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Date 24.09.2015
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Constantin-Felix von Maltzahn

DRAWING BETWEEN THE LINES: THE LIMITS OF EDUCATION

Constantin-Felix von Maltzahn, PhD, Amsterdam Fashion Institute

When in 2008 Bruno Latour wrote his text ‘A Cautious Prometheus: A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design’ he did not actually have design education in mind. Similarly, when I studied comparative philosophy many years ago I did not imagine ending up in fashion education. Anecdotal though these examples may seem, there is a perplexing correlation between the two. Interestingly enough, whenever exposed to design education the common assumption seems to be that the content of fashion courses should focus on knowledge transfer of readily applicable, hands-on ideas that students can put into practice in other parts of the curriculum. It is consumable, but not always consummate, knowledge, thereby leaving out of consideration many of the finer notes of cultural as well as socio-economic circumstance that fashion as a profession is inextricably enmeshed with. In some way, this is of course a good thing, because it equips future generations of designers and managers with the skill set needed to create work of a certain professional standard. At the same time, it is debatable how meaningful a body of work can be that is informed by comparatively monolithic and by no means exhaustive didactic structures.

Fashion is by default a discursive practice. And yet, a lot of times that discourse does not, or only partially, filter into the educational system. Fashion, as “applied art” (whatever that may mean) and as an engine of economic growth, can, and sometimes does, reflect contemporary culture; sometimes it cross-pollinates with other disciplines; and sometimes it gets out of its own way.

The question this paper seeks to address is how broad fashion education should be – or how broad it actually can be. While we may very well want to include a more comprehensive theoretical framework as underpinning, it is debatable whether this is conducive to the overarching educational goal. It is a tightrope act between equipping students with what is needed and, to some extent, also with what is (seemingly) not needed, at least not in the sense of directly informing the work of becoming practitioners. Fastening on these premises, this presentation seeks to raise the following (and quite a few more) questions:

• To what extent should a curriculum include concepts and discussions that do not directly affect students’ day-to-day reality as future professionals?
• In what way could a curriculum benefit from stimuli that are not readily identifiable as design- or management-driven?
• Where does a practice-based skill set end and where does abstract thinking begin?
• How could we design a curriculum that balances both these forces, thereby producing a more comprehensive kind of knowledge (transfer), without leaving out of consideration the practical considerations required by the industry?
• How can we engage students in a meaningful dialogue and what does that mean for the limits of education?

Constantin-Felix von MaltzahnConstantin-Felix von Maltzahn is a research fellow and assistant professor of consumer behaviour at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute.

A graduate of the universities of Maastricht and Amsterdam, his doctoral research was in the area of co-creation dynamics and co-evolution between brands and consumers in the Dutch fashion industry.

Current research interests include consumer behaviour in fashion; business models of luxury firms; longevity and relevance of recently established “intermediate” luxury contexts; and critical marketing theory.