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Online fashion education: "This is the time to break classic standards"

By FashionUnited

20 Apr 2020


All colleges and art academies in the Netherlands and Belgium are necessarily closed due to the corora virus. Fashion students receive only digital education. But how exactly does this work in this field, where everything revolves around the tactile experience and communication through materials? Students and teachers face major challenges, although the situation also offers new opportunities.

Resiliently dealing with the situation

At the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp (KASKA), where ninety percent of the fashion students come from abroad, the severity of the virus outbreak hit in January. "We have many Chinese students, from whom we heard stories about the situation in their home country," says Maureen de Clercq, fashion teacher at KASKA. “Some faced discrimination on the street in Antwerp. After the lockdown, we continue the lessons through Skype meetings on a regular basis.” The Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) also took immediate action when the cabinet called on all universities of applied sciences to halt the educational activities on location. Peter Leferink, Head of Fashion & Design at AMFI, explains: “As soon as the news became known, the lecturers are eager to translate the educational offer into an online application. With the help of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, of which AMFI is a part, we got a lot off the ground in a very short time. As if the plan had always been ready. This testifies to the great resilience that people have.”

AMFI students make face masks for various institutions. This design is by Katia Ravina

Fashion lessons via Skype or Zoom

All lessons now take place digitally. Programs such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are a godsend. Although it takes some getting used to, both for students and teachers. “Normally you stand in front of the class and people hang on your lips while you tell your story. Now there is much less interaction, via the screen,” says Gerrit Uittenbogaard, coordinator and teacher of Textiles and Fashion at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. (KABK). But now, after some start-up problems, it is already getting used to a bit. “Teachers are becoming more and more familiar with the online programs. And it is a good exercise for students to express themselves two-dimensionally and to have their digital portfolio in order.” Many teachers choose to alternate individual sessions with online group lessons. De Clercq: “Regularity is important. That is why we keep the regular teaching times as much as possible. One-to-one, students show their progress. During a group session, for example, I ask everyone to show one item of clothing that they are proud of.”

AMFI / sweater project

Mental and financial support

Although the lessons take place remotely, the content of the conversations is often more personal than before. De Clercq: “You literally get a look at someone's house via the webcam. In addition, as a teacher you are naturally concerned about the well-being of the students. You continue to ask: does someone still have enough food and money? Some students feel lonely.” Due to the time difference, she works long days: one of her students is now in Vancouver, where it is six hours later, others in home country China, where it is six hours earlier. Some students cannot return home at all. Or they must first be quarantined for two weeks and try to continue their work as good and as bad as it goes. The KABK put together a crisis team to provide assistance to students where necessary. The academy also created a Corona Relief Fund, an emergency fund for students who are in financial difficulties due to Covid-19. Uittenbogaard: “If side jobs lapse, while the room rent simply has to be paid, it is very stressful. This emergency fund provides relief.”

“We made the switch to online education in a very short time. As if the plan had always been ready. This testifies to the great resilience of our teachers and students. ”

Peter Leferink, senior lecturer AMFI

Make face masks in the lost hours

The sentiment among students varies, according to the teachers. Leferink: “There is a group that goes for it, really believes in it and prefers to do something extra. For example, stitching mouth masks for different authorities. Fantastic of course! But there are also students who have their hands in their hair. On the one hand because they do not have access to tools, now that the sewing and knitting workshops of the training are closed. On the other hand, because they are 'locked up' in small student rooms, feel lifeless and have little inspiration. ” To give them a helping hand, he sends an email to all design students from the second year at the beginning of the week. Sometimes with a personal reflection on the current zeitgeist, sometimes with a recipe for tasty soup. When students experience stress, they not only suffer from it themselves, it also does not benefit their work. And so we work hard on all sides to keep everyone healthy on board.

AMFI / graduation Management dimension

Rowing with the oars you have

That many students still manage to get a lot of work despite everything is admirable, according to the teachers. "The inventiveness and flexibility is great," says Uittenbogaard. "People are using other ways to present their work, for example using film or photography." But it remains difficult, especially with a physical collection. Colors on the screen do not always correspond to reality. How do you judge whether a sleeve insert is good? And how do you show the fabric expression? Students are also becoming increasingly passionate about this. For example, you can display a translucent fabric in front of a window or lamp. Uittenbogaard expects students to use digital resources on the one hand, and to return to traditional techniques on the other. For example, final exam student Inge Vaandering dyes her fabrics herself, now the paint shop at the KABK is closed. Passing on friends is strictly forbidden, so students are forced to look for alternatives.“ They use themselves as a model, or a stick and a chair. We leave students completely free in that. Everything is possible and allowed, as long as there is a way of experiencing the body.”

Solidarity leads to great initiatives

The sense of collectivity is great. Everyone helps each other as much as possible. De Clercq:“ Students come up with creative solutions with materials they have available. Students also share photos of leftovers they have at home via a private Facebook group. They exchange these materials by post.” The Hague students have created a special Instagram account to keep in touch with each other. They then share everything from serious messages to sarcastic or socially critical memes. Uittenbogaard: “Normally, the academy is their habitat. They also miss that social interaction.” Students face substantive questions such as: what is the value of fashion? Their world view changes. You have to create space for that, says Leferink. “Not only in dialogue, but also by enabling an adapted process. We want to enable students to respond flexibly to the situation and to set our assessment criteria in such a way that it is permitted to come up with different insights.”

KASK students show the progress of their collections via Skype

Not the umpteenth graduation show in a row

The aim is that students do not suffer any study delay. Final assessments continue as usual, in digital form. Graduation shows have been moved until after the summer or will be given a different interpretation. “For some students, who have been looking forward to this important moment for four years, that is a huge disillusion,” De Clercq brand. At the same time, this is the time to break through all the classic norms and opt for an atypical shape. Initially, our students did not want to hear about it. But a week after the announcement, once the idea came down, my mailbox was already full of new ideas.” De Clercq sees a comparison with the music industry. Artists had to reinvent themselves with the arrival of streaming services like Spotify. That also worked. "The coronavirus is not an excuse for not doing something, a motivation to do business in a different way.” Leferink adds: “At AMFI we had already realized that we didn't want an ordinary catwalk show this year, but really something else. This moment requires an in-depth dialogue about what is changing and how you can show it in the right presentation form.”

Online inspiration and deepening

The French fashion school Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) offers a free online fashion course, 'Understanding Fashion: From Business to Culture'. Industry big names, including designer Simon Porte Jacquemus and the CEOs of fashion houses like Chanel and Saint Laurent, are involved. There are no requirements to participate. The course can be taken by anyone interested in the fashion industry.

Fashion house Alexander McQueen launched a platform for free lectures on fashion, art and design. This 'Sarabande Sessions' series - an initiative of the McQueens Sarabande Foundation, a charity supporting designers and artists, founded in 2007 - included fashion photographer Tim Walker and British designer Molly Goddard.

KASK students show the progress of their collections via Skype

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL, translated and edited.

Main image: KABK graduate student Inge Vaandering now dyes her fabrics herself, but is mainly looking for space, now that the colorlab (paint workshop) at the academy is closed