By Veena Thoopkrajae
Special to The Sunday Nation
THE RICHNESS of Thai culture can virtually guarantee designers here a successful career, says Dr Lisa Hockemeyer, a respected German historian of art and design and author of several critically acclaimed books.
“I’m very impressed,” she says of Thai creativity. “We need to introduce the fresh ideas originating here to Europe and create more connections between Europe and Thailand.”
Based in Milan, Italy, where she coordinates Product and Accessory Design programmes at the prestigious Istituto Marangoni, Hockemeyer has been to Bangkok on several occasions to give lectures.
And she’s optimistic about the future of Thai designers.
There is strong potential for creative growth, she believes, because all the right ingredients are here for designs that could earn global acclaim. The approach to achieving that level, though, should be interdisciplinary and free of tunnel vision, she says.
“What I’ve seen here in design is very straight-ahead vision. Designers must look across different design categories. It’s important to broaden their minds. A fashion designer must look into product design and even car design.
“Design is about creating a fresh mood, about nature and innovation, about materials – and not technology,” Hockemeyer says.
“Thai design can take advantage of the deep cultural roots, history and traditions. It’s in a unique position among Asian countries.”
Lisa Hockemeyer/ Photo:Veena Thoopkrajae
On a recent three-day visit, Hockemeyer gave four lectures on art. It had been two years since her last trip and she was impressed by how Bangkok has become such a vibrant and modern “design city”.
A graduate of University College London, she earned her master’s degree from the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum and a PhD from Kingston University, London.
She’s currently “the face” of the venerable Istituto Marangoni, which has branches in Florence, Paris, London, and, as of last month, Miami, Florida.
Asked where she finds her inspiration, she replies that her work involves observing, digesting and reporting.
Students, likewise, must keep their eyes wide open to their surroundings. “Art exhibitions are simply meant for the eyes to understand inspirations. I take my students to fine-art exhibitions, modern-art shows and even opera houses – the more, the better.”
Her motto is “Don’t study in the classroom only.” You have to be looking around as much as possible, Hockemeyer says, and gallery and museum exhibitions give you a chance to learn new things.
As well, she says, to become a good designer, learning the basic skills is crucial. The first year of learning should entail acquiring the skills to draw, sketch and translate any idea onto paper.
“After that, students can start pursuing their inspirations. You draw together your inspirations to create something unique that reflects your own identity – whether a product, apparel or interior design. Never underestimate the importance of expressing your own identity.”
The professor considers it essential to prepare the students for the real world. They need to experience the industry’s realities before entering it.
“What’s really important to me about Marangoni is that we have inspiration all around us. But you have to go outside. You have to have experiences and learn how to see, touch and feel,” she says.
In preparing students for their careers, says Hockemeyer, the environment at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan is wonderful for its gentle prodding. The school stages many competitions for students in second and third year. “It gives them the very first idea of what it likes to do competitive work,” she notes.
Students learn and get ideas from the outside world as much as in the classroom.
“For example, when we take them to Cassina, the furniture retailer where the products are all handmade, they can see a lot of things under one roof. They can understand the importance of design and many things else.”
Hockemeyer says students can also benefit from Marangoni’s study environment. The school holds a lot of talks by designers and other important people in the industry.
In addition, during their final year, students do a master project. “They get to work and do a project with clothing maker Fendi, and one of them won a prize last year. The winner gets a placement with Fendi.”
Once the students graduate, the school helps find them jobs.
“The most difficult sector to get into is jewellery design, because it’s such a close-knit circle. However, three years ago, our students did get jobs in Italy. The easier fields are fashion, product design and accessory design, but they’re evolving very fast. We’re quite strong in placing students in the accessories sector.”