’s more of an idea and concept; there’s no real inspiration to it. On top of that, traditional skills are very much needed for the idea to be realized. I also think hand memory is underrated. We over-rely on our brains, and often neglect the power of muscle memory, and the feelings you get when draping fabrics.

This is partly why I started my Atelier course – it’s to bring you back to yourself and your creativity and experience fashion with emotion. There’s also a successful case of integrating the new and young with Prada. They bring young, innovative designers on board and assign them with experienced, seasoned professionals in the industry – and they effectively combine new ideas with traditional skills and produce top tier work with an eye for beauty.

But for the future, I definitely want to see how people blend both digital and traditional fashion and bring soul to technology.

I also think hand memory is underrated. We over-rely on our brains, and often neglect the power of muscle memory, and the feelings you get when draping fabrics."

S Why do you think brands are afraid of making the leap towards Plus Sized Fashion?

C Fashion labels have become homogenized. Everything is data driven, and brands don’t really understand their customers. If I’m being extremely honest, I’ve come to believe that brands think ‘if they stay around fat people, they will become fat.’
I mean, it’s better than what it used to be, with more plus sizes in the industry, but the truth is that brands want to be a part of the experience, but don’t want to put in the work. They just size up their largest size and expand it. 

The human body changes rapidly, so not everyone fits into a singular fit. Most brands have around 3 fits for the same garment but only settle for one – essentially only catering to one fit with one silhouette, so there is not much of a financial risk. If no one breaks the mold, then no one tries to step out in the industry and stand up for the ‘plus sized’ customers.

S What persuaded you to co-found and teach at Creative Space Beirut?

I had a recently graduated student who wanted to do something altruistic and give back to the community after a life changing experience. She wanted to do something humanitarian, but didn’t know where to start. So I gave her the simple answer that made Creative Space Beirut possible. “Why don’t you start a school?”

I thought I was going to an NGO, or a campus, but instead, the humble beginnings happened in a cave almost – three floors below sea level with just 5 students. She was given a small sum of money to make something out of within 3 months. So the both of us taught the learners and conducted a fashion show at the end of the program.

We started with one sewing machine, cinder block tables with mold everywhere and no cooling systems under the hot weather, but the silver lining was that we had all this scrap fabric to create anything we wanted. The school has come a long way since then, and I’m proud of it.

S Why did you want to start the Atelier course, and is this course suited for people already working in big brands?

This class is for anyone who wants to advance their creative skills. This class is essentially about not being afraid to be creative. It’s a whole different experience and feeling. In essence, you transform a simple piece of muslin fabric into something artistic and deeply creative. It’s not a sewing class, but a pinned draping, soft design class. This class is to help elevate and inspire artistic and creative levels of fashion design.

You may ask what is soft draping? Soft draping is a sculptural process of draping that allows you to rethink our preconceived notions of how a garment is constructed. This class is a soft sculpture class to me, as we develop shapes through pinning. We own the deeper concept of a design and expand it ourselves, creatively.

I was pleasantly surprised by my students. Once I gave them the tools to master the concept, and I told them to give me their creative versions of the same teaching, I really got to see how deep they dove into their characters and showed themselves through their works.
You know what? There’s an enormous amount of talent around. And if you tell your students not to be afraid, then they won’t be afraid to make mistakes.

This course is here to document all I’ve learned and taught in an evergreen way, where my teachings and knowledge will always be available.
It’s to honor and encapsulate the process of you becoming more you – and showing that ‘you’ through draping.

Caroline Simonelli Atelier

Find the root of your creativity

You can find this course on Caroline’s website here.  The course is open enrollment and consists of 10 modules. From Bias Spiral Draping, Twist Draping to Creative Collages – this course has everything you need to help you get started with your draping journey.

There are three tiers to choose from.
The first tier starting at $499, includes the 10 modules with videos and instructions, as well as a weekly group session with Caroline in The Atelier. This tier also allows access to a dedicated Facebook group to showcase your work.
The second tier at $699 includes the benefits above and two, forty minute private sessions with Caroline Simonelli herself, on Zoom.
The third tier at $799 also includes the benefits above and four, forty minute private sessions with Caroline Simonelli on Zoom.

You can also contact her at [email protected] if you have any questions.

MOTIF champions continuous learning across the fashion supply chain. This interview is part of a series highlighting great learning taught by industry professionals with deep knowledge and expertise.

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