Being in the fashion and apparel world for the last 20 years of my career, I always had a special place in my heart for France. A fashion capital of the world, Paris was at the top of my bucket list for decades. I finally got the chance to visit in the Summer of 2019, but my obsession with the region started at a much younger age.
Back in high school, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to take French as my foreign language requirement. I was certain that I would need to spend years of my fashion design career fluent in a language that was surely to be used on a daily basis. I loved learning the French language. My classmates and I would walk through the hallways of our school, whispering in French so that the other students around us couldn't understand what we were saying! And by our fourth year of French, we would sit in the back of the classroom and gossip throughout the entire class, but our teacher was just so thrilled that we could do it all in French that she never yelled at us.
When I was 17, I started dreaming in French and that was when I knew I had reached a level of fluency that would carry me through my fashion career for years to come.
Fast forward 20 years, and I've only used French in my career a handful of times. I've also unfortunately lost most of my fluency in the language. Although, every once in a while, a phrase or two will come back to me and make me smile. I have interacted with French sales teams in a couple of key roles, and my French learning helped me to pick up Italian quite quickly when we started manufacturing a lot of our products in the Venice region.
RTQ Apparel has building blocks that come from the Como region of Italy, and this was another one of the few but memorable instances where I could use those language skills in my work. One of the highest quality fabric mills I have ever seen, Taiana is dedicated to the science and development of unique fabric solutions for athletic apparel, travel apparel and work-wear. Their fabrics are made on high quality looms just blocks away from their beautiful office near Lake Como. It is the exquisite quality of their goods that makes me 100% confident in the garments I've made using their materials, and I feel just a little bit closer to them when I can pick up and speak a little Italian.
My travel adventures have taken me through Rome, Naples, Nice, Paris, Venice, Milan and the island of Capri. These are some of my favorite memories, and I’ll tell you one of my husband’s favorite stories to tell about our day at the farmer’s market in Nice:
As we were browsing the booths at the farmers market, we came up to a merchant selling raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Drumming up a little courage, I decided to ask about the price in Italian. But my question came out in Spanish. The merchant responded to me in Spanish, at which time I realized my mistake and apologized in French. I then went on to ask again about the price, but this time it came out in Italian. He laughed, and gave me my answer in Italian. This time, I apologized in English and made fun of myself a little bit. He also laughed, told me what the price was in English and we continued our conversation with ease. After a while, we walked away with some of the most delicious strawberries!
Moral of the story? I suppose there are a few:
- If you choose to still learn French, Italian or Spanish anyway, keep up your skills so that you don't lose them over time. I wish I had kept my French skills intact.
- When you travel for work, do your best to practice a little before you depart. Remember what region you're in, and try to stick with a single language.
- People all over the world seem to know more languages and constantly impress me with their fluency in English. I always recommend learning a few phrases in the language of whatever country you're planning to visit, but don't be afraid to travel for language reasons. People are kind, gracious and understanding. They might even be able to pivot and speak four different languages with you at any given time. I have proof of that!