Style & substance: Claudine Rousseau Dean of Design & Technology at London College of Fashion

— by Alyson Walsh


During London Fashion Week, Claudine Rousseau popped up on my TV screen. I was channel-hopping and clicked over to the BBC News. The Dean of the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion (LCF) only appeared for a couple of minutes, but I liked her singular style. Perfect for my Creative Women at Work series.

Having previously worked as an External Examiner on the MA Fashion Journalism course at LCF, I figured out Claudine’s email address and dropped her a message asking if she had time to be interviewed for That’s Not My Age. Her warm, effusive response sealed the deal. Style is more than just the clothes we wear…

With many years experience in both the fashion industry (as a pattern cutter) and education; Claudine had recently returned to LCF to take on the position of dean, at one of the three schools. Prior to this she spent five years at top-notch cyclewear brand Rapha. ‘One of the greatest advantages of working at Rapha and being back at LCF is the experience of working with different generations and leaning into that. It’s a real luxury to be able to work with different people.’


Claudine invited me over to LCF building for a chat:


How are you finding the lovely new building?

It’s pretty impressive. It feels like a fresh start. The timing was perfect. Returning to this new building, after five years away, when everyone had moved in – I did feel a bit like Miranda Priestley, just turning up!

It is momentous that schools that were once sprawled across London are all on one site, at East Bank. We have the opportunity now to truly connect all our disciplines – business, media and communications, and design, to shape the future of fashion. And, to work with the wider community and adjacent boroughs; a lot of work had been done prior to the move, including projects with the communities, and there’s a concerted effort to try to build on that now we’re here. It provides a really exciting opportunity and, we have great partners to collaborate with: the V&A, Sadler’s Wells and the BBC (these are our neighbours at East Bank). I mean, that will be amazing.


And how is the new job going? How are you adapting to being back in academia after Rapha?

Stimulated! Each day feels really different and exciting. And it feels good to come back into an environment where everyone’s interested in knowledge and growth. That’s what’s really exciting, how much expertise there is here. I feel really lucky, it is a great job.

I started freelancing with Rapha in 2013, I was brought in to do some pattern-cutting and that’s when Rapha was a lot smaller. I was not exactly the typical Rapha employee – and it was a bit of a culture shock when I joined them full-time. It was a big deal that I didn’t cycle! I always used to joke, well, someone’s got to be watching and analysing.

I made the most of my time there, one of the mission goals was to ‘Find your own road’;  so I did. I built the atelier team, set up learning sessions with the designers and learnt how to ride a tricycle so I could join the riding culture. I got the trike for my 50th birthday. My riding goal was for colleagues to join me for a slow ride and a chat – bit like Carpool Karaoke but without the petrol, and the singing!

Returning to academia from Rapha, I didn’t take anything for granted and I am taking time to get to know how the school and college has evolved over this period. I am pleasantly surprised how learning and teaching has elevated post-covid at LCF, with more creative means to explore the subject specialisms.



So, it wasn’t such a huge step up then?

No, but I think what has been great is obviously going back into industry for five years. And really looking at the way that decisions get made at a faster pace. It’s completely different. I realise what an extraordinary impact Covid has had on everything and the teaching is just so much more elevated, having to be more agile, and working online for example, and delivering to students in various time zones. The teaching is different, but the students are as well.  And I think one thing about learning and teaching, which is why I was really inspired to come back, is that you’re continually striving to improve. To always advance things, operating in a way that continues to improve learning and teaching.


What’s it like being the boss?

I would not call myself THE BOSS! It’s a privilege to have the trust to lead the school. It’s a team effort. I have a strong supportive network with my colleagues in the executive group and my immediate team.


How does sustainability fit into your job?

We are very proud of our Centre for Sustainable Fashion. It was set up in 2008 by Professor Dilys Williams and has made a significant impact through research and knowledge exchange between industry and education. Sustainability is embedded in the curriculum from the first year, for all the courses in the college. Each school has a sustainability lead who is an academic member of staff and a climate advocate who is a nominated student to ensure students have the opportunity to shape their creativity as a responsible practitioner.

In fashion we’re talking about 3-D pieces that eventually have got to be worn by somebody, the person has to interact with the item of clothing and feel something. This means creating clothing that will eventually, hopefully be valuable and worth preserving.



When did you get into fashion?

Actually my love is for making clothes, the craft element, as opposed to fashion – I never wanted to be a designer. That’s why I went into pattern-cutting, I liked maths as a kid. My mum taught me to knit when I was five, so I was interested from a young age and nothing’s changed. Which is why this opportunity to be dean of this school has been such a privilege for me, because we are really looking at how we preserve craft skills, express ideas and problem-solve while underpinning this with knowledge and deep design thinking.

Making can be really meditative and it’s exercising your brain in a way that’s like problem-solving. Working with tools and initiating ideas. It’s interesting from a generational point of view, too. I did a little research project where I looked at inter-generational skill-sharing as a way as a way to connect. I’ve got a lovely video of my mum showing me how to darn socks, and she’s laughing. The project got students to think about slowing down and sharing things, in different ways. It showed the value of human contact, generosity and empathy. And of course this works the other way, too. Learning from students is really enriching.


As dean, do you get to spend much time with the students?

I obviously don’t get as much time to spend with students as I used to as Course Leader for Fashion Sportswear. But I’m a bit of a chatterbox, so I do walk around a lot and talk to the students!

Currently, I mainly connect with students through the Student Dean Forum where the student representatives have the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics directly with me. I have also been attending sessions across the school to get an overview of the courses in practice, to get a feel of what’s going on. That has been a great experience so far to see the lively engagement between the student groups and teaching and technical staff.


What advice do you give to your students?

The advice I give is don’t be afraid to have some humility, have respect for others and have some vulnerability to allow yourself try new things.

This is your time to explore your interests and passion and to learn about yourself. Seize the opportunity to work with the expertise around you, to make connections with as many different people as possible and learn about others on your journey while here at LCF. Let’s loosen up and be flexible. My ambition is that we work in a more collaborative way, that’s the reality of the industry.


Claudine’s Broadwater Farm Estate jacket


And what advice would you give to older women taking on a new role or going through a career change?

It is likely by this stage that you have faced big, life challenges and built a certain amount of resilience. I have found that I am more grounded and confident in what I care about and what I care less about. Hopefully you are confident in your abilities and have a bit more self-assurance – and you’re more inclined to do what’s good for you.

Check in with yourself and if you feel like you’ve got the drive and energy, I don’t think age should be the barrier. My advice is to stay connected to yourself, embrace the excitement and opportunities that come your way or that you create, and find your right level of seriousness and silliness. Be open to share your wisdom and have humility to learn from all around you. You can still go on creating and making and learning at any age.


What do you do in your spare time? 

I always have a creative project on the go. Recently, I’ve been embroidering leather and experimenting with leftover fabrics. I like knitting and riding my bike. I do love to go out dancing, but you don’t really want to be bumping into your students on a Saturday night! We went to this bar in Denmark Street and it was really cool. The music was good, we met a friend there and realised we were the oldest people in the place – but I don’t think that matters. I liked the atmosphere and I’ll definitely be going back.



Onto personal style. Would you say you have a style signifier?

Everything I wear has got a story. One of my favourite shirts, I bought in 1993 for 10 francs, in Paris. I keep everything, I repair everything and I rarely buy things. If I do it’s usually a pair of shoes. My style is usually quite colourful, I find it mood-enhancing.

Clothes make me think of people and they contain stories. The jacket I’m wearing was one of those slow creative projects. Based on Broadwater Farm Estate where I was brought up, and totally reimagined in a more colourful way. My mum has two polaroids of me and my sister, in Wales, and we’re holding balloons. So, I’ve appliquéd a couple of balloons onto the sleeve.

My jumper is from a photo of another Welsh scene; you can see the sea, the cliffs and I’ve included two choughs (Welsh birds). I had some leftover yarn, and that’s why it’s striped. The trousers are my favourite shape, I’ve also made a pair in a pearl pink corduroy, but they drape differently. With the leftover corduroy fabric I’m making a cropped jacket with an embroidered leather flower. It’s a celebration of the blossom in London.

I have a skirt that I made when I travelled around South America, in 2000. I bought the yarn in Santiago and I crocheted it for weeks, first in Lima and then back in London. My journey is in there. Things like this are precious and that’s why I find it really difficult to throw clothes away because they capture the experience I’ve had.





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Images: Neil Mackenzie Matthews

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  During London Fashion Week, Claudine Rousseau popped up on my TV screen. I was channel-hopping and clicked over to the BBC News.