The central question of the research-workshop in Paris under the supervision of Professor Hans de Foer was about the connection between fashion design and the olfactory sense. Based on this positioning students together with non-seeing participants tested through interactive exercises numerous design approaches and experienced that smell and identity are clearly interconnected.
Located on central Parisian Austerlitz Docks, the Institute de la mode (IFM) has established itself as an international reference in training professionals of the fashion industry since its founding in 1986. From the beginning on the project has been thought in an interdisciplinary way, or quoting co-founder Pierre Bergé’:
"It was vital to measure against each other, to understand each other, to live and work together"
If different professionals can be brought together in the creation process, why not bring together different senses to approach future-oriented fashion design?
The International Research Workshop in Paris is co-directed by Hans de Foer, Director of IFM’s Postgraduate Fashion Program, and BEYOND SEEING’s artistic director Francine Pairon., who both are well-known for pushing their students forward towards innovative thinking. Besides the IFM students, Blogger Priscilla and professional dancer Fabienne, both visually impaired, are also participating the workshop
Paris is all about olfactory sense. How can fashion be perceived through smell and how do people associate it with specific garments? Can scent become an element of creation? These questions serve as the framework for BEYOND SEEING’S International Research Workshop in Paris.
The world of fashion is first and foremost a visual experience. But what else is fashion about? BEYOND SEEING aims to unfold the multisensory aspects of fashion through a transnational collaboration of people and institutions to help shape the future of fashion design. The project consists of four phases: a kick-off event, a series of research workshops, a creation workshop and a final exhibition that conveys the discoveries made.
A first exercise aims at testing the memory of participants. A simple game, Chinese whispers, spiced up with some intercultural variations, reveals the memory’s dependence on visual perception.
Design rests heavily on the power of imagination, which can be triggered by smell. In a second experiment, two groups are provided with eight different scents. Each scent’s meaning is vividly discussed, ranging from car tires to fir. Two fragrances, chosen out of the eight, then have to be translated into an outfit by blindfoldedly picking from a wide range of garment. The pieces of cloth, light or heavy, soft or coarse, provide different tactile experiences and lead participants to experience multisensory associations.
Sketching is an essential part of creating fashion. Illustrator Mark joins the group after the chosen garments have been draped on the provided mannequins. In a first step Mark’s task is to draw a sketch, blindfolded and based on a scent chosen by the group. In a second step he is allowed to take off the mask and to draw again, sighted. Participants are fascinated with how similar Mark‘s interpretation is to the one that was draped on the mannequin before.
If smell can be translated into drawing, can it also be conveyed through body expression? Another experiment starts with an incense-like fragrance- In repetitive sequences of quasi-ritual movements, such as kneeling and folding hands, one group has to perform the scent in a comprehensive way, while te other group tries to identify it.
“I enjoy things that are not meant to be pretty and useful and when two opposites collide together. Minimalism is inspiring, and so is chaos.” Kevin, IFM student
“Fashion as a wider industry is a wonderful platform and opportunity to embrace all kinds of beauty. While diversity and inclusion are increasingly being talked about, it is often related to casting alone. I think there is a lot of work to be done within casting people from all kinds of backgrounds, but also to go further and consider different profiles from the very start of the creation process, across product, stores, digital and every experience within fashion.” Allison, IFM student