By the standards of Florence – with its Renaissance buildings and mediaeval history – the Fascist-style Manifattura Tabacchi seems to have been born only yesterday. Even though the cigarette factory is long gone and its vast series of rooms was abandoned, the former tobacco area, built between 1935 and 1937, is having a rebirth. Welcome to the new location for the city’s Polimoda fashion school.

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©Serena Gallorini

The two thousand-plus students, who will still have access to the school’s two existing buildings in the city, now have an open, airy space where the vertical/horizontal structure is softened by a line-up, inside the windows, of mannequins dressed in light shifts of clothing and by the view of city buildings with their curvy cupolas.

Linda Loppa, the legendary teacher who put Belgian fashion on the map at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1990s, was persuaded to come to Florence in 2006 and has been given a title worthy of the new building. She is now Advisor of Strategy and Vision.

Loppa is supported by Raffaello Napoleone, Chief Executive of the Pitti Imagine Florentine trade fairs. He is on the Polimoda board and envisaged the development of the existing fashion polytechnic, founded in 1986 by Italian designer Emilio Pucci and New York’s FIT school.

The revolution came two decades later.“Linda saw Villa Favard when she was sitting on my Vespa – even before the bank took the building – trusting in our project!” Napoleone said, referring to the earlier expansion of the school, which had the immediate support of Ferruccio Ferragamo as President of Polimoda. Laudomia Pucci, Emilio’s daughter, is another fashion figure committed to the college.

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Doing it the Italian way – through friends and family – the school now teaches students from across the world. “I am so proud of this goal achieved by Polimoda for the city of Florence,” Ferragamo said. “The reason to open the new campus at the Manifattura Tabacchi is strategic to the city itself – an urban renewal project that will transform an industrial complex into a new neighbourhood for students, residents and the public.”

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©Serena Gallorini

Standing with Linda Loppa in what is only part of the big-and-bold fashion compound, I wandered around the different faculties, looking at the knitwear laboratory which has Missoni as partner and mentor. The lofty space creates a sky’s-the-limit feeling.

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©Serena Gallorini

The first speaker at the opening event was Danilo Venturi, Polimoda Director, who underscored the power and the purpose of this new venture. “We are aware that our students come from 70 different nations – 2,300 people – but with no differences, and no problem with any race or culture or religion or sexual orientation,” he said. “It’s a new generation that needs new spaces of a different kind – open spaces that usually you don’t find in Florence, but in big cities like London, Berlin and New York, ” he continued. “ I think the spirit of the time is made of cities, conceived as new nations where students go to live and find a new identity as if it was a new space – a new identity card.”

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All that sounded powerful and dynamic. So what will the new Manifattura Tabacchi bring to Italy and to internationals? Sounding a slight note of warning, Linda Loppa said, “We have to be careful to grow but not lose the quality of education. Many schools are now linked to a business plan, but for us the idea is to keep it not too big and to keep the quality. That’s why we don’t open schools in other countries. We don’t want to develop in China, or in London, or Paris, or whatever, so we keep to the territory that we can control. Education is a conversation between people – and if you can’t keep it at that level, you are lost.”

There is no doubt that fashion education has become a finishing school especially, but not entirely, for young women. From San Francisco’s Academy of Art University through New York’s Parsons School of Design to London’s Central Saint Martins, fashion education is overwhelmingly ‘fashionable’.

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©Natasha Cowan

Loppa has just published Life is a Vortex, a book revealing her unique way of decoding the business of fashion. She unveils patches of her own life, drops sharp comment among poetic description of place and recounts her personal journey. With its white-on-black printing and daring presentation, it makes you think of her work as both striking and deep.

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©Natasha Cowan

The main takeaway from Polimoda and its expansion is that a great deal of thought has gone into strategic placement and the use of the new spaces. Tiziana Marchi, Vice Director, explained that all three college buildings welcome students who are meant to take up various opportunities. Sustainability will be an important part of the curriculum, with students mentored by Lola Young and Digital Fashion led by Lisa Lang.

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©Serena Gallorini

“We are teaching in all the buildings because we are more than 2000 students and so there’s not enough space,” Marchi said. “There are apparel labs, new computer labs, photo and video labs and also a drawing room and a room just for theory lessons. Also, we don’t want the students to start in one building in the morning and then to have to go to another building in the afternoon. For better organising of the student timetable, they stay in one building for the day, no rushing between faculties.” does seem to be something particularly Italian and family-orientated in attitudes to students – although I had little opportunity to talk to them at the very start of term. But Danilo Venturi is passionate about the school, from its new physical shapes to the sustainable fashion that is a major subject for discussion.

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©Serena Gallorini

“This is the sense of purpose of Polimoda – being a driver of innovation in a city that has been innovative, the place where The Renaissance had its birth,” said Venturi. “We are going to live another renaissance – and we want to give a gift to the city and to our students.”