College: University of Pittsburgh, State University of New York at Buffalo, Istituto Marangoni - Milan, Italy
Major: Biology, Psychology, Physical Therapy, Fashion Design
Year Graduated: Design School - 2006
Attended SEA Conferences: 2003 & 2004
Presented at SEA Conferences: 2010 & 2014
Creative Work: Hand made greeting cards, ceramic sculptures, hand-knitted accessories, design women's wear
What were your "dreams" back in 2003 and 2004?
I didn't have any dreams back then, just was looking for directions. I was trying to get information, to know what my options would be if I involved into arts more seriously. Also, I wanted to check if my works were good enough professionally for me to turn my "hobbies" into something more serious.
What have you accomplished since attending the SEA Conference? After the SEA conference back in 2003, I continued selling my greeting cards to a local gallery and some private clients in Champaign-Urbana, while working as a full time Physical Therapist. I searched among the best fashion design schools in the world to fulfill my needs. In the end, I chose one and only applied there, the most prestigious fashion design school in Italy.
After I received my admission letter, I quit my job in Champaign-Urbana and moved to Chicago as a contracting therapist, in order to make more money and save for later use. I prepared my work, my apartment lease, furniture sale etc. all under the assumption that I would leave by mid September. Only realizing one month before school started that it's almost IMPOSSIBLE for me as a physical therapist to get a student visa for fashion studies in a private institute in Italy. I even tried to apply in another state, Michigan, and even flew to Montreal and it was still not approved. After many numerous phone calls and faxes, I was exhausted and cried many many times...during this time, I was still working full time as a therapist. Finally, only 3 days before my plane departure date, I went back to the same visa office which was my worst nightmare. The previous visa officer was gone on vacation. His replacement carefully read my recommendation letters to verify "Ping Wu is an Artist" (I was embarrassed to call myself an "artist", even now. But due to the situation, it was my only way to get the opportunity to study fashion in Italy.) So, ONE day before my plane departure date, I received my visa!!! I was so thrilled, and cried again!!!
By the time I arrived in Milan, I was so exhausted, and even a little confused: like after a night of nightmares, you would disbelieve when it's all over. I felt strange landing in a strange land only a few hours later. Milan, Italy a place where my pursue in design officially started.
I thought with my age, and cross-cultural experience, I was well prepared for this journey, only to find out that was not at all the case. This turned out to be full of the wildest stories, shocking experiences that any one of them can tear you apart, destroy you emotionally, and truly challenge your limits.
These horrible experiences including staying with an Italian family that hit her and kicked her out. At another place her roommate stole from her not only money but also her Italian Permit of Stay and other legal documents. A landlord refused to give her back her deposit. She finally was able to stay with some friends she had made so she didn't become completely "homeless."
My academic experience was also not smooth. I was the only one in this highly international class/school who didn't have any systematic fashion knowledge and official training. Immediately, I knew there's a long way to catch up. Even on the first day of school, I saw the difference between this school as compared to any previous schools I'd been in. The entire school was dressed in black, and black only. "Channel", "D&G", "Gucci" etc labels were everywhere. Most of the students, especially the international students were coming from very wealthy backgrounds, many of their families own established fashion businesses. My simple and functional style was sharply contrasted with these black classic crowd. My classmates' daily vocabularies consisted of various designers' names, brands, variety of drugs, and sex. My difference was obvious in every aspect.
This fashion school cultivated many world class designers in Italy. For such prestige, I understood and even respected strict rules to guarantee quality of education. However, certain things I have heard and experienced here were absolutely shocking. Our design teacher was a German designer who had this strong prejudice against Chinese for some reason. She told me straight out that I shall not use my name as a brand name. "Because it's the most boring name in the world! People will forget it in 1 minute! If your customers dislike Chinese, they would never buy your things!" "You're so selfish to use your name as a brand..." Her opinions were always felt like personal attacks, rather than professional criticism. She made fun of me in front of all the students in other classes...she only taught her favored students details privately, and not to others. There was so much obvious humiliation and unfair treatment. It almost paralyzed my ability to draw and think. Yet, there was no way to switch classes or get the administrator's attention.
Many young students in our class gave up their dream in fashion, and switched to other interest as a direct consequence of her teaching. What a terrible and painful scene to observe! At that time, I can't help telling myself: If I ever became a teacher, even if I couldn't give anything more to my students, I would give them a belief, encouragement, a hope and the ability to hold on to their dreams - the are soooo essential! They're still a little sprout, which may have potential to grow up into a big tree one day. How could anyone dare to kill their dreams and kill their enthusiasm so irresponsibly and with no mercy!?
Despite of the fact, I still received a good final grade in the end. I finally came to a conclusion by the end of my studies; this is not the best school for my design style. However, I appreciated my experience here. I got exactly what I wanted to learn and more.
Following graduation, despite the language barrier, I independently found an internship opportunity working directly with Luisa Beccaria, and designed her accessories for her upcoming collection. As a first intern in her company, I helped my school establish a relationship with the designer for future students' internship placement.
To further enrich my learning experience in Fashion, I also found another internship opportunity at BLESS, Paris. I directly worked with a very creative artistic designer Desiree Heiss. My days in Paris were a heaven on earth...Professionally fulfilling and life was full of harmony and friendship...I miss it every day.
But it had to end. In the mid of August, I had to come back to Chicago to renew my license in Physical Therapy and update my clinical knowledge. As I'm still working part time as a contracting therapist, it becomes clear to me: I want to get back to Fashion.
In October, my accessories designs and greeting cards were selected into Illinois Artisans Program, and sold at the Thompson center and southern Artisans shop.
What are your dreams now?
To further improve myself in the fashion world, hopefully in New York City next.
What do you hope to be doing in 5 years?
Hopefully, I would have my own little line.
What were the most beneficial aspects of the SEA Conference? Confirmation on the quality of my works and my potential to succeed in the artistic field.
How did attending the SEA Conference help you get to where you are today?
The crucial thing: the encouragement and confidence in this unknown artistic world
The contacts: I still keep in touch with Organizer Amy Rogers, the speaker Libby Platus and lawyer Dale Golden. They're not only genuinely kind to me, and sincerely interested in my development at a personal level, but they also helped me in giving suggestions in a professional way.
Do you have any advice to an artist starting out? Persevere!