Representing the creative future

IFM MA class of 2021: A closer look into the students’ process

The Institut Français De La Mode tutors and graduating MA students talk about showing on the Paris Fashion Week schedule and why the world still needs fashion

“The visibility for an online show is far greater than a physical one,” Adam Jones, IFM’s director of knitwear muses, a week after the school’s first-ever online show, marking the graduation of the MA 2021 and opening Paris Fashion Week. In a time when the concept of the fashion show is being constantly questioned and re-invented, why was it so important for IFM to even have a show at all?

Watch the IFM show and line-ups here

“It was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. No French school has ever been on the official calendar before. IFM is right in the center of the French fashion industry,” Jones continues, explaining the need to provide graduates with enough exposure and the extensive planning that goes into producing a digital showcase, as IFM’s network of industry contacts watched in anticipation.

Adam Jones, along with womenswear director Vanja Hedberg and MA director Oliver Legrand, had to motivate students to complete their degree in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, against a milieu of rules and curfews. “We provided as much online teaching as possible” the faculty explains, offering students psychological support and financial grants alongside scheduled classes. Most importantly, students were encouraged to spend their time working and experimenting at home whilst fine-tuning their process, so when they were allowed back in the building in September they could hit the ground running.

“I guess you could say the world doesn’t need fashion but fashion definitely needs the world.” – James Giltner

James Giltner's process
James Giltner's development

“Creation gives us a very personal outlet to express ourselves and forget about limits and constraints,” writes one of Jones’ knitwear students, James Giltner, a Denver native who used this time under quarantine to perfect his expertise in domestic knitting equipment. Inspired by the short-lived North-American franchise of Printemps de Paris, which became a glamorous ruin in the Rockies before being turned into a biological testing center. Giltner created a dichotomy of glamour and fantasy with biological hazards and brutal reality, a concept which he relates to his own experience of working through Covid-19. “I guess you could say the world doesn’t need fashion but fashion definitely needs the world,” he continues on the importance of continuing to create through such a bleak era.

“I think digital shows take off a layer of elitism in the fashion world by removing front rows and guestlists.” – James Giltner

“I think the most important thing to remember is that fashion is a pleasure and a distraction for so many people,” For James, seeing his final collection on a catwalk was always an important milestone. “I think digital shows take off a layer of elitism in the fashion world by removing front rows and guestlists. A shift towards global representation is essential for a global fashion conversation,” he says, as a designer on the precipice of entering the industry, “I have no immediate plans yet, but I hope that someone will catch on to my capabilities as a knitwear designer and that there will be a place for me in this ever-so inaccessible industry.”

James Giltner's fittings
James Giltner's final collection

“Fashion is life. People need fashion,” says Jisoo Baik a womenswear student whose personal mantra is ‘Keep Creating’. “Continuing to think, research, and make things is the way I stay sane, so having my final collection to focus on helped me forget my reality and all of the world’s suffering.” Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Jisoo turned to nostalgic comforts and invoked safe spaces as inspiration for her collection. After I moved to Paris I had my phone and wallet stolen, which led me to look at how people carry their possessions. Every look has a story inspired by someone I’ve seen on the street, dangling earphone details and draped jackets forming into skirts.”

Jisoo Baik's research
Jisoo Baik's development

“During lockdown, I started to experiment using leftover calico, and when I ran out of fabric I started using wire to develop shapes,” Eventually, returning from Seoul once the school opened, the show embodied a glimmer of life before Covid for Jisoo. “ Life changed in so many ways, but I was so reluctant to accept any changes to my MA experience. I spent so much time just going along with everything, it was important to have some normalcy by doing a show.” For Jisoo, a digital show marked a move in the right direction for her class and the industry at large. “I’m so worried about how fashion is going to change long term, but the collective shift towards digital presentations is a real and positive turning point for me, it makes fashion more accessible and allows us to explore new and creative ways of presenting our work.”

Jisoo Baik's design development
Jisoo Baik's tests
Jisoo Baik's fittings

For some students, inspiration struck in the form of many people’s favourite lockdown pass times, watching films. “During quarantine I re-watched two of my favourite movies, American Psycho and The Shining,” says fellow womenswear student Clément Picot. His collection, Dream Until The End transcribes the designer’s dreams and nightmares; 80’s-esque power shoulders and silhouettes echoing the maximalism of Manhattan skylines are paired with sinister prints inspired by choreographer Busby Berkley. “Even though we were able to work in the building over the last few months thanks to the determination of our tutors, we had to work around an incredibly restricted schedule.” He continues, echoing the stress felt by many designers, who over the past year have been forced to completely overhaul their process in order to work from home.

“It is essential to give a voice to young designers like us. The show, above all, was an opportunity for us to enter the professional world and launch our careers.” – Clément Picot

“I think that people still need fashion to keep dreaming. I remember feeling that whilst watching McQueen shows in my room 10 years ago, there is a magic fashion has and should continue having,” Clément says, explaining the origins of his design aesthetic which has subsequently won him an internship at Givenchy due to start this April. “It is essential to give a voice to young designers like us. The show, above all, was an opportunity for us to enter the professional world and launch our careers.” Is there a better way to make your debut than at Paris Fashion week? “Working digitally, I was able to choose how my collection was filmed and identify the key details that need to be seen in order to best tell the story. I think that would be impossible to do in a physical show.”

Clément Picot's research development
Clément Picot's fittings
Clément Picot's show

Fashion’s overnight transition to websites, apps, and live streams has opened a seemingly endless discourse on digital vs physical. “I believe that physically seeing objects in front of you offers something that online couldn’t ever replace.” says Tsung-Chien Tang. one of IFM’s graduating MA menswear students. Lockdown for Tsung-Chien saw him returning to his home country of Taiwan, which sparked a deep dive into rediscovering his native culture. “It was a reset, I’d  become a foreigner in my own country.” After living in Paris for eight years, his homecoming inspired Kingdom Come, Tsung-Chien’s graduate collection, a dream of happiness, peace, and prosperity. “All the materials were sourced locally, and I learned how to do macramé whilst working with a Sediq craftswoman in my hometown. If it was not for the pandemic, I would have done the collection so differently.”

“In dark times, creation is my salvation. I don’t know what else to do otherwise. Wait until it’s over? I don’t think so.” – Tsung-Chien Tang

“I needed a closure for my degree,” he continues, reflecting on why it was so important for the class of 2021 to have a show. “It’s nine months of hard work. The show must go on.” When our lives are punctuated with tragic epithets on a non-stop basis, it’s difficult for everyone to find purpose in their practices. “Someone once told me fashion is escapism, we still watch movies, listen to music, and play video games. There is a power to fantasy. And that is just being human,” Tsung-Chien responds. “In dark times, creation is my salvation. I don’t know what else to do otherwise. Wait until it’s over? I don’t think so.”

Tsung-Chien Tang's sketchbooks
Tsung-Chien Tang's development
Tsung-Chien Tang's line up

Also hailing from Taiwan is Jen-Hsin, who goes by Dario, found inspiration in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. “My collection follows the transition from boyhood to manhood.” Each of Dario’s looks represents a deep emotional exchange intertwined with their past,  bittersweet memories from childhood, broken hearts, and last farewells. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds and cultures, I believe that when you honestly share your own story, audiences can feel your emotions and develop a sense of empathy with you. I’m so grateful for being able to study at such a renowned school like IFM, I’ve learned so many techniques and felt like I’m constantly evolving as both a designer and a person.” After moving to Paris to be as close as possible to one of the global strongholds of the fashion industry, this personal evolution seemed to be the key component of Dario’s work ethic and his drive to continue through an onslaught of setbacks. “I presented the best version of myself through this collection. I think what’s important is your perseverance, that you don’t quit.”

Jen-Hsin's preliminary research
Jen-Hsin's looks
Jen-Hsin's final line-up

“I think this past year has brought about new possibilities in the way we consume and produce fashion. I just hope that the industry continues to welcome new designers and support them in starting and maintaining brands. I’m looking forward to the challenge.” – Jen-Hsin

Manifesting its self in multiple forms, introspection, and fashion fantasies were a common thread running through the graduate collections from IFM. “My inspiration came from gay porn,”  states Luhui Miao, whose collection warps personal identity through customisable garments, all in shades of black, a colour Luhui is drawn to for its ‘mysterious’ and ‘unisex’ qualities. “I feel like the virus has made me and other people think about how short life can be. We should just do what we want and dress how we want. Parts of each garment are removable, transforming from very sexy to very modest.”

“Fashion for me is a way of having fun! We have to let people know that fashion doesn’t stop, even in the most difficult times, fashion is still thriving.” Luhiu continues on the sentiment behind being able to show their collection on a global stage, “I developed so many close friendships with my classmates, it’s what kept me going […] It is so important to showcase everything we worked so hard on, especially when we have gone through so much to get to this point.” Like many designers entering the industry in the wake of Covid-19 Luhiu is set on finding the positives. “I think this past year has brought about new possibilities in the way we consume and produce fashion. I just hope that the industry continues to welcome new designers and support them in starting and maintaining brands. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Luhui Miao's line up
Luhui Miao's design development

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