London is cold now, there is no doubt about it. You can see your breath when exhaling and Tesco is offering meal deals on mince pies. For students in their final year, the thought of the oncoming holiday doesn’t bring just cheer. Looming dissertation deadlines and the final collection are all formidable factors leading up to graduation. Life outside the concrete fortress that has sheltered us from the real world is now fast approaching. Four years have flown by, and now students are beginning to wonder what happens next? The placement year that most people unquestionably take, offers a taste of the so-called real world, but provides the safety net of University life to fall back on in just 12 short months. There is one question in particular that has been circulating around Central Saint Martins, and that is: are graduating students reluctant to work in big fashion houses? To answer these pressing questions, we interviewed several students about their placement year and more importantly: their future careers in the fashion industry.

Our first interviewee, dressed in a powder-blue and white striped shirt, tucked into matching trousers with a recognizably sleek black bob and fringe, was Carmen Chan. As a final year student in Fashion Print, she has recently returned to CSM from her year out, during which she worked at Lanvin (pre Alber leaving).  

1G: How did you find working at Lanvin during your placement year?

CC: It was really good, I learned loads. But I didn’t do clothes at Lanvin, I was doing art direction. I didn’t know what the fuck art direction was, but it was really great. It was lots of random things. It is basically everything that has to do with fashion, just not clothes. Like styling, spaces, campaigns, press drawings, show lighting, show food. It is the lifestyle. I did everything.

Is art direction at Lanvin something you’d potentially want to go back to?

Yes, for sure. I didn’t know it existed. I thought fashion was clothes. I enjoy sewing; I just didn’t know there was so much more. But after those six months, I actually did clothes; I worked for Ashish in London. Lanvin is quite bourgeois and Ashish was different. It was nice to work at the polar opposites.

What type of brand can you see yourself working at in the future?

I don’t know, I am quite adaptable, which is a good quality. I just want to be happy. Whatever that means.

What is your opinion on the fact that students are saying they do not want to work at high fashion brands?

I don’t know. That’s a bit of a generalization. I have a lot of friends who still want to work at big brands. I think people want to go there because they want a paycheck. But at the same time, people want to start their own thing. It’s just a bit stressful: pre-collection, main collection and couture, it is never ending. I’m sure you can say the same thing about every profession. My parents always say: once you start working, you literally don’t stop until you retire. It’s true. This is maybe why people do not want to go into high fashion brands, because the pace is very fast. If you want a chill life, it’s not the place to be.

What are you working on now to prepare for the final collection and graduation?

We are just doing the pre-collection now, building up to the final collection at the end of the year. But it is not life and death, like some people think. A lot of people put so much pressure on themselves to get into the Press Show, but you know, when we are forty and have a mortgage to pay off, we aren’t going to be like ‘Damn-it, the press show, I didn’t get in. That ruined my life.’ It’s not going to be like that.  I’m just spending time with my classmates and friends, God knows where we are going to be next year, and that makes me so sad. We may not even be in the same country! 

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Working alongside Chan at Lanvin in Paris was the Argentinian Fashion Print student, Santiago Garcia Trias. With his smart black turtleneck and small gold earring, Santiago began telling us about his goals for the short term and long term future.

1G: You worked at Lanvin last year during your placement, how did you find it?

ST: Yes, I was working at Lanvin, and previous to that I worked at Alexander McQueen and Craig Green. It was very cool to go to Paris, because it is completely different. I didn’t know French at the time, so it was very hard at the beginning.

Do you have any idea about what you want to do after graduation?

That’s a good question, and I am still trying to figure that out. I think I am going to apply to the MA. In the future, I would like to have my own brand. I think the MA is cool, because it gives you the chance to find a strong identity. I think I am not ready just after the BA to jump in and create my own brand.

Would you want to work here in London after the MA?

Yes I think so; for me as an international student everything is more expensive. But related to the opportunities, I think London has many, and I know a lot of people. When I was working here, I got the chance to meet lots of people in factories, and through my internships I now have contacts. Starting my own company is very tough and very risky, but I came from so far away, that I would like to take the risk and see what happens.

What is your take on why students are veering away from careers at high fashion brands?

That’s funny, because after I worked at different luxury companies, I realized that I am more interested in the smaller ones. The main reason is that when you start working at the massive companies, you are just a tiny tiny part of the whole system. I feel that when you work closely with a small company, like I did at Craig Green, you get so much more out of the experience. It’s like an intensive course of everything. If I have to work for some period, I will try to choose an emerging company. But like I said, I want to start my own brand. Being close to a designer gave me the chance to understand how everything works. I tried other things, but I liked this. It takes such a long time to arrive anywhere in a luxury company, because you have all these people working there for like 20 years. It is a different way. I have also realized that the small emerging companies have such big talent. They have these new ideas that luxury houses are actually searching for, at the end of the day. That is why, you know, in the case of J.W. Anderson: LVMH wanted it.

Another Fashion Print student, Paula Canovas Del Vas, speaking softly and in a melodic accent, had much to say on the subject of future careers.

1G: What do you plan to do once you graduate? And would you say your internships helped you choose what career you would potentially want?

PcdV: I don’t really have a plan. When I picked my internships I wasn’t really looking for a future job, but for the experience. I worked for Gucci, which is a quite corporate environment, and then I had an internship at Margiela, which is still big but less corporate. I then worked for Ashish, which is a smaller London-based brand where you have loads of responsibilities. They all gave me different experiences, and that was really what I intended to gain when I went on my year out. It’s the same now, I don’t think there is a point for me to be like ‘oh I want to work there’ or ‘I want to do that.’ I would never create my collection just to please a certain company, in order for them to hire me once I do graduate.

Are there certain brands you are more inclined to work at?

There are brands I feel more related to. Some aesthetically, and some in terms of sustainable environment. To be honest with you, when I was preparing my year out, I had certain internships set, but in the end everything changed because I got another offer. It is all kind of more organic, and in this industry there is no point to think so far out, because you don’t really know. We will see what happens.

What is your opinion on why students may not want to work at luxury brands anymore?

When you work for a smaller company, you have more responsibility, but in my case I thought it was extremely interesting to see how a more corporate company works. So I would advise people to go work for big companies, because you do learn a lot about the inner structure of brands. But there is no right or wrong, I would never tell anyone ‘oh don’t go there,’ because everyone has completely different experiences. I interned with friends at the same brands and if you ask both of us, we’d have completely different takes on it. So I think you just have to go for it, you never know. I, for one, never wanted to work at a corporate brand, but felt very good at Gucci.

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To gain more insight on this new epidemic of students enjoying the smaller, more intimate companies, we chatted with Maria Nishio to see if this rumor held some form of truth.

1G: As a tutor, can you tell us what the general consensus of students is, as they come close to graduation?

MN: I cannot speak for everybody, but I think there are less and less students wanting to go to luxury brands directly afterwards. They are still not sure what they are trying to do. So they are taking their time to make their decisions. I think it is totally healthy to have that mindset, because everyone’s values are changing so much. That’s how I felt after I did my internship at Vogue in Tokyo. I admired Vogue so much, but when I worked there, I just could not believe how intense the whole experience was. I decided to go to a Monastery for three weeks to see what level of happiness you can have. Because at Vogue you have so much material, but you are never happy. You are always looking for something new. Whereas if you go to a Monastery, they only have two robes in their whole life, yet they are the happiest people. That’s when I started looking into the value of happiness.

Do you think students are more inclined to look for a job based on where they did their placements?

I think generally if you have a good experience at the big companies, you feel happy to go back. But sadly not everyone has a great experience. We also have to be open about the big labels taking advantage of young designers, so while wanting to work for that label, they end up working really crazy hours.

As Santiago said, within bigger companies it is harder to climb the ladder, is that one of the reasons why students are more open to go to smaller labels?

Yes, but also you have to think about why you want to be in that position. If you have that as your goal, I think it is perfectly fine. But if you are going there just because it is considered a successful company, it is different. It depends on what you want to get out of it. 

The chatty and tall Andrew Totah from womenswear was our next subject. Just back from a two year placement, during which he helped set up a new womenswear label, and was voluntarily stranded on a deserted island for a period of time.

1G: Did the placement year help you decide on a future career?

AT: It gave me a lot of perspective. I grew tired of working in the industry, kind of. You know, taking a step back during my travels made me realize I want to do something a bit more sustainable and community orientated. Is working in high-end fashion and couture gratifying? No, not gratifying enough, in a way. You kind of eat shit to get somewhere, but then you realize you actually had other options, and you’re like ‘fuck this!’ But it depends, really, on what happens after final year. You never know what opportunities will come up. I may say one thing, and someone might offer me a cool collaboration and I might be like, ‘fuck yeah, let’s do it.’

What do you see yourself doing after graduation?

I want to go to South Africa and maybe collaborate with people outside of fashion. I hope to do something sustainable with the community, it could be fashion orientated. It would not be high-end fashion; it would be much more about the people I am working with, than the actual final products. But then again, it might all go to shit, depending on what happens at the end, if I get into the Press Show or if I do a good collection. You never really know.

What are your thoughts on whether or not students are more inclined to work at smaller fashion brands?

I think it is a real mix today, but if you look at when I started school, you would never hear such talk between students. It is much more open. This seems to be a general sensation going through the industry, it is a ripple effect going directly to the students. Generally, I think that students kind of feel less obligated to end up in high fashion, you know, before it was like you couldn’t say no, but now people have a bit more strength to go in a different direction. 

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Luxury brands and emerging labels are both alluring for very different reasons. Big labels can offer you a view into the corporate world, and possibly a good paycheck. Smaller brands give you more responsibility straight off the bat. It is all based on your values and what your personal goals are. Whether you want to be one of thousands working on a specified job, or one of a select few working on every aspect of the collection. Ultimately it all goes back to what Chan and Nishio both said: we all just want to be happy.

Words by Misha Skelly

Photography by Giovanni Corabi for 1 Granary 

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