Last month Dilys and I spent a remarkable 2 days in Milan at Domus Academy for Fashion Colloquia, a roving global event aiming to foster in-depth conversation between international fashion educators, practitioners and media. Co-hosted by London College of Fashion, along a number of other leading fashion universities the events have often taken place alongside official fashion weeks in order to give academics and leaders in the field a space to discuss challenges and new themes emerging at a different pace to the whirr of the global fashion calendar.
So in the warmth of an early autumn Italian sun, dozens of presentations covered issues and new ideas for fashion education, including themes of digital technology, the changing industry landscape as well as the nature of creativity and sustainability.
We found out many things, for instance from Brendan C. McCarthy, what happens when fashion students are expected to put their garment in the real world and why Ghandi as a fashion symbol is a hard sell for 18 year olds in New York. From Suzanne Mancini we heard that finishing BA students at the Rhode Island School of Design will have spent £250,000 on their education and yet they shouldn’t expect a fashion show at the end of it. Paul Yuille cautioned universities not to treat technology as a silver bullet and rather to define innovation in terms of relationships. Mathew Gill told us how niche print media is actually flourishing. Fellow LCF academic, Natascha Ratcliffe-Thomas asked us to create our own perfect formula for creativity. Maarit Salolainen discussed pedagogy she’s developed to stimulate rapid fashion and textile experimentation and upskilling in the classroom. And from Eleanor Snare we heard why it’s crucial that the sustainable fashion discussion uses a system approach to fully take into account the shaping conditions of people.
Ethics vs. Margins
Impassioned debate flared up a number of times (always nice to see happen at an academic conference) and it is interesting that the main points of contention were to do with ethics -and often whether fashion has any place being a force for social change. One educator noted how important it is for for students to be critical changemakers but said that this seems to gets harder over the years. He finds that current students are less capable from the onset than ever to filter and discern the non-stop information around them, that they need skills of curation to find their own way through. A teacher from AMFI agrees and says, we must focus less on giving them knowledge and instil more self- confidence.
At CSF we would completely agree, that the skills of joining things up and learning how to see patterns and interconnections as well as an ability to translate values and ethics into actions are some of the most important requirements for graduates looking into the future.
To this conversation, Dilys and I added our presentation New Glasses for New Classes, a discussion from our research over the last year into the new skills and capabilities required in fashion education to design a better future world. Research conducted during the first year of the co-created curriculum with Kering has developed our understanding of what teaching for radical change might entail. We discussed how important industry-education partnerships are to bridge knowledge in action with knowledge in incubation but it is not enough to simply put these perspectives in a room together and expect change to happen. Business and now students have often built up a perspective, seemingly geared towards success that precludes imagining possibilities outside the current status quo. Universities crucially hold the space between past present and future and as educators we must offer students a place to experiment, to take risks, to ask truly radical questions of business, the academy, fashion, and humanity.
Particularly in art and design universities, we are in the business of realising what radical change might look like.
Next year: Fashion Colloquia will be visiting Sao Paulo, Vietnam and more….
Read more about the LCF contribution to Fashion Colloquia Milano.