PARIS — “Our duty is to adapt to new generations, whatever is thrown our way,” said Esmod International’s chief operating officer Véronique Beaumont, ahead of the fashion show closing the celebration of the educational group’s 180th anniversary, which had included exhibitions in various French cities.
There was the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, which accelerated the digitalization of its classes but what the school executive had in her sights was a longer game: equipping future fashion professionals with a wide understanding of the industry.
“A creative director can no longer exist in a void. Either you have to be a master of communication or, like the biggest designers, be peerless technicians who can invent thanks to materials and details,” she said.
To plump up the résumé of the future industry professionals they train in the school’s network, Beaumont said courses on eco-conception, branding, digital communications as well as case studies that explore the cultural ramifications of historically significant designers or brands had been added, to make sure that students would master the full set of “tools of their generation” and not just the technical skills that have made Esmod’s reputation over time.
The school was founded in 1841 by Alexis Lavigne, a court tailor who also invented one of the first patented dress forms, the tape ribbon, but most importantly, the pattern-making method taught at the school. While its French footprint includes five fashion design schools, the group also includes fashion business schools in France, the Esmod Editions publishing service and Esmod Pro, handling professional training, and an international network of affiliate schools, often opened by alumni in their home countries.
Beaumont credits the popularity of Esmod graduates hired anywhere from mainstream retailers like sports specialist Decathlon to luxury houses and production companies to the in-depth technical teaching and specializations in couture, sportswear, kids’ wear or lingerie.
“I led a study on the evolution of professional and soft skills, and what came out is that what the industry wants is transversal profiles. When premium or commercial brands were looking to repatriate functions like prototyping [to France], we found there was a real need to deepen technical know-how as a way to add more creative value,” Beaumont continued, estimating the school’s programs offer around 1,000 hours of technical classes over the course of five years, against an average of 600 for its competitors.
Describing the competition offered by other master-level programs as a sign of health for the French fashion industry, she highlighted another strong point: the international profile of the school, in addition to its participation in the Erasmus student exchange program.
“Recently, I felt only Esmod Paris was known, but what I wanted to do through this anniversary is to show we aren’t just a fashion school. Esmod is a brand, a community. I feel this has the power to touch the younger generations who want to be diverse, inclusive and multicultural,” she said, adding that at the Paris-based school alone, some 60 nationalities were represented, hailing from Asia, Europe and increasingly, South America. More than half of the 3,500 students of the group are matriculated in France.
Among other areas of satisfaction was the July recognition of its creative director post-graduate track as a master-level degree by France’s national register of professional certifications — a challenging endeavor for privately owned schools in the country.
The show at the Hôtel de Potocki in Paris was an opportunity to highlight the community that Beaumont described as being the third pillar of Esmod’s success. For retired director Annette Goldstein, the “reward of a life’s work” was seeing a full house that included Esmod faculty, students and alumni but also France’s secretary of state for economy and finance Agnès Pannier-Runacher; Pascal Morand, executive president of the French couture federation; Pierre-François Le Louët, president of the country’s ready-to-wear federation, and Xavier Romatet, the general manager of the Institut Français de la Mode.
First on the runway were denim looks designed as part of a competition in cooperation with Japanese producer Okayama. Up next were the collections of the group’s 18 fashion outposts. Students from Beirut, who were unable to send their designs, contributed a short film showing highlights of the previous year’s show and their campus. The final exit, a replica of a 19th-century riding habit, paid homage to Lavigne.
Ahead of the show these designs had been exhibited in various locations: the school’s campus in Pantin and at Paris’ Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie as part of an ongoing exhibition for the denim pieces, and at La Piscine, an arts and industrial design museum in the northern French city of Roubaix for the period outfit, which was part of an exhibition focused on the school’s design archive, history and Lavigne’s inventions that runs until February 2022.
“The level has certainly risen since I was a student here 50 years ago,” joked Satoru Nino, president of the Esmod International group, who recalled the contribution of the school in his life, from his arrival in France after a monthlong boat voyage in the ’70s to study fashion to meeting his future wife, head of corporate social responsibility in the group Mary Nino, and founding the school’s first franchise outside of France.
Distinctions were handed out to graduating students and alumni. Esmod Seoul’s Jin-Hee Kim took home the first sustainability prize, while Camille Lucot, a student at the school’s branch in Roubaix in northern France, took home the top gong for creating a design inspired by the school’s patrimony.
With much of its international contingent was absent due to travel restrictions, taking part through video messages or the looks they had sent, the evening was an emotional moment for many, not least sneaker designer Daniel Essa, who arrived at Esmod Roubaix in 2013 as a political refugee from Syria, where he’d been a television host and former Esmod Damas student.
Accepting the prize for excellence, he said: “The only thing I had when I arrived was my dream of creating my own brand, despite everything. I want to tell all students that whatever the difficulties, the borders, the obstacles you may face, you should always believe in yourself and your creations.”