Teaching Creativity and Professionalism
Considered today, one of Paris leading fashion schools, Atelier Chardon Savard is a relatively young institution. Cyrille Chardon, originally a film director and Dominique Savard a designer and art teacher created the school in 1988 to be quickly joined by Sylvie Comugnaro, a stylist. Together they have developed a specific approach to fashion education.
Built on a 25 year experience, the teaching of Atelier Chardon Savard aims to reconcile analysis with intuition, freedom with constraints and reflectivity with spontaneity. Its purpose is to train fashion designers able to produce the miracles expected of them: to design just at the right time, innovative, sophisticated, comfortable, functional and original garments.
The Atelier interdisciplinary teaching is delivered by highly competent and motivated educators and by artists and industry specialists invited to supervise different projects. The aim of this training is to develop the students’ individuality, knowledge and skills.
The first year provides a foundation in arts focused on teaching creativity and providing a fashion culture, the second year concentrates on first level seaming and draping techniques as well as it develops abilities in fashion design focused on the elements needed in a portfolio and for a collection (colour chart, technical sketches, fabric selection…). The students can then follow one of three pathways: Fashion Design (woven and knit), Fashion Styling, and Fashion Communication (respectively CNCP Level II, III, II). To graduate students have to present their collections and portfolios to several panels of industry specialists. These presentations are the occasions for fashion professionals to meet the new generation; they often lead to the graduating student being offered a first job.
All of the Atelier’s four pathways include compulsory, contracted internships with fashion companies of various specialties, organised in accordance with the fashion calendar. Right from the first year, students get the chance to put to practice the school teaching, familiarise themselves with the work place and corporate realities.
Beyond these internships, the Atelier provides several projects simulating work situations. Level II marketing students get to experience as part of the curriculum the product manager / stylist relationship; students also often work with photographers outside the school hence experiencing the designer photographer relationship.
An annual catwalk featuring 200 to 250 outfits sees students of every year present their creations. Unlike other graduation presentation this end of year catwalk is a festive event away from the constraints of industry and commerce.
Atelier Chardon Savard was approved by the French Ministry of National Education in 1988 and awards CNCP certified Level II and III titles (See second half of our Paris Editorial for explanations of the French education system).
Dominique Savard one of Atelier Chardon-Savard founder, its CEO and Head of Education was kind enough to answer our questions.
All Studio photographs by Jacky Macé
Dominique, what did you do before you founded the Atelier Chardon Savard?
I studied applied arts, first fashion at ESSA Duperré and then at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris, a prestigious French fine arts school, where I took a major in engraving and carving.
I came to realise at the time that no program dedicated to fashion design was offered by a major French public institution. The tools were there and you could for instance, train to become a textile print designer, but there was hardly any teaching dedicated to fashion design. After my Art studies I became a freelance fashion designer, while also teaching creative sketching. Eventually I decided I needed to start a school for fashion design.
How did the Atelier Chardon Savard start?
The adventure of the Atelier Chardon Savard really started with the sketching classes I was giving at the time. As a teacher, I experimented with exercises to make the right hemisphere of the brain work more efficiently with the left hemisphere. I realized I could transpose those exercises to techniques such as moulding and draping and to fashion design and saw how they would be beneficial to students designing garments. This is what led in 1988, to the launch of our school: Atelier Chardon Savard.
How have things changed since those days?
The fashion industry has changed since 1988; today young fashion designers need to have a broader set of skills and advanced design abilities. They need to be mature designers and individuals who can perform efficiently. To this end the school has increased slightly the length of its studies and its curriculum now includes a full year of during which students must complete internships in the industry. The experience gained this way enables them to evolve their career faster. Reasonably long internships, now an industry standard are beneficial. Students can experience the work environment; future employers get to know the students. Both sides are more likely to find a suitable match when looking for/to fill a permanent position.
What do you enjoy most in your current position as Head of Education?
My favourite task is solving questions relating to teaching strategy and inventing new exercises with our educative team. Atelier Chardon Savard strives to adapt to the constantly evolving requirements of the fashion design, marketing and promotion professions.
What qualities are you looking for in your collaborators?
The teachers and the team around me have different types of background: some are former students with some years of experience in the fashion industry,
others are professionals, including fashion writers, stylists, fashion and art historians, seamstresses with both creative and technical skills, who complement our teaching.
I am constantly looking for people who, in their specific field, can integrate of the school’s specific method while complementing it with their personal research. Together, we develop new approaches to the teaching creative subjects in applied arts and fashion design.
What is fashion design for you?
Innovation and creativity must remain the root of fashion design. Of course a commercial approach to fashion must be considered but creativity must remain preeminent; creativity is the goal. In this field, Paris is still recognized as the world capital; however the energy coming from emerging countries nowadays is powerful. I believe that the future of fashion design will spring from the magic dynamic between Paris and other cultures from different countries and continents.
How do you teach creativity and balance it with marketing and technical skills?
We strongly believe at Atelier Chardon Savard that creativity can be taught. Our teaching approach prioritises this. All sketching exercises and technical trainings in our programs are taught in ways which favour and encourage the emergence of creativity. The same applies to our knitwear atelier. This truly makes the school a unique place to study fashion design.
In parallel we have created a curriculum for fashion students who are less interested in the technical aspects of fashion design. Nowadays, they can have very important positions as fashion stylists for instance, or as marketing directors. After a common program during the first two years of tuition, we offer various options to suit different careers.
Evaluating a student at whatever stage in our program is based on three criteria: Creativity, Technicality but also general behaviour. This last aspect is extremely important, especially at the beginning of the course. Our students are asked to attend classes on a regular, attentive and thorough basis, to deliver their work on time, and enjoy the learning process.
We understand that ASC insist on excellent presentation of student work both in its shows and editorial photography. Can you explain what you do and why you feel it matters?
Runway shows, showrooms presentations and photo shoots are part of our teaching/learning process. Just as it is the case in their future profession, students get to experience this way several realities: the multiplication of ideas during production and the editing process, sometimes carried out in a team or with the help and vision by someone who is seen as a reference. In our school, such editing process happens at several stages, first with our fashion design teachers, then with another person of our educative team less familiar with these students. This helps bring a new light and perspective on the student’s work.
After such achievements what is next?
The school has elaborated programs to teach fashion design in new fashion countries such as Morocco for instance. Adapting the approach we have mastered at Atelier Chardon Savard to different cultural backgrounds and coaching teachers who are discovering this approach is something I find very exciting.
In parallel we have started exclusive, made-to-measure fashion workshops and seminars for creative, commercial and business executives.
Now that our fame as a fashion design school has reached its level, exporting our teaching engineering is what we would like to achieve. Adapting our pedagogy to various situations and people is fascinating.
What is your advice to someone who considers studying fashion?
Ask yourself some questions. What is behind your motivation? Do you seek recognition by the industry or from friends and family? Do you seek freedom of expression, a job in which you can travel, financial reward, the feeling of being an artist, the pleasure to be creative, see your name in the media … finding employment, no matter what? Who do you admire in the fashion world?
Explore the various jobs the fashion industry has to offer. Combine the result of this research and an understanding of your own motivations; try to build a personal project you will be able to pursue as a professional path.
In 2009 Dominique Savard wrote a 144 pages book: Le dessin de mode: du croquis à la creation – Fashion illustration: from sketch to creative garment building; with foreword by haute couture designer Christian Lacroix it provides sketching exercises illustrated by the work of students. The book is now available in Mandarin and will be in English soon.