Starting next fall, Paris's ESMOD, the oldest fashion school in the world, will offer a Meta-Wear class dedicated to digital fashion design. Véronique Beaumont, the school's managing director, explains how training in this area is essential for the next generation of designers, who will learn to bring together craftsmanship, technical expertise and new technologies. In short, what's required for shaping the future of fashion.
Q. Why did the school decide to create this Meta-Wear class dedicated to digital fashion design?
It was important to do so in order to respond to the expectations of this new generation of students, as well as to adapt to the changes taking place in the fashion industry. We did research on this issue and realized that it was important to bolster digital software training. It's not totally new, because we already had a partnership with Lectra for courses that were more related to model making and product development, including everything related to manufacturing, and we were already testing the Clo3D software, which allows users to have a digital avatar. Initially, we decided to build on Clo3D training, then the metaverse came into play... One of our speakers, Fabrice Jonas, founder of MyFashionTech, advised us to go even further and to offer actual classes that would train students in these recent developments. We're taking an approach of adaptability regarding new trades emerging with the metaverse, all the while maintaining respect for tradition and craftsmanship which are fundamental in fashion.
Q. Will the focus be on learning how to design digital fashion?
There will obviously be product creation, but our approach will be to take into account the whole NFT and cryptocurrency environment. That said, the physical aspect will still be in the forefront. We think that these new virtual worlds will essentially serve to highlight brands' more traditional products. Obviously there's a marketing aspect, and it's a good fit because we're aiming to meet the expectations of a new generation that wants to be hybrid. They don't just want to be called artisans anymore, but also entrepreneurs. It's a generation that has a desire to be entrepreneurs at an increasingly early stage.
Q. Who is this new course for?
The Meta-Wear class will target second-year students, because we absolutely want to prioritize learning physical fundamentals in the first year. It's an adjustment of our pedagogy between ESMOD's traditional learning methods of creativity and technique, and digital practice. As of next September, this new session will involve two second-year classes, but the students will of course still follow in parallel the classic program. And we plan to go even further to train them in new professions. We want to enable them to work in other sectors such as gaming, because this responds to the demand from recruiters for new metaverse-related profiles or digital costume designers, for example.
Q. Is an affinity with gaming essential for becoming a fashion designer these days?
No, I don't think so. It's simply one diversification of our sector. The metaverse phenomenon is real, but paradoxically I have an increasing number of requests from my students for craftsmanship and manual techniques. On the one hand, there is tradition, on the other hand, modernity. One is not a substitute for the other, they are complementary. Gaming is a very interesting field, which is why we're going to integrate it into our teaching methods, but design is synonymous with emotion, with touch, and that is still essential. It's not about renouncing ESMOD's DNA, which remains the ability to create a physical product, but about creating bridges between physical and digital fashion.
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Q. In terms of teaching, how does digital fashion differ from physical fashion?
Digital fashion is very attractive in the areas of communication and perception. Teaching is very difficult today, if only in terms of capturing students' attention. We realized that digital fashion was more flexible, more creative; in their eyes, because it goes much faster than physical fashion. But that's also why the two complement each other, and for us there is no question of switching completely to digital fashion. Some students are not interested in the Meta-Wear class, preferring to do workshops focusing on techniques or sewing. We're betting on meta-wear, but as a complement to the classic program. In fact, we will soon be offering a short metaverse program, in conjunction with DressX, for ESMOD alumni and professionals wishing to develop their skills in digital design.
Q. Could this class become a requirement for aspiring fashion designers?
It all depends on the orientation chosen by the students. Digital fashion and physical fashion can coexist so that everyone can do what they like. At the end of the '60s, some people were predicting the end of haute couture because of the launch of ready-to-wear, but it's clear that that never happened, just as the idea of genderless hasn't replaced specializations in menswear and womenswear. Don't be mistaken, these are fashion phenomena. That doesn't mean that they won't last, but they won't replace the DNA of fashion. But they do enable us to be more creative.
Q. The fashion industry has started to experiment with different possibilities offered by the metaverse through digital fashion and NFT collections, but isn't this jumping the gun a bit?
I think the industry is indeed ahead of the times, but that's normal because it is now the new generation driving it. The fashion industry has been living at the pace of this generation for a few years now. It is driven by influencers who are extremely connected and innovative. Everything is changing very fast, but there can indeed be a disconnect with the general consumer base that doesn't necessarily have much in common with this innovative and connected generation. Things often begin this way. Just look at environmentally friendly fashion, which didn't interest anyone 10 years ago, and which is now at the center of people's concerns. In fashion, desirability and attractiveness are two very important concepts, so the industry has to be ahead of the game.
Q. Do you see digital fashion as the luxury of the future or an environmentally friendly alternative to classic fashion?
That's a tough question. I really think that digital fashion will simply allow more physical products to be sold. Everyone is getting into it, major fashion groups as well as fast fashion, and there's a reason for that. It is finally a new way of communicating, which is much closer to marketing than to design. It's great to be able to dress an avatar, but we won't spend all our time in virtual worlds... We will always have to buy physical clothes, pay attention to the origin, the materials, and the manufacturing methods. Digital fashion will allow us to try on clothes to see if this or that piece fits best. As for luxury, it is necessary to be aligned with the times, that's obvious, but we must not forget the fundamentals of luxury—the precious, a taste for the exceptional, and rarity. This is somewhat the case with the metaverse at the moment, but if it becomes much more accessible, the situation may change. In this sense, I do not think that digital fashion is the future of luxury.