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Olivier Zeegers’ Modesign Academy

Sep 12, 2017

We spoke with the founder of Modesign, a Brussels center focused on luxury goods management, where students explore the business from a 360-degree approach

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Text by Marie Honnay
Photography by Maël G. Lagadec

Olivier Zeegers’s reference words include: exchanges, encounters, networking… Passionate about human contact, this lover of beauty – and founder of Modesign Academy – has succeeded in giving an extra measure of soul to luxury goods management. He also pays tribute here to the woman who set him on the right path and inspired his current activity between Paris and Brussels: Franc(ine) Pairon, the founder of La Cambre Mode(s) and the Design postgraduate program at IFM in Paris.

TLmag: Your perspective on the fashion industry is both pragmatic and enthusiastic. How did you become involved in this sector?
Olivier Zeegers: I have always loved beautiful things. In particular, I am fascinated by the body in movement, by clothing, because it expresses a personality. Put that way, it may seem naive, but that was the start of the adventure. At 22 years old, at the end of my academic studies in political science, I felt too young to enter the workforce. Even though, deep down, I had never really dreamed of designing dresses, I decided to take the entrance exam for la Cambre…

TLmag: What is it that fascinates you so much about fashion?
O.Z.: It’s a sector that touches us – all of us – on a daily level. Fashion is in no way confidential. I love its global dimension – globality is one of my leitmotivs – and all the subjects that bubble up from it: from the production of raw materials to the urban development brought about by the retail sector, and passing through the digital perspective.

TLmag: Did you want to become a designer?
O.Z.: Not really. Even during the preparation week for the entrance exam, I immediately felt it wasn’t for me. But I had met someone: Francine Pairon, originator of La Cambre Mode(s), which she founded in 1986, an exceptional woman who dissuaded me from turning towards from design, but who suggested that I assist her in organising the La Cambre Fashion Show. There, I met students like Olivier Thyskens and Laetitia Crahay. I think in terms of talents, I could not have fallen into better company. In 1997, I got a spot that gave me access to training at the IFM in Paris. I obviously jumped at the opportunity.

TLmag: The start of your Parisian experience…
O.Z.: The discovery of a city, of all the possibilities, and of a school – the Institut Français de la Mode – which offered me the solid background to begin a career in the world of luxury goods in Paris. In all, I stayed there for six years – including a few years with IFM as right-hand man to Francine Pairon, who pioneered the postgraduate programme in accessory and clothing design in 1999, before I returned to Brussels for family reasons.

TLmag: And then you began dreaming of a school like IFM, in Belgium…
O.Z.: Yes, except that I waited almost 10 years before putting the idea into action. At the outset, I wanted to offer a course (Editor’s note: six months of classes and six months interning within a company) for people who were passionate about fashion, but who wanted a different career than designer: product manager in the luxury goods sector, retail expert, even a position in pure communications or marketing. The unique aspect of the academy is to combine teaching by industry professionals with a grounding in the product itself.

TLmag: Explain that to us…
O.Z.: Each year, our Master’s students create a luxury product, such as a handbag in collaboration with Nina Bodenhorst from the studio Nivona, for example, within an artisanal approach. It’s a way of getting an inside understanding of the luxury good.

TLmag: Especially as the pedagogical approach doesn’t stop there.
O.Z.: The students use a pop-up store to present their product, promote it, selling it with a communication plan, a coherent price, and an active commercial approach… A 360° approach that we want to be completely organic, reflecting our course. A program of practical and theoretical classes that – and it is important to stress this – also involves coaching our students until they find a job or mission that is in-line with their expectations and their profile.

TLmag: At the Modesign Academy, you also offer shorter courses.

O.Z.: Generally, the Master’s programme is intended for people under 35 years old who don’t yet have a long career behind them. For others, we offer evening courses, as well as summer programmes – including courses given by experts, conferences and visits to boutiques, workshops, etc. – for various profiles that wish to strengthen their knowledge and discover certain facets of fashion management.

TLmag: What is your future challenge for your Modesign Academy?

O.Z.: With this concept of globality that is so important to me, I would like to have 50% foreign students in the different programs. Beyond all the opportunities offered by our school in terms of networking, the 150 Belgian and international participants who pass through the academy each year are a true gateway to the world of luxury goods.

TLmag: What is your definition of luxury?
O.Z.: My ambition with this school isn’t to sell a dream, but to give students a pathway to a career. That being said, the dream part is certainly there. In particular, it is the opportunity to meet, every day, passionate people. That’s what it is really about for me!

Modesign Academy Luxury Pop-Up Store, 23 rue du Berger, B-1050 Brussels.
Open Saturday 16, 23 and 30 September, and Sunday 1 October, 11-18h

Olivier Zeegers, founder of Modesign Academy. Image by MikoMiko Studio.
Djeda Petemba, Master’s student, with the bag he created within the pop-up store project of Modesign Academy
Kristin Jennen, Master’s student, with the bag she created within the pop-up store project of Modesign Academy
Nevena Mateeva, Master’s student, with the bag she created within the pop-up store project of Modesign Academy
A bag by student Pauline Danhaive
The handbag created by Dominique Gringoire

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