Back to School with José Teunissen
As fashion week is officially starting we wanted to find out how the current climate crisis and awareness of fashion’s impact on the environment was shaping the way design students were approaching their work.
So we did a Q+A with José Teunissen, the Dean of the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion. José’s a bit of an expert on this – not just in her roles in academia, but also as the curator of the hugely successful exhibit “State of Fashion 2018 l Searching for the New Luxury”.
The exhibit explored how luxury could be redefined in response to the urgency of this moment and we wondered how these new approaches are being utilized by the latest young designers. Because if fashion is in a crisis it is also fashion, with it’s imaginative storytelling and seductive power that coupled with new modes of production could very well upend the waste and wanton destruction the Industry is currently causing.
“State of Fashion” was the first large-scale exhibit to explore “honest” fashion. How did this come about?
I was invited to curate the Mode Biennale Arnhem (which started in 2005). Somehow, celebrating young and new designers without addressing the current issues of the fashion industry seemed to be outdated. Especially in light of the fact that the current fashion industry is one of the most polluting industry, based on bad working conditions and pushing the consumer to buy more and more. We need to eat food every day, but how many clothes do we need? Against this background I tried to develop an exhibition theme taking a positive design approach – believing in the strength of the imaginary and design power of fashion.
But also by adding a critical lens through the question: What does luxury mean in our oversaturated society where we want to be sustainable? Is it the fact that we know how a garment is made –traceable sustainable? Or all the initiatives that try to develop material and garments out of waste like Orange Fiber or the recycled denim of G-Star?
And there is also the question of how new technologies might affect our idea of luxury. Is luxury still a handcrafted, quality product celebrating the heritage of a brand –the way luxury brands want us to perceive luxury? Or can a 3d printed garment as developed by Iris van Herpen with the help of TU Delft engineers be an artefact that expresses the Luxury of the 21st Century.
Was there something particularly interesting/rewarding that you discovered in the process of putting it together?
There were many more innovative ideas out there than I had expected. In my previous exhibition, “The Future of Fashion is Now”, I showed already a lot of innovative fashion designers. But now I was amazed to see how many small initiatives were already scaling up (recycled denim of G-star, VIN + OMI, Orange Fiber) especially in the area of new materials (bio-based, recycled, grown mushrooms) but also in the area of social responsibility works such as the amazing bags project of Vivienne Westwood in Africa.
How was it received?
Very well! We had a great outreach and, for a province town in the Netherlands, quite a number of international professionals came. But also the local audience of Arnhem and the local newspaper were really positive about the exhibition. It opened their view on what fashion is and the problems it is dealing with and the newspaper, The Gelderlander, became our biggest supporter. As a result we attracted a lot of local audience. People felt engaged and positive with the subject.
The concept of the expo was to present 50 potential solutions to the problems of fashions. We explained them with small texts and we posed a couple of questions to it. “Did you know… “
How are your ideas of “the new luxury” such as: being socially responsible, using tech to change the system or trying a new business model being integrated into the University’s design curriculum?
That is a complicated story. More and more we try to implement all these things in the School of Design and Technology at LCF. We try to keep up with the latest technologies and we are exploring how they can contribute to sustainable solutions. Sustainability is taught on all courses and we have a 5-year plan to implement and deepen the sustainable approach in design approach, critical thinking, knowledge of materials and sourcing. Our business school has set up a team that is open for all students who want to set up their own business and we are currently working on several European projects where we collaborate on how to develop a sustainable curriculum. (see: https://www.arts.ac.uk/research/current-research-and-projects/fashion-design/fashion-seeds) and how to set up a Fashion tech business see: https://define-network.eu/ Based on this with international partners we try to learn from each other and slowly introduce new ways of teaching.
Are students changing their design processes and/or their ideas about what their career trajectory look like?
They certainly are! Students are often at the front of rethinking fashion and they come with the new ideas. Our educational philosophy is that we need to learn from them, learn from the new business models, new practices, new values and imagination that students are exploring.
Fabrication is clearly one of the important pieces to changing the fashion system and thus critical for students to have access to new/better materials and ways of making. Can you name 3-4 designers or design groups that you think are doing things “right” and how?
Bethany Williams who was part of the Conscious Contemporary Craft project of LCF and Zegna ,
VIN + OMI focusing on waste and helping to solve this,
Stella McCartney for her long standing approach on sustainability and commitment to it, and
Bruno Pieters -the first completely traceable garments.
It seems that more and more people – young people in particular- are waking up to the importance of sustainable and ethical fashion. But a recent Forbes article said that sustainability in fashion actually went down in 2018 from 2017! One of the issues cited was Gen Z’s belief that while sustainable fashion is important it’s seen as obtainable only by celebrities and influencers. What are your thoughts on that?
Sustainable, traceable quality clothes comes with a cost; buying at Primark is always buying a bulk of clothes that you throw away after a party. Influencers are sending the wrong image out here, because they keep showing each day another project. It’s still the old model of fashion that centers around the new, the new, the new. More work and understanding is needed to transform this attitude. The same with the fact that people love travelling and don’t take into account that flying/travelling is very bad for the planet. We definitely need to rethink what kind of clothes we want to wear.
Yes, and the more that the designer’s start with the end in mind the more options consumers will have so we think it’s really exciting what the student’s at LCF are doing! Thanks José!