7 Things I Learnt At Fashion School (And 3 Things I’ll Never Know)
The Debrief: It’s BYO mannequins, unless you’re Antonio Banderas
According to a survey by the Business of Fashion, Central Saint Martins is ranked as the #1 fashion school in the world for undergraduate courses. When I was earning my fashion BA there, the fashion and fine art campus occupied a run-down building on Soho’s Charing Cross road, with a plaque in the foyer that marked the spot of the Sex Pistols’ first ever gig, and a damp courtyard, joining the main building and the library, that was always strewn with cigarette butts on Thursday mornings because Moonlighting (a club filled with the scent of Sambuca and regret) used it as a smoking area for their regular Wednesday club night, Cheapskates. And this is what I learnt.
1. It takes a really long time
Medical courses take five years. So did my fashion degree (when you add up a one year art foundation, three year BA course in Fashion Communication with Promotion, and a placement year). Are the two comparable? Well, I might not be able to save lives, but I can name 17 shades of red. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of those two benefits society more.
2. People in fashion eat all the time
Especially fashion students. The phrase ‘skinny had a party and nobody came’ was scrawled on the wall of the girls’ toilets for the duration of my degree (because graffiti is a form of art, man, and shouldn’t be painted over), and is the mantra by which I have chosen to live my life. There are very few bad days that can’t be made better with pesto gnocchi.
3. There is no money
Paper is not included. Nor are pens. There is one computer to every 10 people. There were only 13 people in my class, but somehow we never had enough chairs. Forays into the design studios told me that mannequins are BYO, and things can get pretty heated when it comes to sewing machines. However, all this have-not-ing is a good learning experience, as it will prepare you for life post-graduation, when you will intern for free and eat oatcakes and vodka tonics for dinner at 1am in your boss’ subterranean living room.
4. CSM is a bubble
In what world would Antonio Banderas (Zorro, guys. Zorro) sign up for a short course in fashion design? In the same world where I once stumbled across Kanye, trying to navigate his way around the first floor to Louise Wilson’s office.
5. Fashion people know how to throw a party
You might think that fashion parties are civilised affairs, with champagne saucer pyramids and an endless flow of canapés. And sure, those exist, too, but they pale in comparison to a behind-closed-doors fashion party. These nights tend to be located in basements – downstairs at Browns, perhaps, or in the crypt-like space underneath the courtyard at Somerset House.
They involve a minimum four types of vodka cocktail that all taste exactly the same, a guy called Billy on the door, and parkour. When Central Saint Martins sold their Charing Cross Road campus, LOVE mag threw a farewell party that saw Jarvis Cocker sing Common People, and a few hundred alumni dance like idiots.
6. Not everything that you learn is on the curriculum
I can read a map like nobody’s business, after years of traversing London with a suitcase and an A-Z, hand-returning samples to designers’ studios in Mile End and Stoke Newington. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of which photographic studios will give you leftovers to take home for dinner after a shoot, where to buy nappy pins at 1am, and how to assemble the entire KALLAX range from IKEA.
7. A tangible skill set is overrated*
*At least, I hope it is. Because after five years, and 30k of debt, I was no closer to knowing many, many things. Like how to use Excel, or anything about business, or what a placket is. But then, that’s not really what I went for.
And just in case you were wondering, I’d highly recommend it.
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