So You Want to Be a Fashion Designer...

Interested in becoming a fashion designer or simply working in the fashion industry? Read our guide and get inspired by our experience: the industry is constantly looking for new and innovative talent. First of all remember that your dream is not impossible but useless to say it is not for everyone. So read further and make yours the advices I'm about to give you.

First recommendation: read! Go online and subscribe yourself to all the latest fashion blogs and online magazines, go to the local library and see what they offer, read biographies of the most famous fashion designers: in shorts get immersed into this world. Look through Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Details, and Womens Wear Daily and W, if they are available, or find the digital online version if that's easier for you.

Second tip: train your eye. Visit any museums and art galleries you can. Look at as many art books as possible and, when looking at paintings from centuries ago, be surprised at how many elements you find in portraits and paintings later copied and adapted by contemporary designers. Looking at art master pieces is a very important element because without a well-developed sense of proportion you won't be able to see things and develop your fashion designer eye. Fashion is becoming more and more about developing an inner sense of proportions and being able to put elements together in an original and unprecedented way. When in New York City don't miss "Gallagher's" in Greenwich Village which sells old fashion magazines.

Today youngsters don't realize how lucky they are to be able to see so many old movies on TV. I remember when Giorgio Armani showed the jacket of a suit for the very first time that had only one very prominent lapel. Unfortunately I can't remember the thirties film from the US I saw not many months later in which a very sophisticated actress wore a dark jacket with one white lapel. Pia Soli, an Italian fashion journalist and historian, once remarked that during a long illness she watched hundreds of old films: "And I can't tell how how many times I saw the inspiration for collections I had seen!"

Realize quite soon if you want to design for men, women or kids. Find the nicest shop or boutique in that category and go work there on Saturday afternoons. If they won't pay you ask anyway if you can help out. Learning by doing has always been one of the best ways to develop your skills , and it is a great way to deepen your knowledge about clothes of different brands. You should get to know the people you want to design for, their bodies, their needs, likes, and dislikes. You must have a lot of passion if you want to succeed, you should be willing to make sacrifices, and you should take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn more.

Do you know any fashion designers already who would let you hang out with them, maybe do some errands in exchange for watching them work? Is there a local factory you can visit? I used to cover car racing for several years, and I learned two VERY important things from two people:

Alan Rees, Formula One team manager: "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity."

Jackie Stewart, formula Formula One World Champion, after winning the World Championship after an extremely difficult race: "Never, never, never, never give up." (Did he read Winston Churchill?)

Believe in yourself, have self-confidence, but be also realistic. In case you have a great and innate talent, it may not be enough to ensure success. There are certain things you need always to keep in mind:

  1. Good Manners. They are always in fashion no matter what your contemporaries may tell you. When somebody gives you an appointment, ALWAYS send a written note expressing your appreciation.
    If somebody takes the time to answer an email, as I often have, be sure to thank them, and in the mail refer to your request (some people receive a lot of mail and can't remember every single person they answered). When making phone calls to important people try to get the name of the secretary and always ask for her when you call. You'd be surprised how powerful secretaries can be, and if you're polite, they can often be very helpful. And never address somebody by their first name on the first meeting. When you get to know them better wait for them to say, "Please call me Bud."
    Remember, it doesn't cost ANYTHING to be polite and considerate, and as my Daddy's mammy said (yes, he was from Virginia and had a mammy): "Politeness will git you fo' the King!" And in his case, it did, King Leopold of Belgium, many many years ago... The golden rule still applies today, treat others as you would like be treated. If you step on toes on your way up, things won't be easy for you should you later descend, as you'll be passing many of those you offended in the past.
  2. Attitude. You can't afford it. Being polite and pleasant to everybody, no matter what their position, can't be stressed enough. This doesn't mean you have to become a rug and let everybody walk over you, but it means treating people with respect and expecting them to treat you with the same respect. If an employer has to choose between two equally talented would-be designers, the job will more than likely go to the good-natured person. Or the one with the better connections, but unfortunately that's a fact of life and you'd better face it sooner than later. Unless you are super-talented, nobody wants to have to work with whiners, complainers, and neurotics. There's so much rudeness and bad manners in our lives today that people won't forget you when you are polite and considerate and say THANK YOU!
  3. Punctuality. Making people wait for you indicates that you don't have respect for them or their time. Get in the habit of arriving 10 minutes early for every appointment. You won't have to do that when you hit the top, but then, you won't last long at the top if you start giving yourself airs.
  4. Passion. Yes, passion, but not so much for sex as for your work. People who really care about their work, who read up on the subject, who find out everything they possibly can, who never pass up the chance to learn from somebody in the business, are people who succeed. Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Don't limit yourself to fashion per se, learn as much as you can in many areas. Broaden your mind.
  5. Concentration. Life is competitive, and nowhere will you find more competition than in the fashion industry. You need to be sure you know what you want, that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve your ambition, and to focus directly on your dream. You cannot permit yourself to become distracted.
  6. Taking Care of Yourself. It's your body, and your life. Drugs and alcohol may seem to help but you need to keep your eye on the ball. Keep active, eat healthy, and get plenty of sleep. Have fun, but use your common sense.
  7. Sense of Humor. Having a sense of humor and keeping your perspective are important, as well as having your priorities straight. Sexual harassment exists, and a sense of self-worth and humor can usually defuse unwelcome situations. It says somewhere that people who can laugh at themselves live longer.
  8. The Future. At some point you may realize that becoming a fashion designer is not going to happen. Take advantage of your exposure to people and get to know as many as you possibly can. You never know when somebody you've met could be the key to your future.

If you've read this far, it means you're really interested. If you possibly can, enroll in a reputable fashion school. Save your money for a trip to New York with your mom or a friend. If you love fashion there are many other jobs to consider: publicist, advertising, stylist, photographer, makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion editor.

It will take a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and perserverance, but if you really care, you'll make it! Good luck, and let me know how things go...

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