Since becoming Polimoda director in 2016, the school has significantly expanded and transformed. What are the main pillars of this transformation?
Actually you are right, I forgot that the school at a certain point had nearly tripled. I think this happened because we have completely reinvented the concept of school by giving Polimoda the vision of a big university and the practicality of a vocational school. There are three steps in this innovation. First, we made alliances with groups such as LVMH and Richemont, brands such as Gucci, Ferragamo and Missoni and key operators such as Vogue Italia and WGSN. Second, we gave a voice and a critical opinion to the school as if it was a person, organizing discussion panels around the world, interviewing personalities that define the contemporary and hosting specialists in the sector at school. Third, we strongly reduced the distance between industry and school by transforming Polimoda into a real fashion brand, where students and teachers design and implement projects together like the fashion show. Teachers become part of the management and former students come back to school to teach after a career in the industry. Anyone who comes into contact with this institute ends up feeling part of it. The secret ingredient is intangible but also the strongest: you will always feel like this is the place to be.
"Anyone who comes into contact with this institute ends up feeling part of it. The secret ingredient is intangible but also the strongest: you will always feel like this is the place to be."
30% of Polimoda students and professors are Italian and 70% come from all over the world. Is it challenging to nurture such a multicultural environment?
This is another great achievement I am proud of. At the Polimoda where I also once studied, the proportions were the opposite. I believe that attending a multicultural, multi-ethnic and gender-neutral environment gives students the opportunity to learn a lot from their schoolmates too.
Moreover, if a city like Florence could have suffered from not being a metropolis before the pandemic, it might be the ideal environment in the Covid era, safe and built at a human scale. Managing diversity in school is not a problem either because respect comes spontaneously to our students. They belong to Generation Z and Generation Y, which are already post-demographic in their mindset and blood.
One of the Villa Favard classrooms during a celebration for final-year fashion design students
Inclusivity is an adult problem, a challenge for a future that, at Polimoda, is already the present. Diversity is a fundamental value for a fashion school because it nourishes creativity, which is also the condition for authenticity. When there is intellectual honesty there is also sustainability. Pollution is first of all a mental factor and then an environmental one. If you don't have crap in your head then you don't even produce it. It's all connected and it all starts from the level of consciousness you get in school. That being said, let's not pretend to save the world because after all, we are just a little institute but at least we can get used to being better human beings.
Graduates of various fashion schools have different styles. How would you characterize the signature style of Polimoda People?
Polimoda graduates are all different but they all have three common traits that make them unmistakable. The first is that they know who they are. All of our teaching is based on mentorship and this means that the typical transformation that occurs in students' personalities from the moment they enter school to the moment they graduate is driven in a way that they become what they always were but did not know they were. Teaching is not top-down here, it’s a dialogue. Second, they are assertive but collaborative. Our teaching does not create competing individuals, this is old stuff. Instead, we train students to do group projects, because in fashion there is no single job that you can do alone. Polimoda is not a pre-job experience like all schools, it's already like being in the industry. Third, our students are also aesthetically recognizable. Most of them are minimalists but even when they are maximalists, they don't have a single thing out of place, they are all very well-curated. This derives from the consciousness I mentioned before. Polimoda People was the name of our alumni association that, among others, includes Jil Sander’s Luke & Lucie Meier, Marni’s Francesco Risso, Aquazzura’s Edgardo Osorio, Puma’s Torsten Hochstetter and The Row’s Fabrizio Fabbro. Nonetheless, today this name defines a wider and more open community made up of students, former students, companies that do applied projects with students, teachers, mentors and the fashion brands who collaborate in the drafting of our programs. It is a huge network that supports each other in everything like in a big family.
Polimoda Fashion Design students Julian Cerro and Paulo Mileu at (P)Review, an event dedicated to final-year fashion design students that asked viewers to look at garments from new perspectives
"Our students are also aesthetically recognizable. Most of them are minimalists but even when they are maximalists, they don't have a single thing out of place, they are all very well-curated."
Polimoda has a very strong fashion business department. What are the advantages of studying business in a fashion school rather than a business school?
The Business Department as we know it today was born from a methodology that I conceived in my book Momenting The Memento and implemented in the Master in Fashion Brand Management even before becoming the director. When I suggested we teach Videomaking together with Economics and Sociology of the Imaginary together with Retail Management ten years ago, I was considered mad by the rest of the faculty. Today, the world's top fashion brands are asking Polimoda to train their employees with this methodology. I have to acknowledge the courage of the previous director, my mentor Linda Loppa, who gave me the opportunity to continue on this path. The fact is —after the Berlin Wall, globalization and the internet— fashion is no longer a linear industry, but what I call a beautiful chaos. Human, society and industry intersect and none of the three have a definition that can be applied in a universal business model. Therefore, it is necessary to be multidisciplinary and enter research territories that are not specific to the business to do fashion business. To be honest, even before these three historical events, fashion could not be marketed the same way food for dogs was, but back then, the economy was strong and everything was fine no matter what was done. Now, the disadvantage of this new method is that it must be updated continuously, but this is also the advantage because fashion is about change, not about the administration. Now that the world is changing again, I'm writing another book.
"There is a huge difference between information and education. Information may seem free but it is not, it could be incorrect and it does not have the sense of community that you need to grow as a person even before becoming a fashion insider."
That was my last question. Covid-19 is a big challenge for society and education. How has Polimoda adapted?
If you are referring to online teaching, technology is the past. I mean, Polimoda had an e-learning platform even before the pandemic so many teachers could contribute from overseas. Also, like diversity, technology is another problem for adults because they have fallen behind and now everything must be suddenly digitized, but our students are digital natives and for them, technology is a living environment, a precondition. Rather, the question is: What world will the pandemic leave us? We could fall into the digital Middle Ages, where most people feel free because they do not suffer wars and starvation, but they are not free at all, because in reality the digital world is plutocratic: few have the power, and all of the others are digital folks. Or after the plague, the Renaissance will come, that is, a world where useless things are eliminated and the truly important things are recovered.
Model wearing Sanjana Pessina's design
In fashion, body and soul are central. Without these elements, there can be clothing but not fashion. I want to say to young people, don't think that taking free online lessons can replace going to school. There is a huge difference between information and education. Information may seem free but it is not, it could be incorrect and it does not have the sense of community that you need to grow as a person even before becoming a fashion insider. Therefore, to answer your question, Polimoda will not adapt to anything, just like it always has, but it will act in advance and let others adapt.
Cover Image: Alber Elbaz and Danilo Venturi during the final review of the 2019 Polimoda Fashion Show.