I was born in Paris in 1964, and ever since I was a child I have been interested in art, music, fashion and graphic design. That's how I ended up where I am now, as the art director and managing director of the French Fashion University ESMOD in Dubai's Academic City. As a child I was never taught how to handle money; I learned through experience. My grandfather was a role model to me and to this day I adhere to his sensible motto: "don't spend it if you don't have it". However basic it may seem, this works for me.
In my early teens I would earn pocket money working odd jobs for my grandfather, and my very first purchase was a skateboard. Although I cannot recall the price, I know that my allowance allowed me to buy it only bit by bit. By the age of 15 I was loading boxes into containers at my uncle's freight company at Charles de Gaulle Airport, earning the equivalent of 200 a month. In 1980, when I was 16, I enrolled in a three-year course at Corvisar, a graphic design school in Paris. After graduating, I applied to the Parsons School of Design in Paris, but it was expensive and my family, who come from a modest background of artisans with strong working values, could not afford such an expense. I became the first student to be given a full scholarship of US$180,000 (Dh2.24 million in 2008 dollars) by the Lazard Bank in recognition of my academic achievement.
My professional success began at the Parsons School of Design. At the age of 19, running between school and the design studios of some of my teachers, I became involved in major fashion and design projects for magazines and trend studios, working with well respected clients in the fashion industry. Within a year my passion for music led me to the record industry, where I designed and directed art for more than 100 record covers for bands such as Supertramp, The Cure and Talking Heads, to name a few. I literally jumped from earning nothing to high revenues, and for three consecutive years, from the age of 19, I took home approximately 8000 per month.
My freelance work eventually took me to America, and I was able to transfer to the Parsons campus in New York. Soon after graduation, in 1985, I was spotted by the Rita Sue Siegel Agency in New York, a noted headhunter in the field of art direction and design. Ms Siegel got me the position of art director at Esprit, a fashion brand headquartered in San Francisco, California. My salary in 1988 was US$100,000 per year (Dh660,000 in 2008 dollars). After three years at Esprit, I moved back to France to start my own business in art direction and design consultancy for luxury brands in fashion, perfumes and cosmetics.
In 1997, I partnered up with Tamara Hostal, my current partner at the French Fashion University. Having visited the UAE, I liked the region and, in 2004, we decided to establish ourselves here and work on a dream project - which was to open the only university in the Middle East fully dedicated to fashion. Throughout my career in design, I always knew that I wanted to change my focus, eventually, towards education.
Although I personally invested all of my savings to set up in Dubai, I was never driven or motivated by money, but rather by the challenge of setting up in a new place. The good thing about having money is that it allows you to focus on a project and move forward, rather than stand still. In October 2006 we teamed with ESMOD International, the oldest fashion school in the world, to open the French Fashion University ESMOD in Dubai's Academic City. It was a natural fit because we had collaborated with the institution for many years. Tuition fees at the university vary from Dh2,500 up to Dh59,000 depending on the course.
Having had a successful career from early on in life, I no longer run after personal career success, but instead I am driven by the future interests of our students at the university. The key to early financial success is hard work and total dedication - which can be a difficult achievement for students, who generally like to socialise and enjoy their free time. It's a choice you have to make: either have fun and relax, or try to be productive.
Life in the UAE is expensive, and since 2004 the cost of living has increased enormously. Managing my bills efficiently is a challenge, and I find that the high rents are the hardest to cope with. The onset of the credit crunch has not made a huge difference to my personal finances, as my rent has been paid in advance for a year. However, I am looking forward to a decrease in rent for next year, which will be a big relief. Luckily, I have never been a big spender, and my spending habits allow me to keep my other expenses in check. I spend 70 per cent of my salary on rent; the rest goes to bills and living expenses. I do not save.
Fortunately I have never been in debt and I have always managed to avoid any major financial miscalculations or mistakes. Making crucial fiscal decisions without sound advice from professional experts or family members is not something I tend to do. I always try to separate my emotions from financial decisions, and I am also very specific with how I handle my money. I bank online for business purposes only; for personal matters I use only cash.
While I have no current investments or financial responsibilities to manage, I do believe that as I get closer to 45 it will soon be time to start thinking about retirement and taking the appropriate steps towards increasing my savings. I must start taking care of myself physically, as working hard can take a toll on your health and fitness in the long term. Life insurance will be the first thing I look into in the near future.
My passion and extravagance is my art collection. Last year I bought two photographs by Shadi Ghadirian, a well known Iranian photographer, which set me back Dh20,000. Although I don't buy art to sell, it can be considered an investment for the future, as the return on investment can often be better than real estate. Money is not the key to happiness, but it can make life easier. Without money, my life would surely have been different, but I would probably have had fewer responsibilities and headaches, too. The thought of having no money doesn't scare me, as I would simply have to adapt to the situation. It would actually be an opportunity for me to go back to painting, something I do not have much time for these days.
I believe that when you involve yourself truly and fully in what you do success always comes along at some point or another. * As told to Inga Stevens