3 Questions for Christine Walter-Bonini
President of the Académie Internationale de Coupe de Paris (AICP)
Christine Walter-Bonini, the former Managing Director of Esmod Paris, has been appointed President of the Académie Internationale de Coupe de Paris (AICP). She succeeds Jean-Philippe Vauclair, who led the school for 50 years and remains Honorary President. While championing agility as a new target, Walter-Bonini will carry on the school’s established culture of excellence.
What are the typical student profiles and what kinds of training do you provide?
We have 300 students, both French and international (mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Korean), who all very gifted for skilled manual professions and eager to learn our flat pattern making method. When they apply, we explain that the school is not about designing, that we teach a technical profession, and our goal is not to train creatives. Once this premise has been accepted, we accept a wide range of profiles. We have baccalauréat [GCSE] students who first take a preparatory class to learn the basics. We also have students with a BTS [advanced technical certificate] or a CAP [professional aptitude certificate] in fashion. Depending on their education background, they either immediately start the first-year curriculum or they take a short introductory course. All our students have a connection to the professional world, either because they’ve worked as an intern or because they’re in a work/study program.
Our specific focus and the school’s fame – though I think we still need to build our reputation – as well as our high standards and the quality of our training mean students find work in a maximum of six months. Some join a company right after graduation. Others do temp work before being hired or starting their own business. We’ve also set up continuing education for people who want to change professions or improve their skills. And finally, more and more companies, whether couture houses, luxury specialists, ready-to-wear labels or designers in both menswear and womenswear contact us to create customised programs, often for very precise technical topics.
What are the challenges for a school that represents excellence and has existed since 1830?
The school is a flat pattern making reference. To study here students have to enjoy hard work, since the AICP demands 35-hour weeks. Classes require proficiency in several areas, including math and geometry, in order to achieve technical excellence. That’s why I like to say that we train “clothing architects” or professionals that know how interpret a garment, not draw it. Here, patience is the basis for everything; our students can spend two hours working on a shoulder. But more than ever, we also need to connect to today’s world and teach them flexibility, agility, and the ability to evolve in different sectors.
We’ve included digital aspects and CSR issues for quite some time, and we’re now developing new approaches that take different sectors into account. For example, last spring we asked our students to create lookbooks, and we used those projects in our communication materials as a kind of springboard strategy. We also want to pay increasing attention to feedback from professionals and to meet their needs. We saw that they were looking for young people trained in product development, a core function in a business. That means expertise in pattern making but also knowing how to orchestrate sourcing and manage relationships with design offices and salespeople … So beginning in 2022 we’ll offer a program that corresponds to that position.
It’s said that interest in skilled manual and artisan professions is growing. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Without doubt, the COVID period contributed to thinking about the value of work. We’re finally realizing that manual skills are essential in every domain. I often say they’re the starting point, the foundations of a fashion house. Without hand skills, there is no excellence. The manual professions, such as pattern making, have more value than ever since they’re tied to quality. Faced with fast fashion, more and more young people want quality fabrics and cuts. Right now we’re changing the paradigm, and it’s exciting.