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November 20, 2017
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Modacult aims to stimulate debate on some of fashion's biggest issues. Source: fashionancien.blogspot.it.
A4Adesign, a Milan-based innovative
furniture and design brand was the main
sponsor of Fashion Tales 2012.
Source: fashionancien.blogspot.it.

Beyond its glossy surface, fashion is also the subject of serious academic study, as demonstrated by Modacult, the academic research centre founded in 1996 within the Faculty of Political Science at the Catholic University of Milan. Over the last 16 years, Modacult has developed a respected international reputation in the field of socio-cultural studies in fashion, focusing on numerous research areas including consumer and gender studies and culture-led urban regeneration.

In June, Modacult invited fashion folk from around the world to come together in Milan for the centre's 13th annual international conference, Fashion Tales. To learn more about Modacult, I went to its headquarters to meet Professor Laura Bovone, Director of Modacult, and Professor Emanuela Mora, one of its founders. 

Silvia Brambilla: Why Modacult? 

Laura Bovone: Our research institute aims to stimulate scientific debate on fashion, sustainability, consumer studies and cultural industries, as well as to develop interdisciplinary research projects at both the national and international level. We also plan educational and training activities and facilitate the creation of networks and partnerships amongst enterprises, schools, universities and research centres.  

Our centre is known for its body of research. For 10 years, we have been working with the Faculty of Political Science on the curricula for the Master's degree in Communication for Creative Industries through which Modacult trains communication managers that specialise in certain strategic sectors such as fashion, tourism and leisure. 

We were also able to begin some difficult dialogue amongst professionals working in the fashion industry... it is [normally] quite unusual for them to share their creative processes because it would be like sharing their strategic skills.

SB: In June, the university hosted Fashion Tales, Modacult's 13th annual international conference. Who was this event open to?

Emanuela Mora: Fashion Tales is open to the fashion studies research community. Fashion studies is an interdisciplinary research area and the most common disciplines are those related to the aesthetics of fashion, fashion communication and the creation of new media of communication. 

We had media and consultancy professionals, as well as fashion designers and business people among our guests and speakers. We also had art and costume historians, scholars, curators, semiologists, psychologists and sociologists.

SB: What made this year's Fashion Tales different from previous conferences?

EM: We have always had international speakers, but in the past years our official language was Italian and, in general, the event was much smaller. In more than 15 years of research, we noticed that there was a lack of a world meeting, a time to bring together all of the disciplines of fashion studies. 

We tried to fill this vacuum through Fashion Tales 2012. We thought Milan was the right place to discuss fashion, so our goal was to create a public and critical forum where independent discourses on fashion, free from business pressure, could develop with the contribution of professionals working in the fashion world. 

SB: Were you satisfied with how the event turned out?

EM: We had people coming from 38 countries! We were proud to have among the speakers, Valerie Steele (The Museum at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology), Peter McNeil (Sydney University of Technology and Stockholm University), Sophie Woodward (University of Manchester), Chris Breward (Edinburgh College of Art and University of Edinburgh), Carlo Capasa (CEO, Costume National), Kean Etro (designer, Etro), Franca Sozzani (Vogue Italia) and many others. 

We were also able to begin some difficult dialogue amongst professionals working in the fashion industry. These are people who work under incredible pressure; it is [normally] quite unusual for them to share their creative processes because it would be like sharing their strategic skills, what makes them competitive in this challenging market.

Through our influential speakers, we got a very important result: the understanding that this is the right time to include all input coming from different cultures and traditions in the fashion studies mainstream of clear Anglo-Saxon background. 

SB: Why is this the right time? 

EM: Because our speakers and the international audience seem ready to share their research, their point of view, with enthusiasm. Our international conference has been a huge experiment, something never done before in fashion studies. The success has been in working together with professionals and researchers coming from different cultures. Modacult, through its activities and moreover through this annual international conference could work as a trait d'union from now on. 

Professor Laura Bovone.
Director of the Modacult research centre.
Photograph courtesy of Professor Laura Bovone.

SB: How would you describe the union between Milan and the fashion industry? 

LB: Our opinion is that the reason why fashion is so important and so successful in this city is that it represents the centre of a very well-structured and popular symbolic economy that in turn lent a particular taste to Milan's lifestyle. 

We started our research on the aesthetics of products and on the accumulation of experience that is typically postmodern, but now we are more and more involved in themes such as sustainable production, responsibilities of enterprises and consumers, ethical fashion, etc.

We think there is room for this in Milan, and there is talent - socially and culturally committed individuals. Responsibility and sustainability might be the themes for a new departure, the centres of the change through a collaboration between producers and consumers, for example, or among the different actors of the short distribution chain.

Milan is a city that is not afraid to start again, to experience new things. At least, we hope so.

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