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Establishing brand Beijing

Updated: 2012-12-17 13:51
By Yao Jing ( China Daily)

Establishing brand Beijing

Gerault says Esmod reproduces France's style of education in China by cultivating students' creative abilities. Provided to China Daily

Establishing brand Beijing

For seven years the French fashion design school Esmod Beijing has been training the next generation of designers. Yao Jing talks to the company's international director Zora Belmejdoub Gerault.

A Moroccan who came to Beijing via Paris is helping produce the next generation of fashion designers.

And while many Chinese independent fashion designers have burst onto the scene in recent years, many boast of being educated overseas.

It dawned on someone one day that in all of this there lay another marketing possibility: educating designers in the land of their birth.

Thus, seven years ago, the venerable French fashion design school Esmod Paris arrived in Beijing, aiming to cash in on this idea.

Establishing brand Beijing

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Pulling the strings behind the scenes was Zora Belmejdoub Gerault, international director of Esmod Beijing.

Esmod, expecting that the Chinese fashion industry would expand rapidly and that more young people would want to learn about European fashion, first came to Beijing in 2005, Gerault says.

Esmod International Fashion University Group goes back to 1841, when Alexis Lavigne, a tailor, set up L'Ecole Superieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris, which the company says was the world's first fashion school.

There would be few who design or make clothes and who would not have had something to do with Lavigne, for it was he, Esmod claims, who invented the flexible measuring tape.

These days, Esmod boasts 24 schools in 12 countries, including France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, Brazil, China and Japan.

When the Beijing school opened seven years ago it had 60 students, and now it has 250, Gerault says. Its main courses are fashion design and pattern making, and a year's study costs 92,000 yuan ($14,700).

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Befitting the company's international scope, Gerault, a Moroccan, set up Esmod schools in Casablanca and Rabat before coming to China to take charge of the Beijing school.

Gerault, 57, who mainly works on the management side these days, seldom teaching, says she gained a wealth of experience as a fashion design teacher in Paris and Morocco.

In Paris, apart from teaching, she was a fashion design adviser for the upmarket department store Galeries Lafayette.

No sooner had Gerault arrived in Beijing than she realized the difficulty of the task before her.

"At first, it was difficult for students to understand teachers from France, and the quality of the lectures was affected by the language."

She decided that each teacher, of whom there are now more than 10, needed a Chinese-speaking assistant to help with communication, and things greatly improved, she says.

The teachers are appointed by Esmod in Paris, and all the assistants are graduates of that school, she says.

But Gerault discovered that linguistic difficulties were relatively trifles compared with another challenge that defies an easy fix: cultural differences.

"Chinese students are weaker in creating things compared with the students in Paris," Gerault says.

The solution lies in reproducing France's style of education in China by cultivating students' creative abilities, she says, rather than by imposing the school's will.

"We teach them how to do research, how to imagine things and how to open their minds."

"We come from Europe, but we are now in China. I cannot change my students, but just try my best to adapt to them."

Establishing brand Beijing

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Part of that adaptation includes the approach to discipline.

"In France if a student does not work hard and hands homework in late, I deduct a mark and criticize them," she says. In China she asks teachers not to punish students but always to encourage them.

"When a Chinese student submits work in time or ahead of time, we add a point to the final score. They look forward to getting praise and then do better and better."

However, the most important prerequisite to learning is passion, she says.

When China Daily visited a classroom recently, 20 students, all aged about 20, were busy at their desks drawing a shirt pattern on white paper. It was a lesson about colors, said the teacher, Aurelien Lecour.

Lecour, who has more than 10 years' experience of pattern making and fashion marketing, said the work is arduous, but he does not mind being tired because producing good work demands time.

"I think my students are motivated. They know their ideal, and they are making an effort to achieve their goals."

Contact the writer at yaojing@chinadaily.com.cn.

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