The fashion designer as maker, researcher and digital whizzkid
Imagine giving critical fashion designers the skills and know-how of an anti-capitalist digital whizzkid. How would this critical fashion designer use such new superpowers? According to Chinouk Filique de Miranda, the combination of fashion and digital literacy could be the formula for providing a counter-narrative against the profit-driven assertiveness of many fashion brands in the digital landscape. To investigate this, Chinouk has been appointed as the very first Professional Doctorate at ArtEZ.
PD: the researching professional
Higher professional education has gained a new learning track: alongside associate degrees, bachelor's and master’s courses, there is now also the Professional Doctorate – abbreviated to PD. A PD has a comparable level to a PhD, a university research track. But whereas the PhD is focused on developing you as a professional researcher, the PD seeks to develop you as a researching professional. A PD programme maintains close links with the professional field and with education, so that bachelor's and master's students can also reap the rewards of the research conducted by PD candidates into the latest developments in professional practice – in Chinouk's case, within fashion.
Identity and fashion
Chinouk grew up in Alphen aan de Rijn. At the age of 18, she moved to Rotterdam to do a bachelor's course in Lifestyle & Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy. "Rotterdam really made me who I am today. Alphen aan de Rijn, especially the neighbourhood where I grew up, was largely white. I am Surinamese, and that difference in culture was always pretty clear to me. And then I arrived in Rotterdam: a melting pot of cultures." During her bachelor’s course, Chinouk was never really the star of the class. "Back then, I was much more concerned with my own development and less with the subjects I was taught. But I did discover that my real interest lies in how fashion contributes to our identity. And that interest grew in stages as I developed."
After the bachelor's course, Chinouk spent a few years working, mainly as a costume designer and stylist on film sets. When she realised that she no longer felt inspired by her work, she decided to do the Critical Fashion Practices master’s course at ArtEZ (then known as ‘Fashion Strategy’), because, as Chinouk explains, "as soon as I completely understand something, I want to move on. So once I felt I had got to grips with the practical side of my work, it was time for me to go looking for new stimuli." The master's course was the logical place for Chinouk to find those new stimuli: it offered precisely the critical perspective on fashion that had always attracted her.
Fashion for the metaverse
During her master's course, Chinouk conducted research into the digital dimensions of fashion. "Fashion has different digital ‘dimensions’", she explains. "One of those dimensions is about the way we perceive and experience clothing and fashion digitally: via our phones, on social media, via the selfies we take. But there is also such a thing as digital fashion. This is where a lot of fashion designers – and in particular big fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Gucci – are using technological and digital applications to design digital and virtual clothing. For example, clothing that can be bought only in video games, or that you can buy and 'wear' as a filter."
So, it's truly a significant new market within the fashion industry, this digital fashion. Even companies like Meta want to get involved with it."
This latter form of fashion, digital fashion, Chinouk goes on, is known as fashion for the metaverse. "Note the word 'meta' in metaverse: it naturally prompts the association with Meta – the parent company of Instagram, Facebook and others. The company Meta is a major promoter of digital fashion, and is keen to become active in the area itself as soon as possible. So digital fashion truly is a major new market within fashion."
The potential of digital fashion
For Chinouk, digital fashion has huge potential: it offers fashion designers a new, unprecedentedly large and unlimited platform to explore new experiences of clothing and fashion. "But if we're not careful, the big companies like Meta will hijack the digital landscape for fashion. And that would be a shame: I think it is actually also a relevant place for small, critical fashion designers to explore. The only problem is that in many cases, the digital literacy of fashion designers is underdeveloped, and students don't always learn how to code or programme, or to relate critically to digital fashion. And that's what I want to change!
Digital literacy among fashion designers
Over the course of the four-year PD track, Chinouk will research, catalogue and ultimately strengthen digital literacy among fashion designers. "For the first three years of my research, I will focus on bringing together fashion designers with digital counter-movements – i.e. anti-capitalist coders and programmers. I am curious to see what happens when you bring those two worlds together. For example, I want to ask them to work together to create a hacking tool for their own fashion practices." Chinouk will be working with Critical Fashion Practices master’s students, and is developing a new part of the curriculum for the master’s course that will focus on creating digital literacy among the critical fashion students.
In the final year of the PD track, Chinouk will bring together all the knowledge and research results she has acquired in a handbook for fashion designers, full of digital tools, tips and strategies. "This handbook can offer fashion designers tools to make their fashion practices digitally savvy, and hence future-proof. The handbook will – naturally – be published open source, and so be available to everyone." Chinouk does emphasise that the handbook will definitely not be an end state or a finished end product. "It's more like a start: a stepping stone and an invitation to designers to think about the digital aspects of their profession and try out new things."
I want to develop a kind of digital, open-source handbook that can provide fashion designers with tools to make their fashion practice digitally savvy and thereby future-proof."
Digital fashion is relevant to everyone
Alongside the handbook, Chinouk will also be developing an exhibition, “and that exhibition will be very much aimed at a broader audience”, she emphasises. "Because ultimately my research is relevant not just to fashion designers but to everyone. Because whether you realise it or not, everyone is affected by the digital dimension of fashion every day. Web shops, games, social media: these are the platforms that determine how we experience fashion." Ultimately, that is the most important thing for Chinouk: making as many people as possible aware of the power of the digital dimension of fashion, and giving them the knowledge and expertise to be in control of their own digital landscapes.
Chinouk Filique de Miranda will be starting her PD research on 1 September 2023. The first year of the PD programme is the pilot phase. During her PD track, Chinouk will have various supervisors: Professor Daniëlle Bruggeman (ArtEZ, Fashion professorship), Professor Timotheus Vermeulen (University of Oslo), Hanka van der Voet (ArtEZ master Critical Fashion Practices and Warehouse), Beate Wilzcek (Unfolding Strategies) and Angeliki Diakrousi (Varia). Click here for more information about the Professional Doctorate.
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