It is ultimately very difficult for anyone to get a break in any professional field—to get a break in the fashion industry it’s ultimately the greatest challenge for anyone today. Listen up you wanna be designers. Today as in the past, you must have an education. Not just in the classroom, but outside those walls too. Travel the world or outside your state, learn a second language, mingle with other cultures, read books, visit museums, watch the news; I think you know what I mean. A fashion degree is important but not necessarily the most valuable feature to possess. You must be willing to stand the ferocity that is the fashion industry. This field is highly competitive (cut-throat) and the demands are rigorous and good health is highly expected. I know of folks who without their meds they wouldn’t be the fashion stars that they are. What about talent? Talent is good to have and if you lack some, it’s totally fine because you’ll learn to wing it. The apparel industry is not for the weak and the insecure. It can easily eat you alive and institutionalize you. I’m not making it up and if you don’t believe me read below.
Breaking into the fashion industry requires more than just a fashion degree or having the right connections or better yet, having rich parents. It takes more than drafting original gowns and crafting the most innovative shoes; you must be willing to sell your soul to the highest bettor or you’ll never make it. I never sold my soul and I was a little insecure, thus the reason why I never made it. I always knew that my fashion degree wasn’t going to be enough to make it in the industry. I knew then and I still know now that I have the talent to make it as a fashion designer, but reality tells me that my time expired a couple of decades ago.
|Modeling was the way I got to experience fashion since I failed as a fashion designer.|
Photo courtesy of Bruce Weber/RL '95.
In 1994 during a dinner party in honor of fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré, I had the honor of sitting down with the “architect of fashion” and chat for a few minutes. At that time, I was a terrified and awkward fashion model—trying very hard not to make a bad impression on the man I wanted to work with and who I greatly admired. After ten minutes of basically fluffing his ego and gulping two dirty martinis, I had the nerve to ask signore Ferré what it took for someone to make it into the fashion industry. In a tenor tone and almost out-of-breath he said, “It takes balls and you must be very patient with all the people you have to work. You must also know that in fashion nothing happens by coincidence or overnight.” I stood there with a martini in one hand and the other in my pocket-thinking that I had the balls and I was known for having patience, except I had tried working in fashion and I was mediocre. Since I didn’t make it as a fashion designer in Los Angeles, I decided to give fashion modeling a crack and it worked out better than cutting patterns and sketching bathing suits for Speedo and prom gowns for a Korean manufacturer. At school I was known for spending countless hours sketching and sewing, but I wasn’t known for living outside my classroom walls. I forgot to experience the world.
|I never became a famous model nor rich, but I got to see the world and it was fun.|
Photo courtesy of Tim Christmas/'08.
Fashion is more than Project Runway or The Fashion Show—these reality shows can and are edited for viewing, therefore your image or idea of fashion might be misguided. My biggest advice for anyone dreaming of becoming a fashion designer is “to prepare yourself in any way you can. By this I mean; read about the industry, establish connections in the area, intern during your school breaks with a retailer or a tailor or your neighborhood seamstress. Attend workshops and lectures by people in the industry; visit the school(s) you might be considering to attend in the future. And most of all trust yourself.” I know I failed at making fashion because I wasn’t fully prepared and never go to do the things I’m now suggesting you do. Before your dreams of runways, beautiful clothes, after parties, fame and fortune get crushed, develop a tough skin and prepare for battle. My dream didn’t happen but yours might.