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International designer shares career highlights

October 8, 2013

Former textile designer Erich Biehle urged Stephens fashion students today to be enthusiastic about their work, pay attention to their surroundings and to develop strong relationships if they want to succeed in the competitive world of high-end fashion.

“When you put enthusiasm behind it, it’s easy,” he told a crowd at Charters Auditorium. “It’s very easy. Everything will become easy and one idea will lead to the next, but you have to have your eyes open. You have to be interested. You have to read. You have to travel.”

Biehle is on campus this week helping select student designs that will be entered into the Council of Fashion Designers of America student competition next spring. The contest is a highly competitive, invite-only scholarship program.

During a lunchtime lecture, Biehle, who is currently a consultant, outlined some of the highlights of his more than four-decade career as a designer. Immediately after graduating from the University of Art and Applied Sciences in Zürich—where he studied with Johannes Itten, a Swiss painter and former Bauhaus teacher—Biehle began designing floral patterns for various Yves Saint Laurent collections. What amounted to a couple days of work ultimately became fashion history, and Biehle’s designs are now housed at the Zurich University of the Arts Museum of Design.
Biehle insists he had “mediocre” talent but said he was enthusiastic and willing to put in extra work to add special touches to the designs.

“I liked what I did, and I was dedicated to it,” he said.

Biehle would go on to design for Givenchy, Paris, designed for special products for Haute Couture and became executive vice president for Bally International. From 1996 to 2002, he was president of the board of directors and CEO of the Abraham Group with companies in  Zürich, Paris and New York. He's also worked with Gucci, Prada, Calvin Klein, Armani, Chanel and Michael Kors.

Social and technological changes have altered the industry, though, and Biehle warned students that they would be working under different conditions than he did during his career.

Rather than working with specific clients, today’s designers work for the people on the street, he said.

“I didn’t really care if somebody was going to like” his designs, Biehle said. “Did I ever care? No, I didn’t. I was lucky enough to get away with it. But you do have to care. You have to respect the company you work for. You have to be aware of changes in society. You have to be aware of trends and what people are preferring. Do they want more comfort or do they want more elegance? You have to be flexible.”

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