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The show can't go on: Graduating in fashion during the coronacrisis

By Nora Veerman

1 Jun 2020

June is usually the moment of truth for fashion students in the last year of their studies. It is the month of the longest days, the shortest nights and the last stitches, culminating in the graduation shows. However, this year is different for many students. When corona measures are announced in mid-March, it soon becomes clear that most graduation shows - like international fashion weeks - cannot take place. In many cases, however, the academy buildings are also locked. The students have to make do with attic rooms and hem connections.

Graduating in fashion during the corona crisis: how does it actually work? FashionUnited spoke to four fashion students in their graduation year: Katja Ravina and Leonore Boeke, Bachelor's students of Fashion Design at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (Amfi), and Inge Vaandering and Hanakin Henriksson, students of the Bachelor of Textiles & Fashion at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague.

Graduation in corona time: designing in an attic room

Both the KABK and Amfi were forced to close their doors in March, as were other colleges and universities. But the closure of educational locations has significantly different consequences for a fashion student than, for example, for a History student. Leonore Boeke: "The fact that we cannot go to the Amfi building means that we cannot use the sewing machines, special machines, knitting machines, the screen printing room, the mannequins ..." But space is also a problem. Boeke: “Almost no one has a table at home that is large enough to work on. I work on the floor now, but I have a small attic room. If there are six looks soon, it will be tight. ”

Left: work by Leonore Boeke. Photo: Leonore Boeke. Right: work by Hanakin Henriksson. Photo: Hanakin Henriksson

Inge Vaandering is lucky: she has a spacious studio at her disposal. This is also necessary, because for her graduation collection she experiments with large shapes and alternative materials such as latex rubber and paper. She does not really mind that she cannot use the KABK equipment. “I find it difficult to make choices, there are always so many things I want to try out. I then become almost overstimulated by all the possibilities. Now I am forced to work with my own materials and the machines I already have here: a sewing machine, overlocker and an iron. ”

Perhaps the most crisis-proof is Katja Ravina's approach. She is working on a completely handmade collection in which she revives old crafts and skills, such as bobbin lace and embroidery. "The crisis has not really affected my work process," she says. “I am more or less self-sufficient: I have a computer and a foot-driven sewing machine, I don't need much else. But I see that it is different for other students. Everyone has to get used to a situation where you have to do everything yourself. ”

Left: fragment of a lace helmet, made by Katja Ravina. Right: Ravina's workplace. Photos: Katja Ravina

Sparring about Skype: online feedback on your graduation collection

The fact that the buildings are closed also means that contact with teachers and classmates mainly takes place via video calling and e-mail. That is difficult, the students find, especially during feedback moments. "Physical contact with teachers is important," says Boeke. “Video calling or emailing is so different. If you send your material to a teacher and you get a response, it feels more like an answer to a question. In a physical conversation you can exchange ideas and come to conclusions together. That is a completely different dynamic. ” Classmates are also missed. Vaandering: “It would be nice to be able to spar well again. That is more difficult over Skype. ”

During those feedback moments, students cannot physically show their material to teachers or classmates. How do they solve this? Vaandering: “The tactile aspect of my work is very important. I see it as a challenge to investigate how I can properly convey this to images. I have tried to photograph my material in a way that shows its vibrancy, by draping it over a chair, so that you see how the fabric falls, and by experimenting with light. I also use text. In it you can bring out things that you cannot see on the screen. ”

Hanakin Henriksson also photographs her collection, made from special pieces of second-hand textile. “It is difficult, but it also has its advantages. I have full control over the image I create. I choose what I want to show. ”

Left: work by Inge Vaandering. Photo: Inge Vaandering. Right: Hanakin Henriksson in her own collection. Photo: Hanakin Henriksson

A final exam show in times of crisis

Those skills may still come in handy: many graduation shows will not take place this year, or will be given a different interpretation. The KABK students present their work in June via a digital platform. The academy's Graduation Festival has been postponed to September. The festival, with final presentations from all KABK graduates, will be opened by the fashion students on September 10. How exactly is not yet clear. Vaandering: “We don't have the show as a kind of central point to work towards now. That is a bit crazy, but also relaxed. Now we look more at what we find important in the presentation and we get more freedom in the interpretation. For example, I can focus more on my drawings. ” Vaandering hopes that there will still be a show. "That makes the experience much more tactile." Henriksson adds:

Amfi shifts the entire final assessment to August. The physical graduation show has been canceled; in September the students will present their work to the general public in a different form. It is still unclear what form that will be. Boeke is part of the organizing committee of the presentation this year. “We had already concluded before the corona crisis that we did not want a standard show. Now we are busy formulating an answer to the question: what can a graduation show in times of crisis look like? ”

How do students put their work under the spotlight in the meantime? "We have to do something to get enough attention," said Ravina. “At the moment, we are playing in the group with the idea of making a documentary about graduating during the corona crisis. For myself, I think it is important to do something with Instagram or TikTok, but I haven't started doing that yet, because I am always working on it. ” Vaandering has also turned to Instagram. “I didn't really use it before, but I find that it is still a good medium to convey my thoughts and work. In addition, I want to set up a personal website, which will enhance the atmosphere of my work even more. ”

Left: drawing by Inge Vaandering. Photo: Inge Vaandering. Right: design by Hanakin Henriksson. Photo: Hanakin Henriksson

Graduating in fashion during corona: now and soon

Meanwhile, both the KABK and Amfi are slowly making their workplaces available again for graduating students. The rules on Amfi are strict, says Boeke. “We work with time slots, there is disinfectant liquid everywhere and there is one-way traffic. It is a test for one and a half meter education at Amfi. But besides all those impressions, I especially like to see my classmates and some teachers again. ” Ravina is also happy that the building is open again. “It is good that in the end it is still possible to work with the special machines. I'm going to print my patterns on the big printer next week, which will be a bit easier than at home. ”

After the summer, their courses are over for the students. How do they envision the future with the knowledge of today? Henriksson was concerned in the first weeks of the crisis, she says. “But during this isolation, I spent a lot of time on things that make me feel good, like long walks, and conversations with friends and family. They have eased my concerns. Fashion is still what I love to do most. After graduating, I want to start my own company. ”

This also applies to Boeke. “I would like to work for a fashion brand, but I think it is unlikely that I will find a job. Recently I have been getting more motivation to start my own brand, with unique pieces that I design, make and sell myself. I think the future of fashion lies in garments made with time and attention. I hope people will see that. ” Classmate Ravina also sees job opportunities shrinking internationally, but hopes that there will be a shift in industry. "The crisis can help to make clear that clothing can be produced locally, by small designer collectives, for example."

Vaandering keeps its options open. “Because the atmosphere is so different and there is less pressure on graduation, I almost feel like I have already graduated - as if I am already in transition to something else. But I don't know yet what that will be. ”

Top image: Pexels