Representing the creative future

Do I need a fashion degree to work in fashion?

Are disruptive design careers an exception from the rule?

Wanting to pursue a career in fashion is a tough road to follow. It is too expensive to finance education and too hard to make a living from the small salary. “I think it’s important for young writers to know there is very little money in this industry, and there are no conversations around that,” explained Olivia Singer, British Vogue’s Fashion News Director, in an interview with 1 Granary earlier this year.” You have to find financial stability for yourself and then build everything else on top of that; otherwise, it’s impossible.”

We already touched on the general detachment between creativity and money. But a question that appears far more pressing for fashion fanatics of any age is this: are fashion studies still imperative for a career in fashion? We revisit some of our interviews to discover the answer.

Arguably, institutions have endeavoured to transform an elitist environment into an accessible ambiance. Fashion education undoubtedly provides a rich skill set, crucial industry links, and access to an incomparable network. Still, when measured by graduate prospects, creative colleges, like the University of the Arts London, Kingston University, or De Montfort University, rank in the last third.

Thus, young creatives wishing for a career path in fashion take their first step into a minefield of obstacles. The one option offers them to pile up debts to graduate with uncertain job prospects eventually. The other holds a high probability of failing to find links to internships at the big houses. That said, the response to the above question should be: Yes!

But it is not.

Celebrated creatives make out a case for the trivia of fashion studies. Multitalent Hedi Slimane, game-changer Demna Gvasalia, or even iconic Miuccia Prada, a Ph.D. in political science, chose not to study fashion.

DAZED’s former Editor-in-Chief and founder of Climax Books Isabella Burley, too, tells a similar story. The college dropout started her career working a retail job at Dover Street Market. “I just didn’t sit well with the education structure,” she reasons her leaving the Fine Art Foundation and subsequently the Courtauld Institute of Art.

It was the creative environment that substituted an institution’s invaluable industry insights. “For me, it still is my education. Everyone that was working there was working on other things too, so I got to meet with people that were writing for DAZED and i-D at the time, stylists, designers like Charlie Casey Hayford… It was this amazing place that exposed me to all of the different roles within the creative industry.”

One of these creatives was Olivia Singer. The two bumped into each other after Burton sneaked herself into a Meadham Kirchoff show. She had just returned to London after trying to start a career in Paris. “I’d always written blogs for feminist journals and zines, so she [Burley] said why don’t you write about feminism for us? This is how I wrote my first piece for Dazed,” she shared with us in summer.

A career in fashion not only goes without educational training but also a special interest in the topic proves i-D fashion features editor Mahoro Seward. “I was never obsessed with fashion; it was just something that was always on the periphery,” he admits. “Fashion was something I was interested in from an academic perspective, but it was also something I would look at online every now and again when I was bored.”

“The most important thing is that young creative perspectives are what this industry craves.” – Olivia Singer

The Oxford alumni in French and German literature says he had a somewhat organic journey into fashion. He wrote his first article for 1 Granary, at which a friend of his was working as an online editor at that time, and continued contributing “as more of a hobby.” It was not until offered a job as a junior editor at 1 Granary that his career in the industry began.

Admittedly, being in the right place at the right time and getting to know the right people entails a high hazard for wrongs. “I really don’t think it matters, and I say that with my chest,” assures Singer. “The most important thing is that young creative perspectives are what this industry craves. This whole industry is obsessed with newness and youth, and the unheard voice. Leaning into what you know and what you feel is a really important lesson.”

Also, as the pandemic has successfully shown, the internet is a good tool for self-education. Tutorials are the digital professors of the time. Although not comparable to educational training, the internet is indisputably a more accessible form of fundamental formation than universities.

Industry professionals like Singer are no strangers to online research. “I used to go through Cathy Horyn’s show reviews from 1994 or browse through and find anything Tim Blanks or Robin Givhan had ever written, or go on Vogue Runway and look at a collection that I liked and read a different perspective on it,” she reminisces.

Even non-related interests and backgrounds are no obstacle anymore. Singer believes that it is precisely the young and fresh perspectives that are the most interesting to the industry. Seward shared a similar viewpoint, “I’m hedging a bet here, but I’m guessing some of the people at BOF or WWD have backgrounds in economics, for example. It’s birthed an entirely new genre of fashion writing which, as fashion becomes increasingly important, is vital.”

A great thing about fashion is that the ones on the top don’t care as much about your degree, as they do about your work and your attitude.

Both agree on the stark significance of varied perspectives to adequately comment on evolving elements of the industry. Singer mentions TikTok as an example and how it changes “the way fashion is worn, consumed, and how people reflect their identities.”

Experienced journalists might perceive it solely as the latest trend of digitalisation and a game-changer of how social media is consumed. Most articles about TikTok are written from said perspective, focusing on trying to explain the tool. The New York Times interviewed young TikTokers about what the platform means to them, and it is safe to say that they would have another story to tell if they wrote about it.

Circling back to how a career in fashion can thrive without attending a school, it is essential to understand that the whole point of starting a job is to learn and gain practical experience. With every new job comes a steep learning curve. Burley admits, “When I started at DAZED, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea how to edit a magazine. When I did my first interview, I wasn’t a writer. I had never interviewed anyone before; I didn’t know how you do it.”

If you let go of the “maybe I should have gone to fashion school” anxiety you will see hundreds of exciting paths you could take to reach where you want to go.

How do you land this first job though? One will naturally ask. We tend to think that a career route outside of university is one of hustle, and this is indeed the case for many aspiring writers, stylists, photographers, and designers. A great thing about fashion is that the ones on the top don’t care as much about your degree, as they do about your work and your attitude. In other words, don’t hesitate to contact the stylist you admire to help out with the samples on a shoot or to email your pitch to the editor you religiously follow on Twitter. Take your time, a career is slow steps towards goals that keep getting bigger and if you let go of the “maybe I should have gone to fashion school” anxiety you will see hundreds of exciting paths you could take to reach where you want to go.

Further, it is important not to adhere to a mentality of trying to put people, and most importantly yourself, into boxes based on their backgrounds. “You have to do those things and not be held to these archaic systems of ‘You’re not this, but you are this,'” says Burley and adds: “Who cares?”

Inexperience is the greatest asset to forming fresh perspectives and work creatively.

In the end, there are a few facts about a career in fashion: fashion education is indisputably beneficial but not inevitable; an interest in fashion is great but not a requirement to having the agency to talk about it; professional experience in a job field is advantageous but not crucial to work in it; and ultimately, inexperience is the greatest asset to forming fresh perspectives and work creatively.

As Vogue’s Olivia Singer puts it: “It’s really important for young people to believe and hear that their voice is as valid as anyone else’s. There can be this idea that if you’re not writing for X, Y, Z publication, why bother? But the reality is, if I had interviewed Miuccia Prada when I was starting out my career, it wouldn’t have been a very good interview.”