You know you’re destined to be a fashion designer if you: a) spent most of your childhood making clothes for your Barbie dolls instead of playing with your friends; b) read fashion magazines instead of your school books; c) ran a boutique out of your basement at age 10. In other words: if you want to be the next Yves Saint Laurent, it helps to be completely and utterly obsessed with fashion.
Working as a fashion designer can just as well mean supervising a design team at a sportswear company as producing a label under your own name. Although the former career may not seem as glamorous as the latter,
it certainly will make your life less stressful. To create your own label takes a lot of time, dedication and hard work. Not to mention living just above the poverty line for several years.
However, most people find that the best foundation for a design career is to get a fine arts degree in fashion at a prestigious school. Besides teaching you the craft, a good school will also add credibility to your resumÈ. “We live in a brandname society, and having the name of a good school behind you really does help,” says Carol Mongo, Director of the Fashion Department at Parsons School of Design in Paris.
There are as many different ways to embark upon a fashion career as there are styles of design. Ralph Lauren’s Polo empire was founded on a small tie collection that he sold to Bloomingdales.
Helmut Lang decided to open his own clothing store when he couldn’t find a t-shirt that he liked. Michael Kors built up a network of customers by selling clothes in a trendy NYC boutique.
There are a lot of colleges that have fashion programs, but only a handful has the kind of reputation that can really push your career. It’s hard to enter these schools as competition is high, and they tend to be very selective. You apply by sending a portfolio of drawings of your designs.
“We can’t teach you how to be creative you have to bring your creativity to us and let us lead you on your way. The most important quality that we look for in our students is that they are truly passionate and exuberant about fashion.”
She recommends students to get some sewing experience before they apply. Drawing is also an important skill for a designer ñ it is the way you communicate your ideas. In order to build an impressive portfolio it’s a good idea to have some experience in sketching; taking art classes will help you understand form and proportion. But you don’t have to be an expert drawer to get accepted to a school.
“Let’s be realistic,” says Carol Mongo at Parsons, “School’s not for everyone. If you’re just looking to get a job in the fashion industry ñ not a career as a designer ñ you probably don’t need to go school.” If you want to work as a seamstress or a patternmaker, the best thing is probably to apply for an internship at a fashion house and work your way up. However, there are many examples of famous designers who started out as interns with no formal training. For example, Dior’s brightest new star, men’s wear designer Hedi Slimane, had a degree in journalism when he started working with men’s wear designer JosÈ Levy.