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The State of Fashion – José Teunissen and Claire Swift in conversation

Photography by Felix Cooper and styling by Anders Sølvsten Thomsen
Photography by Felix Cooper and styling by Anders Sølvsten Thomsen

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Published date
23 May 2018

Professor José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design and Technology at LCF curated State of Fashion, an event in Arnhem from 1 June to 22 July. A selection of LCF projects will be appearing, including our work with the San Patrignano rehabilitation facility in Italy – a collaboration with luxury Italian brand Zegna.

Alumna Bethany Williams designed the fabrics for her most recent collection alongside the women at San Patrignano.

Alumna Bethany Williams designed the fabrics for her most recent collection alongside the women at San Patrignano.

The fashion industry represents imagination, but also power and responsibility. An increasing amount of brands show that fashion can contribute to a better world, for example through socially responsible production processes or by contributing to a better living environment and society. Is this the new luxury?

Professor José Teunissen recently sat down with Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility at LCF, to talk about their contributions to this debate for State of Fashion. Below we have repurposed their interview for LCF news.

Claire to José: What inspires you most about fashion? Cultural reflection.

José to Claire: What is your definition of luxury and fashion? Luxury is an approach, it is a respect and recognition of the material, an appreciation of the process and an admiration of the skills of the craftsmen and the makers who create and explore through the art of their craft.  Luxury displays a personality and connects us to the maker,  through the touch and feel of the material, it is a sensual experience which allows us to appreciate the value and worth of the product and those invisible artists who created it.

Claire to José: how are you contributing to change with State of Fashion? State of Fashion is a platform for projects like yours, and shows in different ways  there is so much more to fashion than just the look of the garment. The value of the process, the story and the people who make the clothing or textile also contribute to making a garment special. The exhibition Searching for the new luxury explores these new definitions of luxury as an answer to urgent ecological and social questions: less waste and less pollution, more equality, well-being and inclusiveness. It also represents a revaluation of the pleasure, fun and the craftsmanship connected to the making-process. State of Fashion sheds light on these different sides of the fashion industry to make designers, companies and consumers aware that real change is possible in the future.

Jose to Claire: How has this project influenced the range of communities involved in its creation? We could not have anticipated the impact of this project. We set out to find a space to experiment, to learn from each other, to provide a platform for the learning and skills of the participants and connect a range of diverse communities.  Bethany Williams, menswear designer and London College of Fashion graduate, connected the communities together. She worked with the women in the weaving workshop in San Patrignano, experimenting with found and recycled fibres and materials, and introduced the women to new techniques on traditional handlooms and connected their work more closely to the design process.

The BA Menswear students were introduced to themes, reflecting societal issues; protect, migrate, protest and survive. This enabled them to reflect on their design thinking by highlighting some of the issues affecting the communities involved in the project. The students spoke about the meaning of the project and how it encouraged them to think about the positive and negative effects of the industry and their role within it.

The women of LCF’s ‘Making for Change’ training and manufacturing unit in HMP Downview, and the women in San Patrignano exchanged gifts and notes as a way to communicate and connect with each other. This project was a useful platform to highlight the work of these unique initiatives, developed to enable the women to transform themselves through education, learning and skills; equipping them with the tools to rebuild self-esteem and self-confidence and ultimately reduce the risk of reoffending or substance abuse.

Over 150 people have been involved in this project, including academic and technical staff, students and project participants. All committed to the message within: Conscious, Contemporary Craft: Connecting, Communities.

Claire to José: A ‘new luxury’ requires a different kind of designer in the future. What could a new generation of fashion designers look like? The most important thing is that we should stop thinking in a ‘star’ designer as a creative genius.  Future designers must take a far more holistic approach where they incorporate innovation, cultural changes and the awareness of a better society and a more sustainable future. As a result, they become directors of much wider interdisciplinary teams. They will be involved in collaborations with biotechnologists to develop innovative textiles and in the development of new innovative ways of garment making. The designer of the future will be much more involved with processes than only with the final product and fashion will be more about ideology than about a fashion brand image.

Jose to Claire: Could you tell us more about how fashion can influence a positive change for society? Fashion can be an especially strong transforming force due to its unique appeal across social boundaries. Fashion education has a role to play in training the next influencers of the industry, our students are concerned by many of the issues faced by society. There are more young designers who are developing new business models, social enterprises that support and connect with communities affected by social challenges.

The fashion industry must find new ways of working and there is a growing movement within these new designers who will make this change. They are challenging the way in which the industry works; they understand the need to retain heritage and craft skills, balanced with technology, they are questioning how we consume, how we can produce more responsibly and how we can better recognise the ‘invisible’ communities behind the industry? Overall we need to create more inclusive, accessible ways of doing business.

State of Fashion opens on June 1st and runs until 22 July 2018.