The latest debate raging over at Fashion156 got me thinking about fashion and the prospect of finding a job in such a competitive industry over-saturated with graduates. My two cents?
This time last Summer I was penning press releases and photographing some of the most exquisite Spring Summer knitwear known to man at Carolyn Massey‘s Hackney-based studio in London. Oh, and constantly having to explain myself as to just why I’d spend my Summer undertaking an unpaid fashion internship when it’s Film Studies and German I’m usually nerding over at college.
Truth is, I’d done my research prior to making university applications, having asked several fashion professionals and grads of fashion-related degree courses what was the best path to a career in the industry. Some (British-based grads) told me to save spending unimaginable sums of money on makeshift vocational courses like “Fashion Communications”, “Fashion Journalism” etc.; advice I’m glad I heeded having later heard from an American friend who spent her first year at London College of Fashion (LCF) – their final project consisted solely of composing an 800-word article on a current fashion trend!
Others recommended pursuing a general undergrad course such as English or Media/Communications to gain those coveted yet so difficultly defined “transferable skills” and time to think about just what it was I wanted to do post-education.
^ From the NCAD alumnus Steven Lawless‘ graduate collection
Then there was the odd counsel from one particular fashion journalist and freelance editor who recommended I study for a Law degree so as to ensure I’d be well versed in copyright law and capable of defending my own writing from the abusive power of crooked editors of mags and newspapers.
Now, I’ve not yet managed to actually secure a job in fashion (and even if I were to be offered one, it wouldn’t make perfect sense to leave a degree course having just completed my penultimate year) so, technically, any one of you would be fully justified in deeming it redundant but consider that opting for a general Arts/Humanities degree hasn’t prevented me from landing a part-time job in an indie boutique (the, now, sadly defunct Circus), interning with one of London’s most respected menswear designers, being offered opportunities to write for national press and it’s also not stopped me from relishing all the fun stuff either – the parties, the shows etc. which also proffer the chance to network with like-minded fashion amateurs and professionals alike.
Yes, this blog has made all that and more possible for me, but the point is – fashion just isn’t an industry that looks primarily to your third-level qualifications in order to grant you access to its upper echelons. Consider Tavi, a suburban schoolgirl who’s sat front row at major fashion weeks and is in the process of writing a book. Think, too, about some of fashion’s major players: André Leon Talley (who holds a Masters in French Studies), Nicola Formichetti (who started out studying music and architecture) and, of course, Anna Wintour (who didn’t bother with college at all, granted her network of contacts was golden).
What you need seems, at least to me, to be talent, contacts, balls and some way/one to pay the rent when you’re trying to make that all-important break. Questioning the validity of current fashion-related courses and the manner in which they are structured (that is to say, not providing students with requisite skills) seems to me to be almost entirely redundant. Fashion, just like any other creative industry, gives precedence to experience over formal qualifications and priority to personality and talent over academic prowess.
No one graduating with a degree in English expects to automatically become an acclaimed author having completed their course. So why should it be any different for fashion? A diploma/degree equips and educates, but it is not some kind of master key to the competitive job market.