The Ambitions of Institut Français de la Mode

March 1, 2021

For the first time, the students of Institut Français de la Mode opened Paris Fashion Week® with their graduate show. It is also the first time that Paris Fashion Week Official Calendar has hosted a show of an institution that is not a brand. For their graduation, each of the 48 students of the Master of Arts in Fashion Design presented their personal collections, showcasing their creative vision.

The Master of Arts at IFM covers the current scope of creation in fashion: ready-to-wear, accessories and image design. It includes six specializations which are all be presented in the film produced with audiovisual communication agency Titre Provisoire: Womenswear, Menswear, Knitwear, Footwear, Leather Goods and Image. The fashion show was entirely filmed within the premises of Institut Français de la Mode and celebrates the inauguration of its new campus: a 9,000 m² space that will eventually accommodate 1,200 students. Designed around design studios, technical workshops and a fully equipped fablab to prototype all their work, this new campus is a place of creative experimentation and cultural exchange for students hailing from more than 50 different countries.

This graduate show is a very important step forward for IFM and it is an opportunity to look at the evolution of the school initiated two years ago. Xavier Romatet, its dean since September 2019, tells us about IFM’s ambition in the French and international fashion ecosystem.

Why did Institut Français de la Mode decide to present a fashion show within the official calendar of Paris Fashion Week and what does this new position in the fashion ecosystem mean?

This first official graduate show confirms Institut Français de la Mode’s ambition to become a world leader in fashion education, bringing together management, craftsmanship and design. It also demonstrates the school’s ability to hone the creative talent of its students. Presenting in Paris is a way of placing creation at the heart of the IFM project. It builds our image and reputation. And this reputation is based on three notions: excellence, difference and preference. 

Excellence is an absolute requirement. This show is a starting point that showcases and illustrates the creative level of IFM and allows us to be seen, recognized and appreciated by all those who have an interest in fashion. Difference is based on social and cultural diversity. These 48 students hail from 25 different nationalities, as many countries, trajectories, personal stories and therefore different inspirations. This diversity can be felt in the extraordinary profusion of style and execution of each of these designers. Technical and technological mastery (prototyping, computer-aided design, 3D…) are the starting points for creative freedom and stylistic expression. The stronger the technical expertise is, the more they can explore and express themselves creatively. Almost all the collections of the students were produced on campus, taking advantage of the design studios, technical workshops and a fully equipped fablab that allowed them to prototype bags, shoes, clothes, knitwear…

Finally, preference means doing things in our own way, which can be seen both in our students’ work and in their demeanor. It is the singularity of IFM that makes our students immediately recognizable. What the Anglo-Saxons call this “je-ne-sais-quoi”. These are the values and challenges that the school is developing today.

This class of 48 students, from about twenty different nationalities, is the first to graduate from this new Master. What are the specific features of the program?

IFM now has a well-established creative program, which ranges from Bachelor to Master. A comprehensive five-year program that allows the school to become a reference in fashion design.

Learning is based on three components: technical and technological mastery, developed during the bachelor program, acquiring a solid cultural background, which allows for creative emancipation, and finally design. Fashion both inspires and reveals evolutions of today’s society. It is therefore necessary to sharpen curiosity, open minds, develop critical thinking, by teaching the history of fashion, culture, art… our students must understand, for example, what cultural identity means in order to be able to understand current issues. A city like Paris is a great catalyst, and IFM benefits from partnerships with many institutions such as the Centre national de la danse, the Cinémathèque Française, the Centre Pompidou, the Bataclan and many others. We know that the creative process starts with an emotion, and leads to a founding idea. It can be a silhouette, a painting, a photo or a piece of music, a character. As for design, we collaborate with working professionals who teach on our programs and develop collaborations between fashion houses and our students to work on real-life cases, collections, products.

IFM has chosen to develop 6 majors limited to 10 students each. These include knitwear and footwear or accessories, which is very rare compared to other schools while these specializations are imperative for studios today. We have an exceptional industrial machinery equipment, and this is reflected in the collections made this year. Specialization seems essential to us, we do not train shoe designers as we would train a ready-to-wear or accessory designer. Fashion is becoming universal, but craftsmanship is becoming more specific.

What are your observations on the collections presented? 

This first graduating class spent five months in lockdown. That’s a long time. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to these students who have endured very difficult times. One might have thought that this period of turmoil would lead to darker creativity, but it has not been the case at all for our students. On the contrary, there is a lot of color in these collections and an overall positive state of mind. Without making general statements about these 48 talents, we can say that there was no recessive or negative effect but rather an exploration of new constraints that are integrated in a constructive reflection.

Today is March 2021. In January 2019, IFM merged with Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and started major construction works in order to be able to welcome over 1,200 students. In January of this year, the school inaugurated part of its new campus. How important is this physical campus to the project? 

Obviously, having a physical campus is important because fashion design is a physical act. It is important to have a proper workplace. A place for fashion and that “smells like fashion”. The design studios are at the center of the building, in glass rooms that are transparent, where we can see what is going on. This campus is therefore a place that expresses the carnal side of fashion, which is not a virtual object but something that can be experienced in real life, from the idea to the elaboration and manufacture of the product. 

It is also a meeting place for students from different programs, a melting pot of design, craftsmanship and management. Mixing students from different backgrounds is the specificity of IFM. The mission of the school is to design a fashion product, but also to produce it, distribute it, promote it. The coexistence of these various fields makes this campus a breeding ground for interaction and understanding the language of one another. It prepares professionals for future careers, for real life in a company.

Finally, this campus should be a place for collaboration. In a few months, when our 9,000 sqm campus will accommodate 1,000 students, we are expecting to be overwhelmed by the wave we have created. And it is necessary because this wave of diversity and cultural exchange, expressed in many ways, will turn IFM, located in the heart of Paris on the banks of the Seine, surrounded by cafes and nightclubs, into a meeting place for fashion in its broadest sense. We wish to open our campus to students, but also to outside collaborations, partnerships with industry, or young designers through our Entrepreneurs and IFM Labels programs. This campus will allow us to open up, to create a place in Paris where something is constantly going on. A place where all cultures meet. This is the ambition of this campus which is much more than a school in the traditional sense of the term.

Why is it important to have a school such as Institut Français de la Mode in France, and what role can, or should, the industry play to support it? 

IFM is very fortunate to be supported by the industry. We are one of the few places where the world players of luxury and fashion, such as LVMH, Chanel, Kering, Hermès, Richemont and other brands have agreed to carry this project, finance it and get personally involved. They come to the school for masterclasses, put teams at the disposal of students, bring designers to coach them, take part in juries, propose strategic cases, and open the doors of their factories, workshops and different departments, and finally they offer our students internships, apprenticeships, and first jobs. 

Alongside this wonderful support, I note that a number of media or actors of the industry in France are still waiting for things to settle down before supporting them, unlike anglo-saxon schools, which are very integrated in the fashion ecosystem. There is always a somewhat critical attitude towards something new in France, people tend to prefer to have their vision confirmed, perhaps looking at others before looking at oneself. It also probably comes from the image that education has in France, which may seem outdated or a little old-fashioned. Whereas in Anglo-Saxon countries, when a designer spends a year in a fashion school or teaches, it’s rewarding. However, it is not every day that France decides to collectively create a project of global ambition in fashion. I would therefore like this project to be the project not of a few, but of the whole industry. The battle of fashion is global. France still has a chance in this field because Paris is still the capital of fashion.  And for France and Paris to continue to shine on a global scale, a major fashion school is a formidable source of attractiveness and power. We therefore need the support of everyone, especially the French media, who would be well advised to show solidarity, because this global ambition will reflect on Paris and everything that happens here.  

What are the next steps, the next questions raised by this fashion design program?

If we want to be a recognized school in fashion design, we must be able to integrate all new forms of creative inspiration and expression. Stylistic expression and technical mastery, which are part of French tradition and are taught at IFM, are what makes us distinctive. Beyond this unique expertise, we must develop our capacity for anticipation in order to become a laboratory for the future. Alongside this tradition linked to the big luxury and fashion institutions, we may have to learn to become more radical sometimes. We must also observe and anticipate all sources of culture and subculture, whether they come from social media, the music industry or the ever-growing gaming industry. Profiles appointed at the head of certain houses are above all orchestrators and communicators even more than designers. Today, we must perhaps be able to train designers who are also staging directors. There is no clear answer to be given at this stage, but we must anticipate these changes so as not to remain stuck in a system and remain universal.

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