Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna presents Jefferson Philadelphia University Honors Lecture.
Famed Italian fashion designer Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna has visited colleges around the world, but after spending a day at Jefferson, she knew the University offered its students something special.
“You’re really lucky to be here,” Cigna told students, as well as faculty and University leadership. “You’re really privileged.”
Following a tour of the Fashion and Textiles Futures Center and lunch with students, the president and CEO of Biagiotti Group discussed her career path and shared advice to aspiring designers in the Philadelphia University Honors Lecture presented by the Jefferson Center for Global Engagement.
Cigna originally planned to study medicine, but after the death of her father, she became the third generation to join her family’s company. Founded in 1965, the fashion and fragrance brand gained a global reputation for its pioneering relationships with foreign countries, including groundbreaking fashion shows in China in 1988 and Russia in 1995.
“Fashion can build bridges,” Cigna says. “Nobody spoke English in China or Russia, but it was easy to communicate through beauty. … Fashion is a language with no words.”
Cigna also described the company’s dedication to charitable work, such as leading restoration efforts in Rome and Venice, and its environmentally conscious approach to its lines.
“Being sustainable isn’t just a matter of fabrics,” she says. “It’s a matter of processes. It’s a matter of relationships. It’s a matter of values.”
After discovering that glasses and sunglasses rank as one of the worst accessories for the environment, the company worked on a new 100 percent recyclable bioplastic that comes from natural materials, she says. “This is just one example of how you can be sustainable in different ways. It’s not just using natural yarns and fabrics.”
Stressing out-of-the-box thinking was one of the many pieces of advice Cigna highlighted throughout her 45-minute talk and Q&A in the packed Kanbar Performance Space:
- Success never comes from a single person, especially in fashion, she says. “Team up with someone you love, someone you trust who can give you the right inspiration and support when you need it.”
- Cigna attributes her mother, Laura, for discovering supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. “Keep your eyes open,” she urges. “Be curious. Try to understand where talent is hidden.”
- Find a mentor. “Be someone’s assistant,” Cigna says. “It could be a photographer, stylist or fashion editor. You need to work when you get out of here, and you need to learn from someone who can show you the ropes of the business.”
- Take care of yourself, and look to family and friends for support. “Passion is a wonderful virus, but you have to protect yourself,” she says. “Sometimes, we take it too seriously in fashion.”
- If a collection doesn’t perform as expected, try again from a different angle. “Don’t throw away what you did; just transform it,” Cigna says. “You never really fail in life—you learn.”