The most disappointing thing a professor can hear in the classroom is the
cliché “I don’t like to look at what others are doing.” So you are
designing in a vacuum, with nary a care for what the fashion system is
serving up and pronouncing great, nor any impulse to react against it, I
think to myself.
“Why?” I ask the student.
“Because I don’t want to be influenced” is invariably the reply. And it’s a
most frustrating reply, at that.
Then there are those who are so caught up in the student responsibilities
of meeting deadlines and writing papers and remaking that pesky jacket
muslin for the third time that Paris Fashion Week is the farthest thing
from their mind. It’s something for the leisured classes to enjoy, or those
who are already in the industry, buyers, maybe, and magazine editors.
“Shows? What shows?” they ask, looking up with furrowed brow, their minds
frantically flicking through the pages of the syllabus to understand what
they could have overlooked.
The designer that most resembles the lunar eclipse
There’s one last subject of the classroom, usually a lone haughty figure,
possibly bearded, who snubs the viewing of fashion shows. He is the
arrogant designer who believes his vision is so utterly unique that we’re
all standing around waiting for it to arrive like it’s the supermoon lunar
That his work should be reduced to contextualization within the current
industry, when he knows he is destined for nothing less than a majestic
launch into the unsuspecting fashion galaxy accompanied by a fanfare unseen
since the days of Alexander McQueen, is out of the question. This hubris is
the most difficult to navigate in an educational setting because lunar
eclipses, while rare and indeed beautiful, are a fleeting phenomenon. They
Students should watch runway shows as part of their education. The study of
fashion should be approached like an old-fashioned apprenticeship and
watching how something is done, from however afar, is as important as
listening in a lecture theatre or executing in a sewing lab. A fashion show
is the capstone to most fashion students’ educations often attended by
industry professionals scouting for talent.
Why not avail yourself of the opportunity to understand how other
designers––soaring, wildly colorful specimens of the creature you hope to
metamorphose into––communicate their vision and represent what they believe
in on a catwalk? Then when it comes your turn, you’ll do it with aplomb.
John Galliano. Giorgio Armani and the Japanese invasion of Paris
John Galliano’s legendary graduate collection, Les Incroyables, was
arguably a reaction against the mannish silhouettes of Giorgio Armani that
were so dominant out of Milan in the first half of the 80s, yet it was in
synch with the lavishly layered romanticism of the Japanese invasion of the
Paris catwalks by designers like Yohji and Kansai Yamamoto and Issey
Miyake. Students, lift your head up once in awhile and look beyond your
work; it can be most informative.
Graduate labels are born and disappear with the frequency of NYC
restaurants. As Anna Wintour said to a group of Central St Martins students
on her June 2014 visit to the school, “The only thing I worry a little bit
about, going straight from school to starting your own business, is not
that many succeed… I personally would advise you to think carefully before
you start your own business, and consider possibly working for a designer
or a company whose work you admire.”
The industry is lolling in a stupor
Let me humbly continue where Anna left off: Students, while your vision
might indeed be exactly what the fashion industry is currently lost for,
you owe it to yourself not to waste it by being ill-prepared. Even if,
after viewing the season’s offerings, you hate everything that is being
shown on the runways (even if you hate the very concept of runway) and are
convinced the industry is lolling in a stupor, fair enough. Feel free to
rouse us out of that state with your well-considered, challenging, relevant
and professionally executed statement.
In the meantime, watch the companies or labels whose presentations reflect
something of what you believe in and admire. Soak up that knowledge (to
balance out the red carpet and celebrity style that has become for many of
you a specialist subject) and combine it with your own, strengthening your
powers and making you more brilliant when you finally expand your wings.
Manage your career from the outset with a view to where you want to end up.
Be an apprentice––in the classroom, in the sewing lab, and even at home
behind the computer keyboard. The multiple live streaming opportunities now
made available by designers mean you can experience the shows as if you
were actually there, but without the sneaking in or queueing.
The runways are filled with apprentices demonstrating the result of their
on-the-job training which meshes harmoniously with their individual points
of view: Sarah Burton who was Alexander McQueen’s right hand, buzzed-about
name Arthur Arbesser who worked at Armani for seven years, New Parisian
street couture label Koché’s designer who’s being touted as the one to
watch for Paris Fashion Week––she has Chloé, Sonia Rykiel, Bottega Veneta,
Dries Van Noten and Martine Sitbon on her résumé.
Hardly an overnight success, she saw many runway shows, it’s safe to say,
before attempting to stage one of her own. Successful designers are the sum
of many parts––not all of them their own. In the fashion industry today,
students cannot afford to be so insular that they identify as artists in a
garret, their creations closer to canvasses than clothing. But if it helps,
painters have traditionally looked at other artists’ paintings; writers at
other writers’ books.
Fashion however is a highly creative business, and the conflict between art
and commerce is usually decided in a most business-like fashion.
By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching
faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the
Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
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