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Véronique Beaumont: “Esmod has its finger on the pulse when it comes to the changes in fashion

Behind the large monumental bronze door created by Christofle, guests from all over the world struggle to conceal their enthusiasm, and it has to be said that this event is certainly worthy of the magnificence of this exquisite Parisian mansion located on Avenue de Friedland, in the heart of the 8th arrondissement. We are here at the Potocki Hotel, in the large reception room of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is the setting for the Esmod International group’s annual fashion show. This extraordinary show is the culmination of a week of festivities, at the centre of which lay the “Heritage and Patrimony: 180 years of workshops” exhibition staged at the school’s Pantin branch and at the La Piscine museum in Roubaix and celebrating 180 years of the world’s oldest fashion school.

The exhibition was extraordinary not only for the anniversary that it marked but also for its content. This was the first time that the school had staged such a demonstration of expertise in Paris, through a selection of the best creations by students of the 18 schools in the group. This is an entirely international group, after all, with branches in 12 countries, including France (Paris, Lyon, Roubaix, Bordeaux and Rennes), Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and Norway.

This key moment was brilliantly piloted by Véronique Beaumont, who, after a 30-year career working alongside designers at both Christian Lacroix and Marcel Marongiu, took on the role of Managing Director of the group of which she had been on the teaching body for 7 years. Here she oversaw the creative marketing, product development and distribution courses in Roubaix and Paris before being appointed Head of the Esmod Pro division, dedicated entirely to professional training, by President of the group Satoru Nino in 2017. It was in this role that she successfully developed the organisation's client portfolio while structuring its training offering.

The initial results of this breakneck start to her mandate were already visible in the organisation of this event, which included a narrative carefully crafted in collaboration with the Fantastic Communication agency founded by Nicolas Dal Sasso and Christian Lemoine de la Salle, a graphics charter developed by Marseille-based creative agency Flirt Studio, and staging by Amandine Labbe (founder of the inclusive label U-Exist, which offers orthopaedic devices that combine aesthetics with technology). On the catwalk, meanwhile, the students’ creations demonstrated a certain creative freedom that was very much in keeping with the times - genderlessness, fluidity, wearability, the search for personal balance and inner harmony, and the desire to want was clearly the common theme to this selection that combined technical demonstration with personal expression. So is this the result of a new approach, or simply the continuation of a signature that has proven its worth since 1841?

What sets Esmod apart?

“What makes Esmod unique is first and foremost its long history”, explains its Managing Director. A company doesn’t live to be 180 years old if it doesn’t represent something strong and unique. This particular history began in Paris. The school’s founder, Alexis Lavigne, was a lady’s tailor and, as you know, the art of tailoring requires the most demanding techniques there are. I should point out that he was a visionary tailor; in fact, as tailor and riding habit-maker to the Empress Eugenie, he had developed a revolutionary method combining a men’s suit with a female garment to make his techniques wearable on the street, paving the way, to some extent, for off-the-peg fashion.

Is Esmod an off-the-peg fashion school?

I’ve often heard it said that Esmod is ultimately a school for ‘off-the-peg’ fashion, as implicitly opposed to other establishments that are perhaps seen as focusing more on couture. I see it somewhat differently: first of all, Alexis Lavigne had proven, through the publication of his method, that he was not superficially elitist and that he wanted to target everyone. Secondly, this desire not to target a microcosm has allowed the school to keep in step with generations of pioneering designers; the off-the-peg fashion of the 70s, for example, was driven by a new wave of designers with a lot of respect for technique and expertise, such as Thierry Mugler, who also spent time at Esmod Paris. I’d like to point out, too, that Alexis Lavigne was also a great inventor to whom we owe the tape measure and the mannequin bust (future busts used in the workshops were, in fact, named after his pupil, Belgian sculptor Frederic Stockman). He was also particularly diligent when it came to the well-being of his employees. Ethics and what we now generally refer to as ‘Responsibility’ were naturally part of his method, and Esmod still embodies this global philosophy today.

The Esmod group now has 18 schools in 12 countries. Where does Paris come into this equation?

The Esmod school was founded in Paris, and its identity remains fundamentally linked to French expertise. France is a global benchmark in the fashion industry, which accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs in mainland France, so Paris and France are therefore deeply rooted in the DNA of the group, which draws strength from its diversity and truly values cultural differences. Our students really enjoy the interaction, too, so I don’t see why, for example, we couldn't ask a lecturer in Japan to deliver a masterclass that would take place in our famous Salle Boisée wood-panelled room at the school on Rue de la Rochefoucauld in Paris.

Will you be reinforcing this interdisciplinary approach and this rapprochement between schools?

We already implement an interdisciplinary approach since design, styling, technique and business are all intrinsically linked, and the hybridisation of the teaching of fashion design and fashion business is one of my priorities. Diversity is all the more important given my firm belief in breaking down borders; in fact, design as a whole has never before benefited so much from the meeting of views and disciplines. Our courses incorporate aspects of sociology and even philosophy, and I want to reinforce this interdisciplinarity that characterises both the world of work and the world of design today, which is why I have recruited new lecturers who not only bring great professional expertise to the table but are also perfectly familiar with the Esmod way of teaching. These are people from hybrid backgrounds who don't work in isolation.

President of the Esmod International Group Satoru Nino emphasised the fundamental role that research will play over the coming years during his address at the 180th anniversary show. Could you tell us a little more about that?

Esmod has, and indeed has to have, its finger on the pulse when it comes to the changes in fashion professions. Being a designer these days doesn’t mean simply being able to draw or illustrate, but requires an understanding and the incorporation of the issues associated with the transformation that the fashion industry is facing. You have to be able to collaborate with other professions, and this is what we aim to achieve through our partnerships and collaborations, especially those with Seti and the Bali Chair, which is a centre for information and research on the technological breakthroughs to come for the fashion and textiles sector. It is in Esmod’s very nature, having been founded by an inventor, to always have one eye on innovation and to be interested in textile research, the evolution of pattern-making, new technologies and eco-responsibility. Recognition by the Ministry of Higher Education in the form of the Master equivalent seal has also given 4th and 5th-year Fashion Design students the possibility of continuing their studies up to PhD level since July last year.

The designs presented during the fashion show at the Potocki Hotel were generally considered to be appealing not only in terms of their technical mastery but also for the vitality that inspired them, with some truly desirable styles that were clearly very much in keeping with the times. Is this a particularly gifted generation?

The new generation is a complex one; it was, of course, heavily affected by the pandemic, which may have reinforced a certain resentment towards their elders, but it is also a generation that is driven by a strong life force and a love of a job well done. I was surprised to see how keen the first years were on couture, not for its elitism, but for what it represents in terms of rational quantities and production processes that are respectful of the work of artisans. Genderlessness was another underlying trend. To answer your question about the style of the designs showcased during the fashion show from a more general perspective, I would say that a reform is indeed under way, not only in terms of the programmes themselves but also in terms of the teaching. We want to avoid moulding at all costs, and have been striving since the start of the new academic year to unleash our students’ creativity as of the first year. For example, they can now present their moodboards in whichever format they choose - paper, digital or video. You can't pigeonhole people at all costs to make them fit into your boxes; you have to find a balance between respecting a series of specifications and personal expression. After all, design is also very much about freedom, if you ask me.

Photo credit: Lucie Monroe, Alexandre Gaudin

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