Combining New Orleans’s rich fashion history—from Mardi Gras to the annual NOLA Fashion Week—with the progressive approach and pedagogy of the Black Mountain College, a new fashion school recently opened its doors in the city’s Ninth Ward. Designed by London-based design collective Assemble and known as Material Institute, the unique space offers free classes and workspace for makers of all levels and has ambitious plans for future development.
Photograph courtesy of Assemble
Material Institute is part of a larger experimental arts school—which includes a music recording studio and cooperative garden nearby—initiated and funded by the Tasmania-based Museum of Old and New Art. Known for their civic-minded approach, Assemble was brought into the project in 2016 when they were tasked with developing a non-formal learning space. After research and community outreach, the team decided to create a textile and fashion school that could provide free education and entrepreneurial support for local youth.
Photograph by Kelly Colley
The first phase of the project, which was completed in January, was to convert the ground floor of a former car garage into a flexible workshop. Assemble kept the exposed concrete floors and plaster walls, but added a subtle tropical palette of orange and mint which highlights the structural elements in the space. The dramatic, jagged windows were created by removing sections of the existing cinder blocks to expose raw edges. The new apertures were then covered with panes of glass.
Photograph by Kelly Colley
Assemble also designed much of the furniture (the chairs and clothes’ racks continue the pops of orange) and brought in professional equipment, including sewing machines, a large dye sublimation printer and heat press, weaving loom, and natural dye lab tools. They will continue overhauling the building and aim to also develop the courtyard space, the adjacent property, and a two-story union hall across the street into an “interdisciplinary hub for art, science, and innovation.”
Assemble developed the curriculum in partnership with local stakeholders and fashion professionals. “Material Institute grows out of the incredible, unique and diverse heritage of craft, costuming and fashions of New Orleans, as well as progressive educational models such as Black Mountain College,” explains Assemble’s Louis Schulz. “The Institute’s program is designed to encourage learning through hands-on experimentation in both traditional craft and high fashion.” Classes include pattern cutting, draping, design, textile experimentation, embellishment, and textile printing.
Photographs from the pilot fashion show by Kewon Hunter
After debuting a successful pilot program which culminated in a fashion show, Material Institute is currently open and offering 10-week residency programs, with plans to establish the school as a permanent institution in the near future.
If their mission speaks to you and you have the right experience, the Institute is currently seeking a Creative Director. Applications are open through June 9th and you can find more information here.