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Post graduate fashion

The Guardian
Fashion courses arm you with everything you need to kick-start your career in couture

When former model and Central Saint Martins graduate Alice Keswick set up her own fashion brand, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Seven seasons in, her Wondaland label is thriving. “As a designer you need to be a real problem solver when it comes to making everyday compromises in order to create your collection,” she says. Of course fashion creative in one of the UK’s liveliest sectors need also to be numerate and literate with the latest software. “It’s no longer about beautiful sketches and colourful mood boards – we need to be able to see the computer generated ‘spec’ drawing and mock-ups of different colour ways.”

A good postgraduate course, Keswick believes, gives you grounding across the design and manufacture process, and of course, exposes you to critical work experience in an inevitably competitive market. “These days everyone seems to have a degree – and first-hand experience stands out.” Any reputable masters will have visiting professional speakers, and some faculty perhaps still practising in industry; students may even work with live briefs. Placements with smaller, less prestigious labels are sometimes more worthwhile, Keswick believes. “You actually get to hone your skills – whereas at a top fashion house you spend all your time steaming and stitching on sequins.”

From fashion marketing to fashion psychology to design technology or knitwear, there are hundreds of postgraduate fashion qualifications on offer in the UK. It’s hard to imagine a higher profile course than that offered by the London College of Fashion, whose postgraduates saw their designs exhibited on the catwalk of London Fashion Week this year. When choosing a masters, it’s worth reading behind the course title, says Gini Stirling, an associate at the sector skills council Creative Skillset, which is currently in the process of accrediting undergraduate fashion degrees. A good course does more than merely build on experience, she says – it should develop a specialism as well as creating a general understanding across three important areas: design; technology and materials; and also imaging and styling. “There’s a dearth of fashion designers who appreciate the full works of the industry as well as having a specialism,” she explains. “Good courses also offer excellent industry links.”

No one would accuse Glasgow Caledonia University London of lacking contacts – its British School of Fashion has very recently welcomed an M&S studio in house, and launched an M&S scholarship programme, and the university is looking into running live projects for postgraduates. “Knowing people helps tremendously as fashion company hubs such as London are very competitive,” says Thomas Peshken, programme leader on the MSc international fashion marketing at GCU London, which welcomes some 55 students a year. As an industry, fashion has some unique characteristics, he says: “trends move quickly – sometimes continuously - which impacts on product development, merchandising, communications and retailing.”

When is the right time to tackle a fashion masters? Some undergraduates are encouraged by their universities to further an interest directly after their first degree, while others might return after several years in industry to get up to speed with changing design technologies and innovations in surface decorations and fabric manufacture. “This is a stimulating time for people wanting to work in the fashion industry,” says Stirling. “There are a healthy number of designers, and London is on the map more than it’s ever been.”

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