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Who wants to go to fashion school in the event of a pandemic?


LONDON Conner ives had big dreams for her master’s exhibit at Central Saint Martins, London’s famous school of art and design.

The equivalent of a final designer exam, the graduate shows that each month of May is not only an academic rite of passage, but also an opportunity to build a profile, network with industry and perhaps even be to find a future job.

Not this year. With the coronavirus taking over Europe in March and Britain locked out, the school has closed. The lessons were put online and the final show was canceled in favor of a digital presentation on June 17 in which each student could only show two looks and a 90-second video. For Mr. Ives, 24, an ambitious American who has already founded his own label and is part of the design team of Fenty, the fashion brand Rihannas, the past two months have been difficult.

We have all done our best to meet the challenges created by the pandemic, but that has made me think about big questions, said Mr. Ives, who suffers from diabetes and was isolated in his apartment for three months at work on its parts. One of them is the following: if I had known four years ago that I would graduate without the diploma and that I would receive distance education for months, would I have reconsidered the possibility of doing a postgraduate diploma?

He is not the only student to have pondered the question. The pandemic has disrupted universities around the world, forcing a short-term transition to distance education, which raises questions about the future of higher education. Even world-renowned institutions are facing significant layoffs and a reassessment of projected earnings as international students take stock of the uncertain global climate and exorbitant tuition fees.

Many students of all ages, backgrounds and vocations think twice about college, including those who want to pursue careers in fashion.

Historically, a degree from a school like Central Saint Martins or Royal College of Art in London, Parsons and FIT in New York and Royal Academy of Arts in Antwerp has been an expensive but valuable asset for those looking to enter an industry notoriously competitive.

Fashion education, as a business, has exploded over the past decade, in parallel with the industry itself. There are a growing number of established name courses and new private offerings, such as the Cond Nast College of Fashion & Design, specialist courses, a network of peers and internship opportunities.

But the spread of the coronavirus has triggered travel bans and lower deposits. We are realistic that our income will be lower next year, said Valrie Berdah Levy, director of the Paris campus of the Italian private school of fashion and design Istituto Marangoni, whose former students include Domenico Dolce and Alessandra Facchinetti .

Some students are nervous about coming to Europe, said Berdah Levy, while others are unsure when their borders might reopen. We also know that some parents may now face financial or health problems that affect their resources and try to prepare for it, she said.

The adaptations that many art schools made earlier this year in response to the pandemic could help inform their plans for the fall.

According to Zowie Broach, head of fashion at the Londons Royal College of Art, the school is considering changes, including focusing on presentation and research at the start of the academic year and teaching the digital skills needed to create and present remote work. Ms. Broachs’ graduates are currently at home, creating a RCA2020 digital discovery platform on which each student will have his own page which will be put online between July 16 and July 31.

There have been some silver liners in the new reality, she said: The caliber of industry speakers is suddenly much higher.

Anyone can be on Zoom, and as a result, we have had amazing speakers that we probably could not have accessed before, and more ambitious debates on how to use corona as a motivator for a significant change in industry, said Broach. At a recent event, Sir Jonathan Ive, Virgil Abloh and Olafur Eliasson all spoke.

Walter van Beirendonck, head of fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and designer who was part of the Antwerp Six, created digital blind dates for his master’s students with stars from the fashion world like Stephen Jones and Raf Simons.

And at Savannah College of Art and Design this year in Georgia, fashion and accessories graduates presented their final work virtually to panels of a group of 50 industry judges, including designer Christopher John Rogers and Bruce Pask, director of men’s fashion at Bergdorf Goodman. .

Do our students miss being together and touching the fabrics? said Michael Fink, the dean of SCAD fashion school. Yes. Have some students struggled to find a rhythm around the challenges of working from home? Yes. But we have shifted the focus from simply finished final collections to how designers respond to the crisis.

It remains to be seen whether fashion students who expect university experience beyond a simple degree will appreciate these changes, especially Chinese students. Universities in English-speaking countries, particularly Britain, Australia and the United States, have become increasingly dependent on the tuition fees of Chinese students, which are significantly higher than those paid by local students.

With travel restrictions and growing anger among Chinese students and parents Wests’ permissive attitude to public health, there is growing concern that the workforce will drop after more than a decade of growth.

For now, international acceptances are keeping pace with last year, said Sir Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts in London, the college university that includes Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion. Still, we are still wondering where registrations could end.

Out of a student population of 20,000, about 3,000 are Chinese, said Carrington, with an estimated 50/50 split between British and international students at the six colleges. Annual fees for British students are capped by the government at around $ 11,500, but for international students, they are around $ 25,000.

But flights to Britain from China (and other countries) are not expected to resume until August at the earliest. Despite a delayed start to the fall term, many students are unable to take the language test required by the British government for anyone wishing to work or study in Britain due to a delay in applying. Some scientists predict second wave of coronavirus in the fall.

And there are more challenges. Brexit-related fees expected to rise in 2021, which could encourage more EU students to enroll before it goes into effect, compensating for declining enrollment in China, but only at short notice term.

We are one of the best art and design institutions in the world, so there is always demand for our courses, said Carrington. For less competitive schools, he said, the fallout from the pandemic can be much more serious.

We just don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of demand next year despite our selective recruitment, said van Beirendonck of the Antwerp school. At a very basic level, so many young people around the world are afraid, and all colleges must recognize this. But at the same time, the show has to go on, life has to go on and I think that for those who want to be brilliant fashion designers, school is often part of their path.

Carrington said that once the lockdowns are relaxed, graduate students will hopefully have socially distant access to the workshops over the summer to complement their portfolios, an essential part of job search. employment.

But job opportunities in fashion studios have become even more scarce since the start of the pandemic. Some small luxury brands like Sies Marjan and Peter Pilotto have closed their doors in recent months, while many dressmakers and model makers have been dismissed or put on leave by the biggest fashion houses in countries like France and Italy.

I worked in big companies now, so my plan was to graduate and focus on my label, said Mr. Ives, a graduate of Central Saint Martins. But the risks of doing so in a major recession are enormous. I don’t yet know exactly what I’m going to do, and many of my peers don’t know either.



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