FLORENCE, Italy — Founded in 1986, privately funded Polimoda has emerged as one of Italy’s most prestigious fashion schools. Located across two campuses – a historic villa and a newly built design lab — in the Renaissance city of Florence, the school’s 150 professors teach a wide spectrum of fashion related courses across marketing, management, finance, branding, communications, art direction, trend forecasting, footwear, textile development and pattern and garment design.
Polimoda encourages its internationally diverse student body to develop skills across a range of disciplines, in order to best prepare them for the realities of the modern fashion industry. Each course is designed to expand both theoretical and practical ability. Conscious that the fashion system is subject to continuous change, Polimoda consistently reviews, redefines its courses, faculty and services for students and companies to reflect the industry as it stands today. The college boasts a graduate employment rate of 88 percent.
BoF sits down with Polimoda's dean, Danilo Venturi, to find out how the Florentine institution prepares its students for the realities of a career in fashion, and why talent is the true driver of the fashion industry.
BoF: How would you describe the DNA of Polimoda?
As an independent institute operating without the support of large commercial groups, education is Polimoda’s only focus. As an institution, Polimoda seeks to balance its Florentine legacy of the finest production, art, craftsmanship, fashion brands and trade fairs, with its role as an international centre of learning — capable of expressing its opinion on a world stage. We seek to form fashion professionals who have both the ability to do and to be: practical skills and personal development. This positive dualism, also visible in our black and white corporate colours, gives the school and our students an instantly recognisable character.
The Polimoda campus has a tight-knit, family feeling and our focus on what we teach is obsessive. We deliver undergraduate and masters courses, some created especially for professionals who are keen to take a new direction in their career, along with a range of short courses. Our classes are mainly taught in English and our students come from 60 different nations. Polimoda alumni are now planted throughout the industry, staying in contact with each other through a large network — forming a bigger community, which supports and helps each other. The school belongs to those who make it: the students.
BoF: What distinguishes the best fashion education in today’s market?
We believe that to offer the best fashion education in the market we should not view education as “a market.” True education is nothing other than an honest exchange of knowledge. It’s that simple. Our teachers work as consultants for the students, enabling them to learn how to make choices case by case. We guide them to the doors but we also give them the keys. This is why Polimoda provides the maximum number of teaching hours possible, international field trips, guest lectures, applied projects with companies from the industry, state of the art design labs and access to one of the most extensive fashion libraries in Europe. But it’s not only a matter of quantity. When I was a student, teachers were unreachable aliens, then education became commercial and was bought as the last possible luxury. These two models have both expired and need to be forgotten if we don’t want to fall into The Great Education Swindle — as The Sex Pistols' referred to the demise of Rock music in their song The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle.
BoF: How do you prepare your students for the realities of a career in fashion?
We teach them to work fast and to be precise and determined. Employers don’t care about credits — they are interested in whether or not you can do the work. The link between course titles and job profiles is disappearing. Students can study to be a designer and end up working as a brand manager, change roles, become a freelancer or even an entrepreneur — in any order. To prepare students for this new reality, Polimoda encourages a multidisciplinary approach and we give classes real life materials and environments to work with — taken directly from the professional experience of the teachers. As well as providing students with internship opportunities, the college also connects them to the industry in other ways; through initiatives such as Polimoda Talent, our scouting portal, inviting selected headhunters to attend graduates’ final presentations, our annual Business Links day, and through our in-house start-up incubator. Although we engage angel investors, Polimoda is also ready to invest directly.
BoF: What kind of students thrive in the educational environment of the college?
Because of the broad range of courses on offer students of every kind find their own way to Polimoda, however, despite their differences, they each see fashion as a fascinating mix of the human, sociological and industrial. In our entrance exam, we evaluate if applicants have something to say. While they are attending Polimoda as students we ask them to have a critical worldview to help them reveal their talent. It’s a more intellectual, sophisticated and focused approach than much of what is out there. Whether graduating with a fashion show, a performance or a final book project, by that time every student is practiced in expressing a statement, demonstrating its feasibility and presenting it properly. What they achieve by the end of their studies at Polimoda is the beginning of their future careers. Between the legacy of the past and the vision of the future, they live their moment.
BoF: What new areas of study and training is the college focused on?
We believe we have led the way in Trend Forecasting with the idea that covering a new trend is more important than detecting an existing one. Similarly, in courses such as Brand Management, Polimoda was one of the first educational institutions to consider graphic design and motion picture as more important functions and skills than creating Excel spread sheets. I could answer that we will focus more on ‘sustainability’ in the future, but at Polimoda focusing on sustainability is viewed as a precondition for success, not a flag to wave. Because of our character, we would much rather discuss the ‘unsustainability of fashion’.
With regards to equipping students with the skills for success, we have created a method to push beyond the boundaries of what was always divided: design and business. We believe you cannot achieve this by adding two hours of marketing between patternmaking and draping — you do it by taking the lowest common denominator between the two domains and developing it to be the highest. This, quite simply, is the human. At Polimoda we strive to develop our students’ potential, both their character and their skills, to ensure that they are able to work and prosper in a time of flux in the industry. Once boys were serenading girls under their windows and now they send songs through Facebook. Technology changes, fashion changes, but human instinct remains the same.