Despite the unpredictable nature of retail, most of today’s fashion design students still hold out hope that they will one day ascend to the same heights as Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Christian Dior.
“Sometimes fashion students come in and the only thing they want is to do the catwalk show, show their 20 outfits and see themselves in the newspaper being picked out as the next big designer,” said José Teunissen, dean of the school of design and technology at London College of Fashion, speaking last week at Lectra’s Fashion Forward event in Bordeaux, France. “And I think that’s a dream of 30 years ago and it isn’t the future of fashion.”
A feature published earlier this year by Not Just a Label and titled “Is Fashion Education Failing Young Designers?” argued that many British schools are not teaching design students the fundamental skills they need to work in the industry, from pattern-making to business management. That’s something that LCF, number seven on Business of Fashion’s global fashion school rankings this year, has been working to address.
“That was the reason why I joined the college,” explained Teunissen, who was appointed dean a year ago. “It’s that I am aware of the need to combine a fashion business school, the making process, the marketing, the communications and a strong relationship with the industry to really help us move forward. Because we are in a time period that there are a lot of changes happening in the fashion world—and it will happen on all levels so you better prepare your students.”
LCF offers more than 70 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees across three schools and has about 5,000 students. The fashion business school launched in 2015, with seven undergrad courses and nine postgrads, more than half of which are non-design. For example, there’s an MA in Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation that aims to develop new fashion concepts through to commercialization. This reflects the school’s commitment to the enterprising as well as creative talents of its students.
“Not only do we train designers, we also build up research that’s stepping in issues that we’re now dealing with,” Teunissen said. “So, it’s about social responsibility, it’s about building better communities, it’s being sustainable, but also thinking what a digital future will bring us when it comes to fashion.”
To that end, LCF partners with major industry members to provide students in its schools of design and technology, fashion business and media and community with valuable real-world experience. Projects can range from trend forecasting to creating a limited-edition range of footwear and accessories to tackling sustainability issues.
For instance, students have collaborated with Nike to “mobilize makers,” using the Nike Materials Sustainability Index (NMSI) as a reference to create products that highlight sustainability as a driver of innovation. Another example is a project with H&M that saw students create womenswear using garments gathered as part of the chain’s in-store collection scheme. Additional assignments offered students the chance to work with the English National Ballet, Topshop, Speedo and Inditex, to name just four.
Tradition meets technology
But as is the LCF tradition, much of the coursework is craft-based.
“We still need to train a good designer and that means he or she has to come up with a certain kind of aesthetic and appeal and know what fashion is,” Teunissen said, explaining that technical skills are particularly important in lingerie, sportswear and footwear. “More and more we also try to give our students a background on sustainability, on where the digital world will take us, so theory and reflection and conceptual thinking are important.”
That’s where the industry projects really come into play, encouraging students to collaborate in order to solve problems and suggest future solutions, something that Teunissen said is increasingly important. In 2020, LCF—currently housed in six different locations around London—will move to a new state-of-the-art facility in the former Olympic Park in the east of the city.
“Everything will be under one roof and it gives us the opportunity to rethink our curriculum,” Teunissen said. “Where do we put the workshops? Is it the traditional craft or do we combine it with technology? What kind of curriculum do we want to deliver? Do we want it to be more project-based or do we want to do more work cross-school with the other schools?”
Technology is an unavoidable element, however, and Teunissen said students need to know how digital tools can benefit their work.
She added, “My vision is that we have to integrate the digital with the craft, and that we have to build areas where it’s just in one room, one space and it’s connected.”