Representing the creative future

Fashion Schools in Lockdown: Berlin University of the Arts

“Although we mostly work on our own individual projects, we also work as a team.” UdK staff and students respond to the crisis together

What format works best when teaching fashion design under lockdown? So far, we have looked at the varying measures in place at schools in Montreal, Sweden and New York – all of whom agreed fashion design is a course best taught in person due to its technical nature. This is, however, not an option for the foreseeable future, so creative solutions are being put to the test. Berlin University of the Arts (Univerität der Künste Berlin, UdK) is no exception.

HANNAH GROSS

UdK is a public university, meaning there are no fees for both home and international students. Students pay €320 per semester, which covers their public transport and donations to student organisations.

Germany has had lockdown restrictions in place since the 17th of March, these are now gradually being lifted. Still, there is no certainty around when students will be able to return to campuses. When the school does eventually open, the possibility of a second wave means lockdown measures could be reintroduced. Fortunately, UdK is a public university, meaning there are no fees for both home and international students. Students pay €320 per semester, which covers their public transport and donations to student organisations.

With classes moved to Zoom and Cisco Webex, the project expectations have had to change. Director of the fashion department at UdK, Professor Valeska Schmidt Thomsen, explains, “Digital alternatives are only possible to a limited extent in areas such as fashion design. Therefore, we decided to offer a solidarity project for all semester groups. The students work from home and have received materials from us.” It is not possible to study in the library, however, books can now be loaned by ordering them online. Valeska’s students have photographed their materials and machines and uploaded them to a digital archive, loans can be arranged amongst each other whilst maintaining social distancing orders. Third-year BA Fashion design students,Camilla Volbert, Justin Rivera, Katharina Spitz, Clara Bageac, and Natalia Susyak, gave their thoughts on the situation collectively. They reflect, “Although we mostly work on our own individual projects, we also work as a team.” The results will be auctioned for charity, a publication will also be released documenting this.

“Maybe we will only walk around in protective gear, while digitally we start dressing up in eccentric evening gowns.”

For masters students, graduation has fortunately been pushed back until September. Classes and tutorials are held digitally and participation is optional. However, the daunting reality is that the industry they will soon graduate into will not be as expected. The graduate show will not be held physically, students like Johanna Braun are focusing on the silver linings, “Even before the global pandemic students and professors were discussing new ways of showcasing the produced projects.”

Johanna is participating in the online offerings for fun and applauds the professors, tutors and workshop teachers’ efforts, however, she is considering postponing graduation for longer due to the limitations. “It would feel strange to try to finish while compromising and becoming mostly creative about solutions. It is not that I need all the resources, it is more that I need better reasons to create than that.” Elsewhere, postponing courses has been restricted out of concern too many students will take up the opportunity. On the flip side, MA student Paulina Muenzing, whose research focuses on the digital self has found inspiration in the situation, “The whole idea of what kind of clothing will be relevant for us in the future has to be rethought. Maybe we will only walk around in protective gear, while digitally we start dressing up in eccentric evening gowns.” MA student Hannah Gross has found sustainable innovations in her design process exploring “digital solutions to pattern making and prototyping. Apart from requiring less material, these techniques also need less physical space and, if used right, can push creativity and help me explore more options in a shorter time frame. While doing my research for programs to use, I found out that a lot of big companies already work with these tools.” She has also been using her spare time to sew masks and raise money for doctors without borders. The push for sustainability has been growing in fashion over the last few years, perhaps, the necessity of slowing down over quarantine will solidify this as a priority.

PAULINA MUENZING

When discussing with students the pros and cons of designing from home, one expects a list of practical limitations. Missing workshops, lacking materials, creating looks out of bedsheets, and siblings as fitting models are all familiar stories in 2020. What prevails with UdK students, though, is the appreciation of each other’s company on a personal level and as a crucial work resource. The BA group shared, “The lack of social interaction is becoming more difficult. The drawbacks of working from home are not only the missing facilities but also the lack of face to face discussion and feedback… We trust and respect each other’s opinions and it feels like missing your family. Losing this kind of work dynamic and immediate encouragement shows us how important a collective approach is to us.” Additionally, Paulina Muenzing finds the distractions of day to day life can serve as a needed distraction, “I need to step away from my work every once in a while to come back with fresh eyes, but when you work at home, by yourself, where do you step aside? Who do you take a break with and talk about something completely random for five minutes?”

JOHANNA BROWN

“The absence of objective historical or technical researching possibilities shifts our inspirations to a more personal and local level.”

No doubt, the lockdown has altered students’ working processes on a practical level. However, for some, slowing down has been positive. “We are finding a healthy balance between working and resting, and hence creating something that is more meaningful.” With museums and archives closed, research processes and inspiration must come from our houses. “The absence of objective historical or technical researching possibilities shifts our inspirations to a more personal and local level.” The mundane has become more important.

“Those who stitch elsewhere must not be forgotten.”

This pandemic has triggered calls for change at almost every level within the industry. It has been suggested that the pandemic will reignite an appreciation for manual labour in fashion. Valeska reiterates this, “Design in a successful combination with crafts can create uniqueness that industrial production cannot. The value and appreciation of clothing will hopefully be positively influenced by the current situation, not only of those who design it but also of those who consume it.” On the possibility that demand for regional production is increasing, she points out, “Those who stitch elsewhere must not be forgotten.”

Designers have long expressed a desire to slow the fashion system down. “The design-product process could be focused towards smaller groups, instead of forcing one style to a mass group of people.” A dialogue that has been increasingly prevalent brought to the forefront by lockdown, only time will tell if it can work in practice. Paulina Muenzing rightfully points out, “What industry isn’t struggling at the moment? Who doesn’t suffer? Instead of being demotivated by the preexisting issues, “We have to find new ways to make fashion work, to define fashion, to adapt it to this new life. We were living in excess… Maybe we have to find a new meaning for it and take it from there?”

1 Granary

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