The column Educating the Digital aims to connect the students and the creative industry. Here our readers can find interviews with tutors from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, active fashion and art professionals, talking with the students about their careers, their approach to education, and the new challenges provided by digital innovation. We are excited to start this new column with Ivana Conte, Director of Education at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. Ivana Conte has been active in the fashion industry for more than twenty years now, working as a fashion designer and brand developer for both ready-to-wear and haute couture. With the launch of I’M Firenze Digest, we asked her professional opinion about the current education system and the possible impact of this online magazine as part of the School’s new academic strategies.
by Elena Tortelli. Sketches from the Ivana Conte archive
I’MF: To start our interview, I would like to ask, how did you become Director of Education at Istituto Marangoni Firenze? What was your career path?
IC: If I must start from the very beginning, the path could be too long to tell, as it was very diverse. But everything started here in Florence, studying fashion and art here back in the ’90s. After that, I started my career as a designer establishing different brands in London. Then everything melted away with my experience in education. As you can imagine, a designer spends a lot of time alone in her studio, while interacting with students gave me the opportunity to get out of my world and do something different. This was something new that I discovered, a new passion that led me to spend more and more time in fashion education. Everything started in London, in 2005; then I continued teaching in Italy, first in Rome, and then I was invited to coordinate the courses here at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. My professional experience was not one straight line, but lots of lines mixing and complementing each other. It takes time to find your own identity, and once you find it, it is time to evolve into the next new form. Experience and curiosity together will encourage you to constantly take on new challenges and keep learning. Learning is not an easy process. It is true when they say “what does not kill you makes you stronger” because everything can enrich you, professionally and personally. The learning curve never ends; we still are continuing to add knowledge and experience, and to improve ourselves as result. The curve is always growing.
I’MF: As Director of Education, what do you think will be the role of I’M Firenze Digest within the Firenze School?
IC: We are all excited about the arrival of the long-awaited magazine, created by our students and coordinated by our tutors. For me and for our team of academics, this magazine will be a hub where the students can explore, analyse, and share their ideas for all creative areas of fashion, art, and the business of both industries. In addition, by publishing a selection of projects and concepts that you will develop, we firmly believe that the magazine will also become a tool to ignite and inspire readers outside the school. We would like to spread creativity outside our school.
I’MF: Speaking about education, how do you think that a digital platform created with the students’ collaboration will affect the learning process? Since this is an art and fashion school, which could be the benefits of a platform like this?
IC: This platform will be an opportunity for exchange, which is an important part of experimenting and project-based learning: the exchange of ideas, round tables, and discussions are key to bringing new ideas and creative solutions. So, it will be an academic tool that will help not only the students, but also the tutors, as it will help them a little deeper in understanding the students’ inner thinking. Overall, it is going to promote important academic growth.
I’MF: Recently, the school experience has been getting more and more digital. What do you think are the limits and opportunities of this?
IC: We all learned that the digital world could bring many benefits to our work and lifestyle. It helps with “time” as one of our most important resources. The time we spend on transportation is reduced. It also gives us the opportunity to organise online meetings and guest lectures with industry professionals from all over the world. At the same time, digital technology helps reduce the costs of travelling. But we have also learned that all-digital lessons are limiting the amount of content we can share through lectures. The digital experience should be one part of our education process. Students’ life experience cannot be replaced by online meetings only. Physical meetings and events are essential to create relationships, network, exchange ideas and brainstorm concepts. It is different when this happens in presence, in a room; you can feel the vibes and you get not only inspired, but also motivated. We need to mix and match digital and physical, in the right proportions. Digital technology is a great tool, but we must learn how to use it properly, in education and for work purposes. We must be careful not to get too comfortable having everything on our screens, which would lead us to not leaving our habitat to meet new people face to face, and new opportunities.
I’MF: Thinking about your personal experience in school, which are the biggest changes that you can see in today’s education system?
IC: Everything is changing so fast; what we were experiencing three years ago is quite different now, without mentioning how different it was back in the ’90s or 2000s. The education system is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our society and the industry, which will then hire professionals with specific preparation. The programmes are now enriched with a focus on soft skills, and not only hard skills. The industry is now very involved in education, not only in our school but also in other universities. We have a lot of guests lectures with professionals and collaborations with brands and institutions, so the students can work closely with real work environments while they are still in school. This would not happen very often fifteen or twenty years ago; now it is more dynamic and faster to bring and infuse fresh starters with new trends brought from industries through professionals.