We won’t lie; flipping the calendar page to March was a sobering moment, an unwelcome reminder that we’ve spent a whole year of our lives living through these unprecedented times. Our minds, naturally, drifted back 12 months to those pre-pandemic ‘last days of Rome’ — well, Paris, actually, where the city’s AW20 fashion week was in full swing. Meanwhile, in a neon green lightning bolt of a building on the Left Bank of the Seine, the inaugural cohort of the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM)’s spanking new MA programme had reached the halfway mark in the two-year course, cutting, draping and dreaming of their debut on the fashion world’s most prestigious stage just twelve months down the line. You know how the story goes — a goddamn lot has happened since, and any plans that were in place then were swiftly put paid to. Still, despite the trials and turmoils that the past year has posed, the dreams of the 48 members of the IFM’ first graduating were yesterday realised, with their collections opening the AW21 Paris Fashion Week schedule. “This presentation […] is the first concrete expression of our project and our ambition,” says Xavier Romatet, the school’s dean. “It’s an opportunity to appreciate the creative level of this first graduating class of our new Master’s programme, to identify emerging talent for tomorrow and to contribute to rethinking fashion in light of the current disruptions.” As you’ll see below, this fresh crop of young talent below has done a pretty good job of doing just that, presenting accomplished, thought-provoking collections even in (and in some cases as a reaction to) today’s hostile climate for fashion’s new faces. Here, seven of the graduates discuss their final collections, how they navigated the challenges of creating during the pandemic, and how the past year has shaped their perspectives on fashion. Adam Kost How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection is a meditation on purity and smoothness; meadow and sky; moonlight during the night, sunshine during the day: things that make me feel I am part of everything and everything is part of me. What are its central themes? It’s about the eternal qualities of fashion, and how it interacts with the human body. I was trying to find a universal language, one that everybody can relate to, discussing basic topics and archetypes that are more or less the same for all of us. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? Creating during the pandemic meant creating a collection with limited resources. But this fact didn’t affect my creativity; it even forced me to dream more, be more generous, and more grateful that I still had the privilege to create garments. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? It’s taught me to question my designs much more; to ask myself if they should be made and if they are aesthetically sustainable. Clément Picot How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled “Dream Until the End”, is inspired by two of my favourite movies: American Psycho and The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. I always found that there was a kind of similarity between the two main characters. I wanted to pay tribute to these two films through a series of winks in the looks of the collection, but above all, I wanted to create my own narrative. What are its central themes? The idea was to show the evolution of a person, a transformation and descent to a hell that lies somewhere between the imaginary and the real. I tried to translate this idea through the different looks in my collection, starting with ‘the dream’, with powerful but disturbing silhouettes inspired by Patrick Bateman’s wardrobe, and the last looks ending at the border of the nightmare thanks to hybrid silhouettes inspired by Matthew Barney’s movies. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? I remember dreaming in front of Alexander McQueen’s shows more than 10 years ago — I was amazed by the beauty and the almost infinite creativity of his work, and I think this is part of a kind of magic that fashion has and must continue to have in the future. Especially in these difficult times, it is always important to keep dreaming. Fashion is an art like any other, an art that was disappearing more and more under the increasing numbers of collections, and in a world where fast fashion takes up an increasing amount of space. Nowadays, fashion exists more and more as a form of entertainment and inspiration for people who can’t leave their homes anymore, to visit an exhibition in a museum, for example. In the space of a year, fashion has really managed to carve out an important space in people’s daily lives, giving us hope for the future. Jimin Kim How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection maps my symbolic journey towards finding a balance between reality and daydreaming in the process of achieving my personal goals, mixing the traditional craft of crochet with 3D technology to create silhouettes which question the real and the imagined. My real-world experience is represented by the knitted fabrics made from mohair and monofilament, while my tendency to daydream is represented through transparent 3D structures sculpted in PLA, biodegradable plastic made of corn starch. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? I’ve had a hard time during the pandemic, but, on the other hand, it has enabled me to develop new approaches that aren’t typical knit. I found the first lockdown period very hard mentally, and couldn’t do any work. Afterwards, though, I completed a 4-month innovation project called ‘Sound of Shape’. In Korea, we were able to go out relatively freely, but, as in Paris, there was limited access to knitting machines, so I had to find a new method. The project’s theme was to discover my own innovation, so I decided to make clothes through a creative new method. I researched how knitting and crochet were practised in the past, when people couldn’t use machines. Furthermore, when I searched for a new material, I came up with the idea of working with a 3D pen, and weaving the PLA plastic like a knit structure. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? I wanted to reflect on the current situation in my collection. Previously, in my Parsons MFA collection, I tried to symbolically express my experiences as a woman in Korean society and my attitude against prejudice and discrimination. Although this collection is more concentrated on my inner side, it still expresses a desire to counteract negative stereotypes about me. As a Korean, I grew up in a society that was not part of the fashion mainstream, and I’ve worked very hard to overcome the skeptical gazes of people around me — it’s an effort that continues even to this day. I hope that diversity will become more common in the fashion world, and that young designers who make new attempts to cross barriers of race and nationality will receive greater support in the mainstream. Jisoo Baik How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled ‘Personal Space’, mostly involves incorporating everyday objects that anybody can relate to in order to convey the idea of a safe space where you can be yourself. It was inspired by how individuals carry their possessions with them, each in their own way, when they walk on the street. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? The first time Paris went into lockdown, I was so panicked, I couldn’t imagine how I would develop my final collection without any fabrics and materials. The city was like a ghost town. But then I realised that I couldn’t just stop everything and worry. I just kept saying to myself, ‘I’m doing my best that I can.’ The new trials this brought were actually really freeing. Ironically, they’ve given the fashion world even greater freedom, allowing it to escape from the reliance on fashion shows, for example, something that seemed like it would never changed. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? Before I started my MA course, I was focused on finding my own voice and identity in my designs. I tried to challenge myself by using unfamiliar materials to making garments, digging deep inside myself to answer questions ‘Who am I?” and, “What do I like?” Now, though, I’m more focused on responding to a customer’s needs, and thinking about how I communicate with them. I’ve become much more careful about not getting stuck in my own world. Johanna Imbach How would you introduce your graduate collection? My graduate collection is a technical and creative exploration of knitwear. It is above all a collection that questions the perception of the spectator, proposing new experiences between garments and bodies. What are its central themes? I wanted to create an almost virtual vision, one of garments without any mass. My three-dimensional approach is above all a sculptural process. This allows me to create graphic and kinetic looks where the body and the garment become one, proposing a new anatomy. I wanted to present a womenswear collection that questions anatomy, perception and proportion; to question the female body and its relationship to clothing through allure and curves. Ultimately, I seek to redefine knitwear, to push it beyond the ideas that we have of knitting and its construction. How did you find developing and creating your graduate collection during the pandemic? The most difficult part of the past year has been living in uncertainty. Being a knitter, and being away from our materials and workspace, was a huge disadvantage, even though we all have domestic machines. We had to leave the workshops for 5 months, putting our minds, and our creativity, to a tough test. We also had to be understanding and responsive to government restrictions. It was a year that seemed insurmountable, but, now our collections have launched, it now feels like it passed quickly.” Mathieu Goosse How would you introduce your graduate collection? My collection, titled “I’d like to see you”, is like an image plane, a series of objects in suspension above reality. Short of breath, out of strength, stripped back to the bare essential. It revolves around the ideas of reducing, exhaustion, love, and fragility. I don’t work with mood boards of images, but with emotions, sensations, and objects that I craft and which act as starting points. What are its central themes? It’s about obsession: what fuels it, what brings it alive, and how it triggers our impulses to build and to destroy. I often work with materials I have right next to me, and I like to make them feel new and different. They are sanded, washed-out, and worn-down. There is a frailness in the razor-sharp precision of the handwork, and a roughness in the sensation of sanded silk, peeling python skin, the worn feeling of recycled denim. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? Through my choice to not work with ‘images’ and focus on the essence of elements from my personal point of view, I’m trying to build my garments as objects. Pure, detached and independent, they can speak to or touch everyone; they’re essential forms that can belong to anyone. As a menswear student, my collection was presented on boys in the show, but the garments are completely non-gendered. For me, the best way to discuss issues of diversity in my work is to reduce things to the point where they lose any socialised associations, while maintaining a strong presence. How has the past year shaped your understanding of fashion’s purpose? This year of isolation has shown me how fashion is necessary and how much it connects people. It always seems so far from everything — extreme, intense, arrogant, or from another world — but it’s so close to us all, and at all times. Garments are the first things we receive when we’re born, and we keep them with us until the end. They’re what hold us.” Soyul Kim How would you introduce your graduate collection? It’s about fierceness layered with softness; being playful in a cut-throat world. I was very much influenced by the inspiring women mentors I had when I started my career in NYC. When we think of ‘strong women’, we only think of their boldness. But you soon realise that they are who they are today because they were willing to fall, accept and learn from their experiences — just like a kid who’s willing to fall because they’ve learned how to pick themselves up again. And everybody has that inner kid, they’re just usually too busy ‘adulting’ through the world. What are its central themes? A central theme throughout my collection is the undeterred presence of a child living in an adult body. Using hard silhouettes like armour-shaped shoulders and hard materials like leather against soft fabrics and lace, or by crocheting structured metal thread into seemingly-fragile fabric, I wanted to express the coexistence of strength and vulnerability. There are also elements that blur the line of being a kid and being an adult, like Furby bags hanging from power suits, or a print with abstract shapes taken from Disney films. I see my collection as a balance of something rough and delicate, masculine and feminine, serious and playful – something adult-y, and youthful at the same time. You’re graduating at a time when conversations around race, gender, sexuality and wider issues of identity have never been more prominent in fashion. How do you position your work with respect to these conversations? I tend not to say it out loud, but I create to put feminine power on equal grounds with masculine power. It’s not about a competition between the genders, but rather about acknowledging underlying historical discrepancies, appreciating each other, and working towards the same goal of closing the gap. I hope to inspire other women and girls through my work – just as I have been inspired by the female mentors in life – that we should never settle for less, and that we should also not be intimidated by competition; rather, we should be inspired by it. It’s about embracing the authentic power of your inner female identity, and being true to what makes you feel comfortable. Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more fashion.