The teaching and learning of skills in the area of textiles and fashion are vital cogs in the drive to produce new talent to replenish the existing base of workers, and to increase the chances of bringing back to Europe some of the business that it lost to other parts of the globe. For smaller businesses in the industry there is a need to link creative and design talent to an ability to run a business profitably and with success. This is perhaps of particular importance where the need to produce short runs of high quality garments is a requirement because a special mix of knowledge, skills and resources is needed to overcome the many barriers when starting out. One organisation in France is working to tackle these issues head-on.

IFM (Institut Français de la Mode) is a French higher education institution offering a broad range of activities: postgraduate academic programmes, executive education, and expertise in areas such as the textile, fashion, luxury and design industries. It was founded in 1986 by representatives of the fashion industry with support from the French Ministry of Industry and aims to break down barriers between management and design in an industry that blends products, brands, culture and design. IFM is also a TCBL partner.

Danièle Clutier-Léauté

Graduating with an MBA from INSEAD, Danièle Clutier-Léauté was in charge of market intelligence at Rothmans International, then marketing director of a division of Chargeurs Textiles. She then went on to set up and run IFM’s Market Research and Consulting Department. Her range of expertise covers consumer behaviour, strategic marketing and competitiveness policies. She is currently a lecturer in charge of fashion marketing at IFM. She is also General Secretary of the R3ilab (Réseau d’Innovation Immatérielle pour l’Industrie). She regularly carries out strategic studies for businesses and for the European Commission.

Each year we’re seeing more students coming to us with less basic knowledge of fabrics. We have to overcome this as a starting point.

A graduate of the Studio Berçot and holder of a BTS in Fashion and Textile Design, Valérie Praquin has focused her professional career in the area of ready to wear and luxury. First Assistant and Manager of Production and then Coordinator of collection for Véronique Leroy, then Director of Studio for Jean-Paul Knott, she joined the IFM in 2004 where she is in charge of the coordination of the production of the prototypes of the designers of the Fashion Design post-graduate programme as well as the organisation of exhibitions.

Left to right: Agnès Leroux, Isabelle Hédou-Beaufort, Valérie Praquin and Director, Hans de Foer, all part of the Fashion & Accessory Design Postgraduate Programme team.

IFM runs a fashion design programme at a post-graduate level. It’s a year of vocational training, usually followed by an internship (up to six months) in a fashion business. The programme attracts international entrants and is supported by a range of luxury and couture names as well as smaller brands.

Each year, it opens its doors to 30 international designers offering them three majors: Garment, Accessory, Image. During the 16-month course, their unlimited creativity comes into contact with the best technical savoir-faire. For one year, the students make prototypes or imagine projects with IFM’s partner companies (mostly reputable French Fashion houses and manufacturers). This collaboration with 40 companies leads to prototypes of clothing, bags, glasses and shoes being made each year with an exceptional abundance of creative ideas.

For example in the Garment section each student designs 60 patterns and 10 strong silhouettes. A professional jury then selects 2 of these silhouettes to be developed and manufactured. Designer-students will then work with different techniques, through a 3D modelling workshop and the elaboration of technical specification files, both with professional assistance.

Once they graduate from IFM, most of them pursue their careers in France, mainly in the fashion houses and luxury companies, in ready-to-wear or accessories. Some IFM design graduates also set up their own brand, others work as freelance designers. In most cases their designs will be produced through short and reactive production runs.

Although the design emphasis is on creation of a prototype rather than a product for manufacture and sale, the acquisition of business skills isn’t forgotten as part of the programme of learning. Both Daniele and Valerie were quick to point out that within established brands or within their businesses, they all have to understand how to create and manage one successfully. It’s been a successful recipe to date: Tuomas Merikoski (own brand Aalto), Christine Phung (Artistic Director with Leonard after creating her own brand), Jung Ho Geortay (shirt brand Saint Paul), Joao Pedro Filipe (own shoe brand Senhor Prudencio) and Martinez Lierah (their own ladieswear brand) are just a few of IFM’s distinguished alumni.

Tuomas Merikoski (Source: Tuomas, Aalto)

Learning business skills involves understanding and dealing with many different factors including:
• Understanding how to turn a concept into a finished item
• Working with other players and manufacturers to get it right first time
• Working with customers to understand their needs
• Costing products accurately – and know that the selling price is achievable
• Ensuring quality
• Market research
• Creating a practical business plan

“Passion is not enough. You have to build your creative and business skills and knowledge in order to have a chance of success,” said Daniele. “Designing a piece to sell for x € if the cost is twice that is not good or sustainable practice,” she added.

Understanding how fabrics and materials can work together is vital. Valerie is seeing successive intakes of students with a lesser understanding of the key principles of fashion and textile design: how fabrics are made and finished or techniques of analysis, for example. Part of the reason for this is that students increasingly work via computer and the internet without using the materials that will make their creations real. Touch and feel are vital elements for design. It means that trainers have to work with students from day one to give them this knowledge and how to apply it in practical ways without limiting imagination or creative thinking processes. It involves sending them shopping and asking them to really examine the products, how they are made – inside and out – before returning to IFM and analysing their findings for their own designs.

Passion is not enough.

That demand for practical thinking and analysis carries through to the design and modelling stages. Students are expected to use the 3D modelling workshop as an opportunity to explain why they use a particular fabric, a particular cut or a particular style. Touch and feel are important aspects of the design process because people will use or wear products in real life.
The networking opportunities are an important element of the IFM experience too. Whether a student works for a couture house or intends to create his or her own business and brand, it’s not done in isolation – it’s unlikely also that one person will be able to design and manufacture a piece all the way through to sale. Networking ability and practice are key assets to lead a successful design career.

Valerie points out that young designers can have problems in finding and dealing with manufacturers when they wish to turn a concept into reality. Few manufacturers volunteer to work with someone with no track record; the onus is on designers to be a convincing, reassuring proposition to a manufacturer – including for financing. There is more interest and less hassle once a brand achieves some success in attracting an audience for their products, or where there is some spare capacity. In certain circumstances a manufacturer or buyer might take responsibility for financing and selling a piece with the designer being paid at the end of the process. In such instances, the agreement signed between the parties is all important.

A different business model

IFM has recently partnered with the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (ECSCP). This will allow for the creation of a major education pole for the fashion industry. Based on values of excellence and professionalization, the consolidated ensemble will offer a full range of courses, from vocational training to higher education, in both fashion design and fashion management, directly connected to the fashion and textile industries, in all of their dimensions. As Sydney Toledano, President of Christian Dior Couture, President of ECSCP’s Steering Committee, and IFM Administrator puts it, “This alliance will constitute a one-of-a-kind ensemble cross-fertilising expertise of the highest level in the areas of design and management, savoir-faire and Fashion Tech.”

This move will certainly contribute to put in ever closer connection the technical and design skills needed by all fashion designers. More broadly this could also constitute a strategic move to be considered by others on the European scene.