FLORENCE, Italy — Located in the Renaissance city of Florence, home to the famed Pitti Uomo trade fair, Polimoda has nurtured its international student body since 1986. However, while Florence boasts a landscape steeped in textiles and fashion tradition, Polimoda is looking to the future of fashion employment, seeking to answer the industry’s call for fashion graduates with hybridised abilities and skill sets.
Next year in April, Polimoda will launch two-year, dual Masters programmes, formed by coupling current courses in the areas of Fashion Design, Fashion Business, Art Direction and Design Management together, creating a cross-curricular approach to fashion education. The combination of programmes falls under three categories: hybridisation, specialisation and amplification.
The specialist Double Master focuses on Fashion Design, followed by a concentration in either bag or shoe design to build technical skills in specific design disciplines that are growing in demand. The amplified Double Master combines Product Management with Fashion Merchandising and Buying to allow students to move and grow within different departments; and the hybrid Double Master begins with a Masters in Fashion Design and continues with one in Fashion Marketing and Communications, providing designers with the skills to promote themselves and their creations.
Polimoda also continues to collaborate closely with brands and institutions such as LVMH, Gucci, Vogue Italia and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, while the school’s career office is in contact with over 2,000 companies.
BoF sits down with Danilo Venturi, director of Polimoda, to discuss the importance of cross-curricular education and the intended outcomes of the school’s newest postgraduate courses.
What should define fashion education today?
In addition to leaving with at least one technical specialisation and a deep understanding of the industry, studying fashion means learning to understand human beings and society. Fashion education should be defined by the ability to organically combine these three aspects in the constantly changing spirit of the times.
Job profiles are also increasingly more defined and simultaneously more and more mixed. In a world marked by the downfall of ideologies, the internet and globalisation, opposites have become complementary. Today everything is at reach and can be purchased, so knowledge is the only thing left worth investing in. On the one hand, we study continuously, even as adults, and on the other hand, for much of the youth today, the graduate has become the new undergraduate. That’s why we invented the Double Masters — a way to specialise, hybridise or amplify in two years our Masters programmes that would otherwise be developed in two separate, one year qualifications.
What is the methodology behind the Double Masters’ combinations?
Each of the three available paths has a different impact. The Specialisation Double Masters gives students the opportunity to enter the fashion field with a Masters in Fashion Design and then specialise with one in bag or shoe design. This means that our students will have specific technical skills to enter niche areas that are in great demand in the industry. You might not become a fashion designer in one year, but in two years, you can be a fashion designer with a specialisation.
The Amplification Double Masters combines a Masters in Product Management with one in Fashion Merchandising and Buying. Look at the industry here in Florence, where LVMH and Kering, for example, produce high-end products around school. A career can start by working as a product manager here locally. But if you want your career to be global, you can switch from production to a more commercial trade, like merchandising. That’s why we called it “amplify” because you can start locally with a product, before following the line of the product up, going global in the same company or group and developing into a more managerial role.
The Hybridisation Double Masters begins with a Masters in Fashion Design and continues with one in Fashion Marketing and Communications. Whether they start their own brand or commercialise their own product, our future designers will know how to promote both themselves and their creations.
How did you research creating these course combinations?
Our market research is our students. At the moment, we have 2,300 students and they come from 70 different countries. On average, they are between 18 and 28 and all interested in fashion. So we listened to them. We believe they are a strong sample set for understanding the youth today. We never create courses based on market research, keywords or trends. If you base your choices on trends, first, by its very nature, this is something that others are going to follow and second, by the time you use a trend, it’s already over.
How did you write the curriculum to reflect industry needs?
The Polimoda teachers, the heads of education and I, all come from the industry — and many of us continue to work in the industry despite our teaching commitments. Polimoda also organises courses directly in collaboration with brands and institutions — such as LVMH, Gucci, Richemont, Ferragamo and Valentino — which also means we have really valuable additional primary sources through which we can further understand the needs of the industry and translate it all into effective programmes of study.
We also feel it is important that the school gives all students the opportunity to participate in workshops and applied projects within companies. Many field trips are organised during the course of study, not only at major brands and to Pitti Uomo, but also at production sites that would otherwise be inaccessible. Students work on real projects, so they are already prepared for work when they have graduated and been employed.
How does Polimoda create access to the industry for its students?
Daily social networking and attending our annual gathering apart, our former students are among the biggest employers of our new graduates. Students receive daily contact from our careers office, which is in touch with more than 2,000 companies. This leads our students to numerous opportunities for internships, which are mandatory for undergraduate students and available on-demand for graduates.
We have a number of projects and events that happen throughout the year. We have our big annual event called Business Links — a week in which Human Resources of top companies come to the school and meet our students face to face. It’s an opportunity that many people will never receive in their lifetime, and is also extended to our alumni, to underline the long-term value of what we do. Our Fashion Displacement panel discussions organised around the world also connect different fashion communities with our alumni.
Guest speakers come speak in our main auditorium from two to four times a month too. This series, called Polimoda Rendez-Vous, provides often unexpected inspiration. Our graduate show also has a high-level honorary jury as well as our exams, which almost always feature an external judging member. Our most recent project, Polimoda Duets, is a series of videos — halfway between an interview and documentary — which looks at contemporary society through the eyes of great icons, such as Marina Abramović. Over the years, the likes of Waris Ahluwalia, Marco Bizzarri, Suzy Menkes, Renzo Rosso, Diet Prada, and Guram Gvasalia, have all passed through our events.
Our students graduate with a huge tool box and the right mind set to tackle the fashion industry. We believe that studying at Polimoda is a bit like already being part of the industry.