The best of both worlds

An interview with Condé Nast Center Shanghai’s Executive Director, Dominique Simard

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In the run-up to Polimoda and Condé Nast Center of Fashion & Design’s joint Master in Fashion Media & Digital Communications, held between Florence and Shanghai, CNC Executive Director Dominique Simard explains why this course will spearhead education and research in the field of online fashion storytelling while monitoring state-of-the-art trends and technologies.

What are the advantages of being headquartered in Shanghai’s urban core?

Being in the heart of Huangpu District, Shanghai’s cultural, historical, entertainment and fashion district, our students are just minutes away from the city’s leading luxury retail street with Cartier, Tiffany, Maison Hermes, Apple, K11 and Lane Crawford flagships. Apart from luxury retail, the city’s leading entertainment area, called Xintiandi, is 5 minutes away by foot. The Former French Concession also starts pretty much from our doorstep and offers the opportunity to discover a multitude of local designer shops, cafes and restaurants. The area surrounding our Center is definitely one of the key spots to start understanding the new Chinese consumers and their behaviors. Besides, transportation is also extremely convenient, we have a subway line station right in front of the Center and another 3 lines at about 10 minutes by foot.

Could you trace the similarities in educational vision between Polimoda and CNC Shanghai? Do you believe that travelling between Florence and China’s fashion capital will help students develop a global vision in regard to current market trends and dynamics?

Polimoda and Condé Nast Center both believe that an education offered by industry professionals that provides real world experience and insight is what will best prepare our students for their future career. We also both believe that our cities are the best places to be in order to fully understand fashion. I am a huge fan of Florence and the city has played definitely a leading role in creating the industry as it is today. However, there is also no doubt that the world’s attention is moving east; and this includes fashion.

Thirty years ago, China came to be known as the factory of the world. In recent years, those factories have mostly moved to South-East Asia or South Asia; those that have remained in business today mostly produce for mid-level to luxury brands. Meanwhile, in the past decade Shanghai and other large cities have become the consumer heaven for most fashion and luxury brands. If China isn’t their largest market yet, Chinese people are definitely their number one consumers, since a large share of the consumptions is made during trips overseas. There are hundreds of Chinese brands, many will fail, but some will definitely succeed also overseas. With the size of the market, unlike their international counterparts Chinese brands do not have to aim at foreign expansion in order to thrive. Shanghai is not the best location to understand about those brands, but we will nevertheless, have our students discover some of the leading ones.

Spending 9 months in these two cities studying fashion and experiencing what they have to offer is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will allow students to gain a global vision of what is happening today and what is to come while preparing themselves for the future.

One of Polimoda’s main goals is to bridge the divide between education and the industry with tailored programs and teachers with hands-on knowledge and corporate backgrounds – how would you say that the Master in Fashion Media & Digital Communications will contribute in realistically forwarding students towards new career opportunities?

Digital communication and new media are fast-evolving. Luxury brands were originally particularly reluctant to embrace digital communication and social media, but have all jumped on board in more recent years. The pace of change in the way we communicate will only accelerate and transform the way fashion brands interact with consumers. There is no better fashion capital than Shanghai to experience the power of digital communications and its revolution.

China is so far ahead of the West with regards to everything digital and how it impacts our daily life. It only makes sense to spend some time in Shanghai and learn from our team of experts and visiting guest speakers, not only to understand how the digital world works in here, but to actually understand how the rest of the world will operate in 5 to 10 years.

We will widely discuss the WeChat phenomenon and how this leading social media platform has become a real ecosystem where fashion and luxury brands are now very active; but also the mind-blowing growth of e-commerce in China through Alibaba and Jing Dong. Students will also have the opportunity to meet with local KOL (Key opinion leaders) who, alongside celebrities, are playing a huge and unique role in communicating on social media and blogs for fashion and luxury brands, driving enormous sales within minutes.

Those who are able to combine fashion knowledge, sensibility and the digital world will have plenty of job opportunities.

Storytelling has become a matter of great concern when it comes to brand management and the overall media system. Has it always had such a prominent role and why is it important to train dedicated professionals for this sector?

Storytelling has always existed, it’s just that as society evolved and became increasingly sophisticated and regulated, it became increasingly hard to innovate and create the right narrative.

In China, following the reform and the opening-up policy, storytelling was inexistent or very basic by western standard. Even until just a few years ago brands’ focus was entirely on developing their networks of stores as sales were booming without having to innovate much when it came to communication and marketing. Time has changed and brands and traditional media are struggling to create innovative and unique stories to communicate with current and potential clients. Consequently, working in media or a communication agency today is extremely complex and challenging, but at the same time exciting! Brands also have to be sensitive to different cultures: the same story might not be perceived the same way when applied in a different country. It seems obvious, but we still see regularly leading foreign brands making faux pas in China.

When it comes to interactive media, how does the Master plan to stay on top of the ever-changing and evolving technological landscape?

There is no better place than China to be in relation to this particular subject! Being here allows us to preview the latest tech evolutions in media. We can therefore quickly incorporate them into the course content and invite some guest speakers, often entrepreneurs or experts from agencies, to explain how it works and the potential impact it may have. We are able to bring into the classroom not only the local tech giant, but also those who have made a name for themselves through the use of technology, such as bloggers and KOL.

Short videos are definitely trending right now. Most fashion and luxury brands are using this medium to communicate with potential consumers, especially millennials. Live streaming is another interactive media that has been highly popular with a younger audience, but most brands find it hard to control the quality of the content and with very unpredictable outcome. Nevertheless, some have become overnight celebrities.

In your opinion, what skills & traits shape the perfect fashion communication professional?

We live in a complicated, fast-evolving and interconnected world, especially in an industry like fashion. Passion, commitment and consistency are traits that are more essential than ever to succeed in the long run. Realizing that what I know and can do today, may be irrelevant tomorrow is also key to grow and thrive. That’s why our average student is actually 29 years old.

As mentioned above, a strong knowledge in fashion culture, sensibility to beauty, color and trends, mixed with a strategic and innovative mind; being able to analyze data; understanding that the world is ever-changing and being familiar with the latest digital tools should be the perfect skill-set to land you your dream job.

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