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The School That Pierre Bergé Built

Established by the partner of Yves Saint Laurent, the Institut Français de la Mode is closely knitted into the French fashion ecosystem like few others.
Institut Français de la Mode | Source: Gaillarde Deslandes for IFM
  • Osman Ahmed

PARIS, France — Earlier this year, the death of Pierre Bergé shook the fashion world. The subsequent spotlight on his illustrious career and legacy as Yves Saint Laurent's trusted partner highlighted the necessary dialogue between design creativity and business management in establishing a leading and long-standing fashion house. It also brought to light his many philanthropic initiatives, one of which was establishing the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM), a postgraduate college dedicated to offering specialised fashion and luxury management courses for students interested in working in the myriad roles outside of the design studio.

"He knew that the fashion world was about to change, that education and knowledge would play a much bigger role, but also that fashion could never be run like a classical business," says Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la haute couture et de la Mode, which Bergé worked with in establishing the college in 1986. "Since that time, [courses relating to] the creative industries, and notably fashion, have been more and more attractive for business schools and other academic institutions."

Institut Français de la Mode | Source: Farid Bernat for IFM

IFM, however, remains the first of its kind. "There was no programme specialised in luxury and fashion management in the world before it," says Sylvie Ebel, executive director at IFM. Ebel says that, courtesy of Bergé, the relationship between business and creativity is baked into the DNA of the school. "At first, it was difficult to find teachers because that area didn't exist, so we started with many professionals," she adds. One of the first professors was Didier Grumbach, Morand's predecessor at the Federation, who helped establish Givenchy and Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche in the '60s and, to this day, hosts an annual summer fete for alumni and students at his country house in France.

“The fashion sector needs specialists,” Ebel emphasises, pointing out that courses pioneered at IFM, such as Fashion and Luxury Management, are now ubiquitous at institutions around the world. “Because we are totally specialised, we are totally focused.” In 2000, the school started a fashion design programme headed up by Francine Pairon, who joined from the renowned École de la Cambre in Brussels. Although Ebel insists that design students are given the freedom to experiment and indulge their creativity, she says that an important part of the course is to help them understand the “language of management, just as we want managers to understand the language of creation and design.” “Certain lines can’t be crossed,” she stresses. “Managers can’t design collections, and we don’t give the designers the impression that they can be a marketing specialist.”

Certain lines can't be crossed. Managers can't design collections, and we don't give the designers the impression that they can be a marketing specialist.

The close proximity to major fashion houses also creates a sense of the realities involved in the jobs available and the all-important elements of production. “We gave [Pairon] carte blanche and asked her to make something different and to take advantage of the ecosystem we have in Paris,” says Ebel. A large part of the course are workshops and partnerships with French fashion houses, and a compulsory internship in the industry.

Pierre Bergé speaking at IFM | Source: Courtesy

The direct line has greatly benefitted the school's point of view. There is active involvement of some of the biggest fashion businesses in Paris — corporate sponsors include Chanel, Hermès, Saint Laurent, Christian Dior Couture, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton and L'Oréal — many of which contribute to scholarships for students and recruit from its pool of graduates. Each year, the fashion design programme collaborates with over 50 companies in France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Japan and the Netherlands to enable designers to develop prototypes of their work (including garments, bags, glasses and shoes) and the businesses open the doors of their manufacturing facilities and share in-house resources with the students.

“Brands and companies have always been in the core of IFM,” says Morand. “Since the ‘80s, brands and companies have quickly moved towards recruiting more and more talented and educated people. Beyond answering the needs of the industry, the intense and supportive dialogue with brands and companies has enabled [us] to be in position to anticipate their wishes and expectations in a prospective way.” As a result, the curriculum is constantly evolving to adapt to the current marketplace, with digital, technology and sustainability being introduced to the academic agenda — each of those topics will also play a large part of a brand-new Fashion Design BA programme, the first time the college has offered undergraduate studies, and a revamped Fashion Design MA, both of which will start in September 2019.

The intense and supportive dialogue with brands and companies has enabled [us] to be in position to anticipate their wishes and expectations.

"The programme has enriched me a lot and pushed me to work through real business cases on global luxury companies," one international luxury management student noted in BoF's survey. "All the aspects of the fashion world are experienced through a commercial lens: fabric purchases, collection development, production, retail and wholesale, communication etc." One design student about to graduate said: "On a personal level, I can say I have grown more than ever, pushed and refined my aesthetic and creative vision," adding that they had "learnt how to pitch ideas in a clear and professional way, and how to balance design with business." Indeed, many of IFM's design graduates have gone on to secure top-tier positions in leading fashion houses, from Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski at Hermès to Guillaume Henry at Nina Ricci and Pablo Coppola at Bally.

“[IFM] immerses you in the reality of the luxury goods industry and helps [you] to apply your vision to a wider audience and enables you to work with different players within the business,” says Vanhée-Cybulski. “It gives you a sense of how a creative mind needs to constantly shift between the motto, 'The sky is the limit' and the pragmatism of the profession.”

The alumni network is also actively involved with the careers department at the school, which Ebel says helps graduates find jobs in the Parisian market. “90 percent of our graduates are in the sector,” she says, confirming the school’s status as a pathway to the beating heart of the industry. “You find quite a lot of them in the best companies.”

To view the full State of Fashion Education Report and BoF Global Fashion School Rankings, and learn more about our ranking methodology, click here.

BoF's Annual Global Fashion School Rankings 2017

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