FASHION AS EDUCATION
Istituto Marangoni, the Paris School of Fashion has become an essential reference point in the fashion industry ever since it was founded in 1935. Passionate professionals provide the training and the education, which offers students a real gateway into the world of work. The courses offered are all-encompassing, both at a theoretical and practical level, purely focused on cultivating young talents’ creativity at its best. In September 2019, the WSN group (Who’s Next and Premiere Classe) launched the Lab.Scene incubator in collaboration with Istituto Marangoni to support young designers. On this occasion, we met with Thomas Brigger, who has been the Academic Director of Istituto Marangoni for three years now.
Thomas Brigger, tell us about your career so far.
I was a student at the school in Milan; therefore, I am an alumnus myself. I studied fashion design and graduated with a BA honours degree in 2004. As it still does to this day, the school has opened several doors for me, allowing me to work for multiple luxury brands in Milan. In 2007, I was appointed studio director for a big menswear brand in Paris. I left this position after two years and started to work as a freelancer. Shortly after, I launched my own brand which created bespoke wardrobes for contemporary gentlemen: suits, shirts, ties etc. We did not have any stores and our online presence was rather restricted. We preferred meeting our clients personally in their homes, offices or hotel-rooms. In parallel to this enterprise, I started to teach fashion in 2008. Soon after, I was promoted to Programme Leader of the “Fashion Design” courses at Istituto Marangoni. In 2016, the School Director offered me the position of Academic Director, which I was delighted to accept. Istituto Marangoni in Paris trains around 370 students a year, with the help of a faculty of 50 professors. The school is part of an international group, which has been established for 85 years now. In Paris we offer three different fields of study: ‘Fashion Design,’ ‘Fashion Styling and Creative Direction,’ as well as ‘Fashion Business.’ We teach our students how to collaborate, in order to extend, advance and reinvent this complex fashion system. Times are changing and so are their needs and opportunities.
What advice would you give to people who want to launch into the world of design with their brand and want to take part in Who’s Next to gain visibility?
I would say when launching a brand, start “small” and “be modest.” Start by developing a single product or speciality and make a name for yourself. Be good at it. Propose an intelligent and smart product or a sleek well-coordinated collection. Deliver sharp and recognisable work and get your clients hooked. I have always preferred to work with people I know or who have been recommended to me, in order to secure the production chain and sales. On the communication side of things, you need a clear brand identity, an individual perspective that stands out from the rest. Today, you need to integrate or create a community, a valuable network. You have to build customer loyalty. You have to attract loyal supporters who are willing to dedicate their time and money to your brand.
What are the challenges your fashion school is facing nowadays?
Education has to be thoroughly linked to the professional world so that graduates can be easily integrated into an existing team, in an office or a studio. Our work has to be realistic, holistic and concrete. From the moment students enroll, we have to deliver an education of mid and long-term value, that will last throughout their careers. Fashion, for me, has to be worn in the streets, it needs to be sold. Nowadays, it is rather easy to gain visibility with social media and to circulate images but this is not how sales will take off! You have to know the industry. At Istituto Marangoni, we do not impose a style, as we do not want to create clones. It is important that our students remain authentically themselves, but they also have to learn a code of conduct. Our challenge is to ensure that students graduate from school with an idea, arguments supporting that idea and a long-term work ethic.
Who’s Next in 3 words?
Who is next?
Tell us about your participation at Who’s Next this year.
This year, Istituto Marangoni had a stand at Who’s Next. We thought carefully about how to use this amazing opportunity, as it is rather difficult to show fashion as “Culture” or to exhibit aesthetics and how they have been transmitted to our students. We wanted to show education and pedagogy without using the usual clichés. We decided to tell three different stories, one per day. We took inspiration from the FIAC (The International Contemporary Art Fair) as well as other art fairs, where galleries curate their collections in a new way every single day, whilst maintaining their brand values and a critical approach. Over our 3 days at Who’s Next, we presented several bodies of work from students, without giving any preference to the media. To showcase “what we do every day,” we told a different story each time by changing the scenography.
How not to go unnoticed today?
One of the most used words at the moment seems to be “transparency.” Unfortunately, this concept does not necessarily mean “sincerity.” Today, you have to go beyond transparency; you need to be sincere with yourself, with your abilities and limits. You have to be sincere with others! Not only with supporters, but even more so with critics. You have to be yourself, all the time. Never become what others want you to be; this is probably the biggest challenge. In this day and age fashion seems so small, the image has been “flattened,” allowing mainstream visuals to take over; therefore, controlled images ultimately show that people would like to look alike. It is our job to find young creatives with a true story to tell and to teach them how to be found in that sea of similarity.
What do you see for the future of fashion?
I am delighted to be working in education as it means I am so close to the future of fashion, close enough to be a part of its creation. For example, I am convinced that we can inform others of the challenges of the future only through living them, having had the experience. We need to live through it as a school, as a director, as a tutor or as a student! It is the only way to truly make a difference in the near future, it is more than just words. Sometimes, I don’t understand fashion—too many empty words, too many flat images, no in-depth thinking or reflection, no real new ideas. What scares me on the one hand, and encourages me to do my job on the other, is the ever-growing abyss between the industry giants and the emerging brands. This fashion system is further widening these gaps, broadening them to a point where a revolution cannot be avoided anymore! I am at no point saying that the future will be better or worse, or that the past was better or worse. Every era is different. Our job is to adapt and to stay relevant, which is probably the most difficult thing to do when you are fresh out of school.
What were your 5 favourite things and what SS20 trends did you spot at Who’s Next?
I spotted a lot of hippie chic pieces, big flowery dresses, tie-dye and oversized pieces. It was very “country,” but also “utilitarian country.” There was also a lot of knitwear, which I found interesting.
• Fabienne Chapot and their Diane Von Furstenberg inspired dresses • OOFWEAR, an edgy Italian sportswear brand
• Annie P, a Greek brand with interesting exclusive prints
• Tricot Chic, an Italian brand
• Art Point, an Austrian brand whose merchandising was amazing
• GAMUT, a French brand that was completely in line with the times. It was my absolute favourite!