Representing the creative future

What is happening with fashion design work placements during the pandemic?

8 Central Saint Martins’ Fashion Design students on the challenges of interning during a global pandemic, the disparity between small brands and big houses, and the futility of fashion

Fashion work placements during the pandemic

At the beginning of summer, we saw an entire generation of new designers graduate during a pandemic. Fast forward three months and the undergraduate students who are now in their second year are preparing to embark on their first foray into the ‘real’ world: their year out.  The placement year is implemented in some fashion courses, such as the Fashion Design BA at CSM, and it is seen as an opportunity for the students to gain industry experience, perfect their design skills in preparation for their final year, and begin to build an essential network of contacts.

How is Central Saint Martins’ current group of budding designers securing coveted internships and entering the ever-changing professional world? It seems like the pandemic has not only made work placement applications harder, but it has also pushed the students to think about the futility of fashion and their need to change the system as it holds now. In an effort to get away from the sometimes oppressing obsession of working at a large conglomerate, today’s aspiring designers seem to be prioritising hands-on experience, opting for small emerging brands over big fashion houses. We spoke to 8 Central Saint Martins’ fashion students at the onset of their ‘year out’ who shared their worries as well as their aspirations for their placement year and the future.

 

Cécile Bousselat, Womenswear 

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Cecile Bousselat

I had dreams of travelling and interning in New York and Milan, needless to say, this is completely out of the question now. For an aspiring  designer this is an opportunity to mature, refine your ideas, and find your voice within the industry. But now this exciting prospect of freedom has been replaced with anxiety. My view of the fashion industry was already pretty pessimistic before COVID-19. I hate how every callout and social cause becomes a vehicle for marketing and communication by brands that don’t really care. I hope brands see that we don’t need so many shows every year. I would like to see smaller names being given more means to survive, they are the ones who really inspire me. For example, Laura and Deanna Fanning and Goom Heo, they create garments which are actually relevant to our generation.

I just finished a placement with Richard Malone. Working at a design house during a pandemic is incredibly weird – I feel like I’m in a ghost town, leaving really early and coming home very late, just seeing people’s eyes and never their full face. I’d like to spend the rest of the year sewing and designing as much as I can so I’m ready for my final year, I want it to be magical. Hopefully, the world will make a bit more sense before then.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Cecile Bousselat Research
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

 

Maximilian Raynor, Fashion Design With Marketing

 

Taking a year out is crucial to your success as a young designer. You get to experience the inner workings of the industry and ground your creative practice in reality. Like everyone, I had visions of myself living in Paris or New York for a year. It was also something that I felt anxious about. I knew that securing paid placements is incredibly competitive, so when the pandemic hit, I knew straight away it would be 100 times harder.

“It is easy to get caught up in the obsession of working at a major house, but you might not necessarily always learn as much at a large company compared to if you are somewhere smaller, where you can take on more responsibilities and be more hands-on.”

It is impossible not to view fashion in a different light since the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. I found myself questioning if we need another designer or any new clothes when the rest of the world is in such dire straits. But fashion still gives me so much joy! It is an art form and the world always needs art, either to comment on the times we live in or to escape from it. COVID-19 is a catalyst, it has given us time to re-think, adjust, and come back to the table with a revised approach to designing. Then again, I don’t think making things entirely digital is the answer; nothing can ever replace the spectacle of a fashion show.

I just started a three month paid placement with industry-renowned archivist and design consultant Steven Philip. He has recently moved his studio to Brighton and took me on to coordinate the venture; cataloguing his entire archive and working on design stories. It is easy to get caught up in the obsession of working at a major house, but you might not necessarily always learn as much at a large company compared to if you are somewhere smaller, where you can take on more responsibilities and be more hands-on.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Maximilian Raynor
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

 

Namita Khade, Fashion Design with Knitwear

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Namita Khade

To me, the year out is a period in the middle of our degree, where we have freedom that we won’t ever experience again once we graduate. I was excited to have an opportunity to spend some time outside of a university environment, which can often seem out of touch with reality, and gain more technical and professional skills. With Zoom interviews, remote working, and a move towards digital platforms, I’m worried my year out will be less authentic as learning through physically engaging with garments, samples and people has been somewhat removed.

“If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would probably be running around London, being part of this machine that fuels the momentous pace of the industry.”

I don’t think the pandemic has changed my view of the fashion industry massively, I’ve always been aware that a large part of the industry is built on capitalising off low self-esteem. I have only recently seen myself occupying space from seeing more diversity amongst up and coming designers and their work over recent years. With the pace of fashion drastically slowing down, I’ve reflected a lot on my own core needs and values; what I want to communicate, and promote as part of the industry.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBl38_mFBC3/

I’ve taken an alternative route to an internship, working on my own self-directed project with the support of the Mentoring Matters which helps minority creatives. In doing so, I get to build on my own portfolio of work and receive a more personalised insight into the industry that understands minority perspectives. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would probably be running around London, being part of this machine that fuels the momentous pace of the industry. It is not progressive and I think other people are waking up to this now, which ultimately will enable me to move my work in a more authentic direction of what the industry needs. If lockdown restrictions ease, I would love to reconnect with family in South India and work on natural fibre and yarn development in the farms over there. It would obviously be great industry insight to go to a large fashion house but I feel like for me, at least for now, I’d like to invest this time on myself.

 

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Namita Khade
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

 

Lina Sakovica, Menswear

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Karolina Sakovica

The prospect of having a year out was my biggest motivation during the second year. If my energy started dropping or I felt like I couldn’t be bothered anymore I would tell myself, “OK! Three more projects and then you have an entire year out.” I don’t know if the pandemic has changed how I feel, I’m still very excited to be on my year out because no matter what I do, this year is about me.

“There was a time when I would wake up in sweats because I was so insecure;  if I’m not good at sewing, pattern cutting, or designing then I’m a failure.”

Studying fashion during a pandemic made me realise that fashion doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There was a time when I would wake up in sweats because I was so insecure;  if I’m not good at sewing, pattern cutting, or designing then I’m a failure. It made me re-discover why I actually love fashion, instead of the anxieties I inherited later down the line. I think a reason why we feel like there’s so much to confront is that we’ve had time to sit down and really think about the issues with ourselves and the whole industry.

I personally don’t think that my year out will be the thing that makes or breaks me, but then again, who knows, I just started this journey. My dream placement would be working for Martine Rose, I respect her and really love her work. There’s a lot of pressure to find your future employers and not everyone will. . We are constantly being told it’s essential to do a year out to reach your full potential, I don’t really believe that.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Karolina Sakovica

 

Inga Praskeviciute, Womenswear

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Inga Praskeviciutez

All my friends in the year above told me that your year out is the most enjoyable and fun part of your degree. I was excited to get a job and not be under constant pressure. Usually, I’m in the studios at CSM all day, until I get kicked out at 10 pm. Whereas, when you’re interning you have evenings and weekends to fully enjoy yourself. I’m extremely lucky that Loewe, a brand I really admire, had a position available. But I miss my friends so much, sharing experiences, working in the same environment, and learning from each other is a huge part of how we improve as designers.

For a while I have been disappointed in the excess of fashion; the lack of meaning put in and taken out of it. I’ve always been extremely interested in craftsmanship, I love things that are unique, that takes time and knowledge in their making.

“No one is certain about the future yet, so all I can do is learn from the present.”

I have been working on Loewe’s pre-collection since September. Working here has made me see that a fashion house is an infrastructure that’s been created by someone else, and it’s history, management, and clients all contribute to that. Doing a placement is about finding where you fit into this system, or if you fit in it at all. I think it’s a really amazing opportunity to learn and a needed change of pace before starting final year, which I’m nervous about, so I appreciate having this time to mature. No one is certain about the future yet, so all I can do is learn from the present.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Zhuoran Li: the body as a canvas
Zhuoran Li, Lookbook shot by Mollie lala
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

 

Gregory Ojakpe, Fashion Design with Knitwear

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
GREGORY OJAKPE

“Taking two years out instead of the ‘traditional’ one really helped me change my perspective; working without restraints and deadlines, creating what I wanted helped me fall back in love with fashion. “

Towards the end of my second year I felt overworked – to be honest, I was starting to fall out of love with fashion. CSM is full of creative people doing amazing things, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and constantly compare yourself to your peers. I was very much in the headspace of  “I should be doing this” and “Why can’t I do that?” It was very toxic, I was set on the idea that maybe fashion is not for me. Taking two years out instead of the ‘traditional’ one really helped me change my perspective; working without restraints and deadlines, creating what I wanted helped me fall back in love with fashion.

Being an aspiring designer during a pandemic definitely made me think hard about how I am going to find work in a recession when I graduate. Now more than ever people have to create their own opportunities and jobs, as most brands have put a freeze on hiring new talent. So, I’m definitely working more commercially in terms of my design ideas, creating things that are easily accessible but still innovative and exciting.

The final year is going to be the biggest projectI’ve ever taken on. In my first year, I made a conscious decision to mainly reference African diasporic modes of fashion and the intersections of African cultural dress and Western fashion, so this will continue to be part of my final collection and design aesthetic. I’m determined to be very much in the moment and to graduate with no regrets. Working at your own pace is vital and if you want to take some time out during or even before you start University to learn something new, create, or even just do nothing you should do what feels right for you regardless of what you perceive to be the norm.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Gregory OJakpe Sketchbook
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

Christie Lau, Fashion Design with Print

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Christie Lau

Fashion has become synonymous with overconsumption. It is seasonal, fast-paced, and changes constantly, which I feel is out of touch with the current social and environmental issues that we are facing. That is why I wanted to educate myself more on slow fashion over this year, it fosters a more intimate relationship between people and clothing. Designing and making a garment with consideration of its longevity, how your garment will be worn and used by the wearer.

I’m currently working for John Alexander Skelton, it has been really enjoyable there. There is such an emphasis on conscious production and craft in his practice, from the dyeing process right down to the hand-stitched finishes. I think it is really important to do a year out, at least for myself, to see how I can fit into the industry, but also to learn about how things are done. Only then we can try, change, and improve the current system in place.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

Renato Brás, Fashion Design with Marketing

Fashion work placements during the pandemic

“I’ve luckily been able to secure a placement at Chanel, I’m working on textiles and ready to wear. The application process was more complicated and overwhelming than what I  thought it would be.”

I have always been very excited to intern. I want to understand how fashion brands actually work and see if it is something I want to be a part of when I graduate. I feel like in university there is a focus on the creative side of the industry, which is great, but it is just as important to learn how brands survive commercially. During my second year I was struggling to understand how to profit from my creativity. It’s disheartening when you’re creating work that ends up in storage, so it’s been really refreshing to actually make a living whilst being creative.

I’ve luckily been able to secure a placement at Chanel, I’m working on textiles and ready to wear. The application process was more complicated and overwhelming than what I  thought it would be. In my opinion, the industry has proven itself quite inaccessible when it comes to applying for internships, it can be almost impossible to reach out to some brands, which the pandemic has made even more complicated. However, this thankfully does not apply to every brand and I think it is empowering as interns and as young designers to learn how much our passion and creativity are worth.

Fashion work placements during the pandemic
Renato Bras
Fashion work placements during the pandemic

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

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