Jovana Ilić has spent the largest portion of her professional life abroad, where she lives and works today. In her interview with Reminder, she reveals what her professional path was like, and which place in her heart Belgrade takes.
I like the energy of the urban, creative, interesting Belgrade and my friends in it
You were the art director of a large fashion company. Discipline and sacrifices are not often mentioned when we talk about such a position. What was your experience like?
As far as my life path goes, I couldn’t have dreamt of becoming a top-level international fashion professional or an image, media, and digital director for Givenchy or Etam, or let alone have my own freelance career.
It all started in 1995, when I organized a charitable fashion show in Belgrade titled Fashion for Peace, along with 12 designers, such as Thierry Mugler, Yohji Yamamoto, Paco Rabanne, Nikos, Claude Montana…
What also helped was that I attended postgraduate studies at the Institut Francais de la Mode (IFM), a very selective university which is today the leading university for fashion management. I signed a contract with Lancôme even before I graduated. The results I achieved created more opportunities for me, such as Morgan, Etam, or the collaboration with Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy.
I worked for Givenchy as the global Image, Media, and Digital Director for ten years.
As the company grew, so did its budget, and our skills and knowledge had to follow. The higher up you are, you work more, you go through more trainings, you have less free time and you have to sacrifice more. If you are the absolute top in any profession, you collaborate, you don’t just boss around. If you are “the smartest”, you’re most likely not in the right environment or you’re not aware of your own limitations.
The most successful CEOs I worked with, such as, for example, Marco Gobbetti (Givenchy, Celine, Burberry) or Sebastian Suhl (Prada Asia, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Valentino) knew how to pick a team of experts from different domains, to collaborate with them and let them do their jobs, while taking care that everything matches the strategic goals and results of the company, in accordance with the creative world of designers.
I’ve collaborated with top magazines, models, actors, stylists, such as Amanda Seyfried, Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Natalia Vodianova, Natasha Poly, Naomi Campbell, Kristen McMenamy, Stella Tennant, Lara Stone, Saskia de Braun, Carine Roitfeld, Katy England, Panos Yiapanis, Mert & Marcus, Inez & Vinoodh, Willy Vanderperre, Mondino, Erykah Badu, Album Jay-Z/ Kanye West, Marina Abramović, David Hamilton, Ellen Von Unwerth, Rankin, Bettina Rheims.
To what extent does fashion fight stereotypes, and to what extent does it create them?
Fashion, just like art in general, has been fighting stereotypes for decades, but it speaks to a certain type of people who are already sensitized to those domains.
I see all people as equals: they fear death, they need security, they know how to love, they want to be loved, they feel sadness and happiness, they want to be accepted by a group, but also to stay unique regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with people of different skin colors, even albinos, hermaphrodites, people of different sexual orientations, which shouldn’t concern anyone but themselves. We chose them because there was something intriguing in their beauty, unusualness, or uniqueness.
Government institutions and laws on discrimination on any kind, education, and not chaos-inducing smear campaigns in the media, have a greater impact on the overall change than fashion, music, or religion. Upbringing has the largest effect.
Does fashion create discrimination between “the haves and the have-nots”, or “the cool and the uncool”? I think this class segregation happened independently from the creative industry and that, aside from ecology, it is one of the largest problems in the world today, because it breeds intolerance, religious extremes, and hatred.
You also express your creativity through music and art photography. Are you planning on having an exhibition sometime in the future?
Photography has had a serous presence in my life for the past twenty years. For me, the true photographic medium is the presentation method of personal perception which includes not one, but many realities and which is figuratively, as classical photography in general, a print of my personal spiritual and poetic condition, and simultaneously a document of the spirit of the time I live in. the artistic project I am working on right now is an amalgam of portraits and bizarre situations, and I perceive my subjects, delicate and special characters, through an array of situations which literally transform them, stir contradicting emotions, and tear down visual codes. I am planning on having an exhibition, but first I want to experiment in order to be able to do so.
You travel a lot and you’ve spent most of your life abroad. What ties do you have with Belgrade and which part of the city do you miss the most?
My ties are my family, memories of my teenage years and the people I loved and who are no longer with us. I miss the area between Takovska Street, Politika, the Fovernment and Tašmajdan the most. That is where my grandma and grandpa used to live and where I would spend summer holidays. I like the energy of the urban, creative, interesting Belgrade and my friends in it.
What can we expect from JI.STUDIO in the future?
JI.STUDIO is my consulting agency which deals with image, communication strategies, and art direction, and which I founded when I decided to reorganize my life, set my priorities differently and find balance between my personal and professional life. In addition, I often get invited to host conferences at different schools to postgraduate students. It is a wonderful feeling when you get to spread knowledge and motivate younger generations. My freedom has enabled me to dedicate myself to other things I am interested in, such as photography and music, although the main reason was my desire to start a family, which we have been trying to do for the past two years. Should my dedication to work have had such a price? It is all a question of choices and moments.
My current choice is to be free and have more time to discover, create, but also to relax.