At the start of 2021, US-based digital fashion website Fashionista surveyed 200 schools in its home country to find out how COVID-19 had affected fashion education: 75% of their respondents said they felt their education was suffering due to the outbreak of the pandemic. The respondents to the survey were students who mainly felt that social distancing learning meant their missing out on making friends. As fashion schools now look at reopening, many professionals believe there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic. And while it has been a disruptive year, it has also been a year of reset.
In the MENA region, the oldest known fashion school is ESMOD Dubai and its co-founder and creative director Denis Ravizza says: “Distance learning due to forced confinement was quite positive, as it permitted fashion prospects to discover more rapidly than usual that fashion could be learned remotely by distance learning. I believe this will remain.” A view that is shared by follow educator and one of the globally best renowned names in fashion, Fabio Piras, course director at Central St. Martins’ MA Fashion Course in London. “I struggle with the idea that things have to go back to normal,” says Piras. “The normal is now and cannot be something we return to. So whatever we endured, adapted to and transformed is what we have gained and will keep and transform moving forward.” He feels it has helped some students feel easier to express their opinions. “Perhaps not being in a classroom and being behind a screen and in your home made it easier to comment.”
While fashion curricula have not had to change, additions have been made, and these revisions will probably have an impact on how fashion is now taught. Says Ravizza: “We did not change courses, but have rather added to them. For example, the hands-on side of the garment-making technical aspect, which is one of the program pillars. We now have video tutorials live and recorded – a great add-on.” As fashion retail has become digital first, so must the way we teach it. It has meant students are better prepared to be a part of the post-pandemic fashion industry. As Piras says: “The pandemic instigated rethink, a review of some notions of success, professionalism, employability, enterprise and practice, expectations, notions of success and so on.”
The pause caused by the pandemic has rewritten how we live, and fashion must reflect this. As conscious living becomes the new mantra, a topic that fashion has been focusing on for a while – sustainability – has become one of fashion’s most popular courses. Other subjects that Ravizza says are of increased interest include business- and styling-related courses, probably driven by fashion’s new digital surge. He adds that all the good schools have not seen a decrease in students interested in studying fashion despite the “annus horribilis” the industry has had economically.
In fact, for those who want to study fashion and found they could not travel to one of the big-league fashion schools, the advent of distance learning has opened a new path. “When it comes to short courses, the realization of how we can teach fashion digitally could actually open things up,” says Piras. So, it seems for education there could a some silver lining that has emerged during these unprecedented times.