Sur les conseils de mon ancien prof (Xavier Chaumette), auprès de qui j’ai la chance de travailler aujourd’hui, je me suis procuré le livre La Cambre MODE[S] 1986-2006, célébrant les 20 ans du département mode de l’École nationale des Arts Visuels de la Cambre. Le livre est gros pavé 500 pages largement agrémenté de photos, de notes et d’interview. Sa réalisation, sa mise en forme graphique est parfaitement en phase le sujet, le choix du papier, de la typographie, la mise forme des visuels véhiculent ces idées de rigueur et de créativité qui, à mon sens, font La Cambre MODE[S].
Le livre s’ouvre sur un face à face entre les deux directeurs du département mode, Francine Pairon, qui l’a créé et Tony Delcampe, ancien élève et son successeur. C’est un entretien informel, sur des souvenirs, des pensées. J’ai trouvé plusieurs passages de cet échange très intérressants, on y apprend énormément sur les méthodes d’enseignement, sur les attentes des élèves et des professeurs, sur la mode et ses rapports avec les autres disciplines artistiques.
Entre l’Académie d’Anvers (Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons…) et La Cambre à Bruxelles (Oliviers Theyskens, Cathy Pill…) , la Belgique s’impose comme un grand pays de mode.
J’ai numérisé quelques passages de cet entretien, afin de vous faire partager ma découverte.
Bonne lecture !
How to integrate fashion design into an art school? There is something ambiguous about fashion: we stand between art and commerce and we obviously have a slightly hybrid profile. We are part of the elusives. In an art school, fashion doesn’t have the same credibility as design or the graphic arts, since we are part of the applied arts, the « impure arts » so to speak. But nevertheless, our department has evolved and has won acclaim. We have always been very independent. It cost us dearly, but that was the price of freedom.
The Hyeres Festival
From the begining, I wanted the department of fashion design to have an international dimension. In 1991, our students took part for the first time in the Hyeres Festival. John Galliano and Paquita Paquin were members of the jury. They were amazed by my students’ propositions, that were utterly, completely personal, not at all trend-related, uncompromising. We started scooping all the prizes.
The teaching approach
The teaching approach can only be devised with the final result in mind. Who do we want to train at La Cambre? If we want to train fashion designers, then our main focus should be on personalities. These can only grow through an unavoidable process that consists in developing the creative language by means of a formal vocabulary. This process also includes some experimentations. The method is a combination of visual creativity and technique. Through a series of exercises, the student explores as deeply as possible his or her own vision.
For long, the following issue has been a topic for discussion: do we want to train fashion designers or fashion stylists in our department.
It didn’t take us long to realise that if we consider fashion with all it’s complexity, it is not so easy to make a clear distinction between these two profiles. When you put fashion on the curriculum of an arts school, then you want to train fashion designers who have to develop their own personal idiom.
If you want to train fashion stylists, then the standards and requirements will obviously be very different. The people you would then prepare for the job market will have acquired abilities but not necessarily a personal form of expression.
Garments rest on supporting points; these are the same for everyone, they are universal. Our idea is to move away from the body by creating volumes, move away from the body to even better reveal it. The aim is to stretch the space between the body and its ‘outer skin’ as much as possible in order to gain awareness of volume, until reaching the most extreme point that the body and the supporting points can possibly sustain. The question is: « When are we out of reach of the body? »
Very quickly we have introduced different levels into our teaching with an increasing technical complexity that matches the requirements of each year. We begin to experiment with volumes during first year, then the following years, this approach is refined in the process of creating outfits that bear one’s own signature.
Step by step this personal idiom is enhanced and enriched by articulating one’s vision around a full-fledged collection. There is one specific technical difficulty that has to be mastered each time by introducing a main thematic piece such as the dress, the skirt, the shirt in first year, trousers, a lined jacket (perfecto, reefer or trench) and coat in second year. On this basis the personal vocabulary can be worked out.
Fundamentally, the first two years are the reservoir out of which the work for the years to come will emerge. During that time, we explore the projects so deeply that we end up with a wealth of resources in terms of colours, fabrics, volumes and techniques. For instance for trousers this can be; jeans, jodhpurs, cigarette, sailor and biker trousers, denim, wool, leather, front pleats, crotches, waistbands, pockets.
We study each piece from A to Z, we examine it and we try to imagine everything that’s left to invent. We are not trying to obtain a pure line but rather a volume that holds its shape and needs to have all the characteristics of a recognisable garment. Our aim is to help students to get all this into their heads. When they will be making trousers in fifth year, they will know where to draw ideas from, because they acquired this vocabulary like learning how to speak and write.
Nevertheless, they will use it in their own personal way. Of course, they will have their own references. This vocabulary will obviously be enriched all along the five-year curriculum through specific courses such as: graphic design in first year, knitwear in second year; fabric printing in second and third years; sound volumes and textures in fashion, ethnical costume and industrial patternmaking in third year and historical costume in fourth. The teaching staff has changed over the years with the arrival of new specialist lecturers such as Eric Chevalier, Maylis Duvivier, Marianne Janssens, Tiphaine Kazi-Tani, Billie Mertens, Catherine Piqueray and Aya Takeda.
We always give a set of guidelines, because without a fixed framework there can be no creativity.
Do we currently have enough ways out of this constraints framework? It’s difficult to tell. We are always expecting some sort of rebellion. Hopefully it should go beyond the constraints and lead to a final result, be it expected or unexpected. Some achieve to escape constraints by exploring alternative routes. This is where the most beautiful personalities reveal themselves.
Indeed, students find their way because they are given indications. However, sometimes your method is so directive that students find it hard to find their own one. A strong personality is required to break out of this. It’s like constructing and deconstructing.
There really is no ideal pedagogical approach. But without giving constraints, nothing materialises, even if, by doing so, we are at risk of shaping people. We always want to set higher standards. We are catering for academic progress while the school has to defend the quality standards.
Things to say
A fashion designer is definitely someone who has things to say, but he also has to be able to communicate his projects in a proper way, so that they can be understood and realised. Beyond personal expression, you also have to master a trade, which means to be the driving force behind the production chain. That’s the actual role of an artistic director. It’s a real profession, I insist, and we also teach this side of things.
[Ce paragraphe me rappelle les propos de Paul Rand, graphic designer, que j’ai cité dans ce billet il y a quelques jours. Un fashion designer est une profession avec des objectifs clairs et précis, on ne peut se contenter de faire du sensationnel ou uniquement de l’artistique sous peine de passer à la trappe rapidement.]
Seen from the inside
All our endeavours, be they more or less successful or more or less failed are our real wealth. Here we anticipate the creation of tomorrow’s fashion. In most cases, novelty results from taking risks.
Interview, Anne-Françoise Moyson