Faculty Profile: Fiona Gillespie

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By Christine Hsu

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Professor Fiona Gillespie shares her experience in the fashion industry and her thoughts on the European market as a professional consultant.

Tell us about yourself.
FG: I’m Scottish. I came to Italy when I graduated from university. I went to Kingston University in London, which is specialized in fashion design and has very good links with industry in Italy. At that time, many Italian fashion companies came to Kingston to recruit designers, so I knew that I was coming to Italy before I graduated.

Tell us about your career as a professional consultant.
FG: I run a consulting company, initially, on fashion design, so developing collections and products for medium to large Italian fashion companies, like the Max Mara group for example. And then from there I went to other European countries and also in the United States, and got involved in developing not just fashion design consulting but also aspects of marketing, communication, and product development.

Can you share a few interesting professional experiences as a consultant?
FG: I think what really interesting is, especially when you’re consulting an international level, that it lets you understand how the reality of fashion business is very different from one country to another. In Italy, where there is a very high concentration and high-level manufacturing, it is incredibly important for Italian brands to be working with product developers and manufactures based here in Italy. When working for a British brand, for example, the manufacturing and product development is often out-sourced to countries such as Hong Kong, or China, or India. So it is incredibly satisfying from the point of view of working within an industry, because it could be so incredibly varied from one experience to another and from one customer to another.

What is your foundation as a consultant?
FG: Normally when a company contacts me is because they want to develop a new medium of product, or perhaps develop an area that is not performing as well as it should be, or perhaps it needs to rethink a new direction. So really in the beginning you start with analyzing who the customer is, what the market is, and what the market could be. And I try to understand the changes that should be made. The market is very distinct: each brand has its own specific market and its own specific type of customer. So it is important to realize this in order to build on what the brand should be doing better.”

What are some projects that you’re currently working on?
FG: At the moment I’m doing a lot of work with young luxury brands in London. Mentoring and developing product which is sourced, sampled and manufactured here in Italy. Italy offers very high quality services, raw materials, and technical expertise that are vital to brands in the luxury brand market in London. For these British brands to compete in the international market, they need to have some of the know-how which we take for granted here in Italy in order to be successful. So I’m working a lot of projects between British brands and Italian manufacturers, providing the Italian know-how. We are working very successfully.

Tell us about the course you will be teaching this fall at FUA.
FG: I will be teaching a course called Creative Advertising of Italian Destinations. We talk about specifically art, food, fashion, and wine industries. In the past I’ve worked with fashion students who became interested in other mediums of Italian expertise and we would often discuss areas that weren’t fashion-related. This course gives students a much broader view of what Italy is, also regionally. Traveling from northern, central, to southern Italy, there are differences in the industrial base of the country. So I try to educate the students at FUA about areas they wouldn’t have otherwise come into contact with. We also look at how the message of what made in Italy and Italian destinations are actually represented through communication strategies both in Italy and abroad.”

How would you say the advertising strategies in Italy differ from other countries?
FG: Over the past five to ten years, there’s been a great focus placed on the importance of communicating the unique quality of Italian products and how they are made. We’re known for manufacturing a very high-level of quality products. Therefore the way the brands are communicating what they wish to sell is very much connected to authenticity, innovation, creativity, and uniqueness. This is not found in any other part of the world.

What do you want the students to learn from this course?
FG: I want the students to learn how Italy has become a very important destination, what “Made in Italy” actually means and represents, and the excellent and world-famed Italian products such as the fashion, wine, food, and automobiles that are associated with the whole idea of Italy as a country abroad. The course is a 360° look at industries, the commerce of art and culture. It is also an opportunity to enrich students’ time here while learning and making new discoveries.

Describe your typical day at work.
FG: That is a very difficult question, because it is never typical. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think about what I have to do in a day, because it might be a day I’m lecturing or I might have a trip to London to talk with a client. So there’s no typical day, and that’s really what I appreciate much about the choice that I’ve made regarding my profession. There’s nothing that is predictable. This is an industry that gives you the opportunity to constantly get involved in new things. You feel like you are constantly evolving, doing new things, and working on new challenges because the industry’s in constant motion. Every day brings new challenges, but travel plays a big part because fashion business is international. Traveling is usually a constant. Also traveling to be inspired is important, perhaps to develop new ideas for a new line, because you constantly need food for the brain as well as excitement and stimulation in order to come up with new ideas.

Any advice for students?
FG: I think it is very important to have something that you feel that you want to say. It’s not enough to say “I would like to be fashion designer” or “I would like to be incredibly creative communicator.” You have to think about what is it you want to say about what you want to do. The outside world is full of designers and creative people, products, and things to buy. So in order to make a difference, you must think that what you do is going to make that difference. First you’ve got to think about what you want to say, and find a way to say it.



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