Heritage key to keeping fashion original

Fashion is increasingly global, but cultural heritage and innovation are essential to keep the original from becoming the ordinary, a gathering of international fashion schools heard on Wednesday.

Delegates from about 40 fashion schools in 20 countries are in Paris this week for the 13th annual conference of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes.

"Fashion and luxury: between heritage and innovation" is the theme of the four-day event.

"We took off the kimono a long time ago," the foundation's chairman Satoshi Onuma, referring to his native Japan where he is president of the Bunka Fashion College, whose alumni includes Yohji Yamamoto and Kenzo Takada.

"The fashion industry and Western culture are going very fast," he said. "The world is going faster and people mix their civilizations. That's a direction, a movement that we can't change."

But - arguing that "globalisation doesn't mean uniformisation" - Onuma stressed that "every country has its own heritage".

"These are the roots of creativity. That's what we teach even if we can't teach creativity itself. Originality will come from creativity. We are not forced to wear the same thing."

Dominique Jacomet, director general of the Institut Francais de la Mode, the Parisian fashion school that is hosting this year's conference, agreed.

"It is try that with globalisation, we can all be in jeans, but there is a real demand for identity," he said. "What makes French brands in particular successful worldwide is the way they are anchored to a cultural heritage."

"Thirty years ago, luxury and fashion were very much separated. Today everything comes together, for reasons due mainly to consumer demands and business strategies."

Striking a balance between innovation and tradition has enabled family-held French luxury goods house Hermes, founded in 1837, to grow overseas, notably in Asia which accounts for 26 percent of its business excluding Japan, said Hermes International vice president Guillaume de Seynes.

To meet special demands in China, Hermes has launched its own Shang Xia brand with furniture, cashmeres and porcelain designed along traditional Chinese lines yet adapted to contemporary Chinese tastes, he said.

Fielding a student's question, De Seynes said leather and silk artisans Hermes are always been recruited in fashion schools, with candidates subjected to a tough six-month selection process before one to two years of training.

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