LIFE // "So you want to study fashion..."

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Above image of my work from the lookbook. Photographed by Joe Miles, modelled by Carmen Clarke (Boss model management)

I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences of studying fashion design with anyone who is about to start or might still be considering pursuing a degree in this field - If that's you, I hope this is helpful! You're welcome to contact me if there's anything I haven't covered that you might still be feeling anxious about. This is something I really don't want to sugarcoat, so I'll be giving you my completely honest opinions (brace yourselves, readers).

Fashion will become your life
This isn't a so-called 'drinker's degree', so don't expect to just cruise through it with minimal effort. It's not really acceptable to just go out the night before and not bother coming in for pattern cutting classes because you're too hungover. Your tutors probably couldn't care less if you skip classes, but they will tell you that it's your choice and remind you not to come crying to them when you don't get the result you wanted. Make sure you arrive earlier before and stay later after every timetabled class. And you can wave goodbye to your buzzing social life in third year, because you'll be coming into uni for 7am and not leaving until late at night when the security guards come to kick you out (those guys will know you pretty well by the end of your degree!). Weekends will also be spent at uni (if it's open) or holed up in your room completing portfolio work.

It's going to be an expensive three years
Be careful with money - You're going to need a lot of it to spend on fabrics, sketchbooks and other materials. Budgeting is super important and you will probably pick up a few neat tips on how to source things wisely. Being savvy is one thing, but there's no point skimping on something if it's going to affect the overall outcome of your work. Know when to save and when to splurge, and don't ever commit to a project that you can't afford to complete. Always do your research when sourcing fabrics, since a lot of shops (particularly those in central London) will ramp up the prices massively to make a profit.

Believe in yourself and your own ideas wholeheartedly
You're always better off running with ideas that are authentic and true to you, than doing something just to impress a tutor. I really love to draw my inspiration from things that are kitsch, which other people can perceive to be tacky or bad taste. I used to worry that people would laugh at my concepts or not take them seriously, but then I realised it was good to have different ideas or methods of working to others. So what if they laugh because you've thought outside the box and done something that seems a bit silly? That's still more impressive than the large number of students who do their fashion illustration in the exact same way, or those who write their concepts on something dark, depressing and not relevant to themselves at all - Solely for the purpose of trying to seem mature, intelligent or skilled. Be passionate and you can create a strong identity from absolute chaos. Don't be half-hearted, and remember: there's no right or wrong way of doing things.

Graduate Fashion Week isn't everything
If you're about to start a fashion degree at a university that participates in GFW, you'll probably have your heart set on getting your work on the catwalk. As someone who was selected to represent my university at Graduate Fashion Week, I have mixed feelings on the matter. Don't get me wrong, it's an incredible opportunity for exposure and you'll probably get requests from stylists asking to borrow your pieces for photoshoots as a result of it. It isn't the be all end all, and while having your work on the catwalk is lovely, it definitely doesn't guarantee you a job. I know many people who weren't selected for the show who left university feeling much more prepared for industry (some of which walked straight into jobs!). Your portfolio is going to pay a bigger part in getting you employed than a fashion show will. Not to mention it is very, very expensive to make a graduate collection (a couple of thousand pounds at least!)

Toughen up and learn to take criticism properly
In your first year of studying fashion, it's easy to believe that the tutors are out to get you. The truth is they're either perfectionists, keen to rub their good habits and attitude off onto you, or big creative personalities that will push you to find your own identity and work harder. If they rip your work to shreds and make you cry in front of your class, that's not bullying. Toughen up and listen to them carefully when they say these things, as there may well be a few compliments hidden in there somewhere. When I first started, there was this tutor I thought was really scary and mean. He once made some comment on my first year work during a group presentation, and it was something like: "You've put a lot of work into that. The sleeves are hideous - I actually wouldn't mind it without them" - Rather than thinking my work was bad, I took a step back and realised he might be right there. I took all of his criticism on board and realised it was all a part of learning to become a better designer. Do this and they will take you a lot more seriously. "Scary tutor" actually ended up becoming my favourite tutor, when I realised he was actually pretty cool and just very passionate about pushing his students to always do better.

Summer holidays are for learning and interning
When you graduate you're going to want a paid job, so it's better to get some of that much needed industry experience for your CV while you're still in education. There are loads of people looking for an extra pair of hands to come and work for them, particularly in preparation for fashion week. Summer may seem like a nice opportunity to take a break from uni, but it's also a time that can be utilised to brush up on skills and learn something new. You'll be amazed how many things you can pick up just by working in industry, even for a short period of time. Another good thing to do over the summer is take up a couple of short courses (usually 1-2 weeks long) at universities like London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins. This is great for learning different ways of doing things and brushing up on some existing skills. You could also learn something more specialist that you don't get to do at your own uni. I've done courses in structured bra making, coolhunting, fashion buying and illustration - All of which I would recommend.

You won't be the best at everything (but you can still try)
If your course was anything like mine, you'll have a lot of coursemates who are skilled in completely different areas. I used to put myself down for struggling a little with pattern cutting, until I realised I was able to make up for it in other areas, by focussing on the things I did well. I also noticed that some of the people who were top of the class pattern cutters struggled with things like concept, research and illustration (The things I enjoy the most and achieved the top grades in). You don't need to be the best ever at pattern cutting to be a good designer, much like how you don't need to have a really out there concept to make a great collection. While these things help, you're better off excelling at what you're good and accepting that, while you may not be the best at something else, you're still going to work at it to improve your skills - It's never too late to learn something!

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