Choosing your foundation degree
Where to start?
While on your Foundation Degree you need to acquire the knowledge and skills that will get you into a good university. There are many universities to choose from but Central St Martins is the best. There are a range of other universities that claim to be the second best but really they are all kind of on a level, with fluctuations in output depending on the year group, they are: Westminster, Kingston, London College of Fashion, Ravensbourne and Middlesex. Years ago these were the only fashion universities worth looking at but now when you go to Graduate Fashion Week you will see that those old hierarchies aren’t so noticeable anymore. However you do need to do your homework, go to GFW and see the type of work that each university produces.
In terms of doing a foundation, you need to check whether your choices of universities do foundations. Keep in mind that getting onto a foundation is no guarantee that you will get onto their degree course, make sure you go and see their foundation show to see the quality of the work produced and to check where the students will be doing their BA’s. You must visit every one of these universities before you choose, the people that are there at the open day are the people who will teach you, you need to decide whether or not you actually like them, because those are the people who will be mentoring you.
What they are looking for in your foundation application is an interest in fashion, an ability to experiment, an ability to create 2d designs and an abilty to make garments. If you don’t get into the foundation course you want don’t panic! There are plenty of places at Further Education colleges where you can do a Foundation Degree, again, you must go check them out first. Check the quality of the work they produce, ask them about the equipment they have and MOST importantly ask them if they have a special relationship with any of the fashion universities. I know of FE colleges having special relationships with some of the best universities, including CSM.
For your interview or application they are looking for evidence that you will have a real interest in fashion (NOT SHOPPING), ideas of your own, that you have some artistic ability and that you will work independently, experimenting with ideas without waiting to be told what to.
You will give evidence of your artistic ability by showing them every drawing, collage, painting or photograph you have ever done that is any good. You will give evidence of your ability to experiment by showing them every little sample you ever made, out of fabric, paper or whatever, any knit or weave samples you have made, photographs of everything you ever did on the stand, all the failed samples, all the laser cut or print samples. You will tell them that you did these experiments not only for school but because you were curious and trying to work out how to finish or make something. You MUST include failed experiments! Triple bonus points for those who take a technique that you learnt in school and use it to customise your own clothing, which you then wear to the interview.
You must start following some fashion blogs, this is how you will acquire knowledge of contemporary fashion.
How to do well on your foundation degree
The first thing you will notice is this is the beginning of you becoming an “independent” designer. What that means is you will get a decreasing amount of time with your teacher, possibly a decreasing amount of taught hours and definitely a lot less being told what to do. They will expect you to come to your teacher with ideas you have drawn up, sampled up and experimented with.
You also need to revisit the list of what skills you need to have in order to be a great designer, you need to start acquiring these skills prior to your BA in order to get onto a good BA:
Drawing a stylised human body with clothes – you need to conquer this BEFORE your BA, it is highly unlikely that you will be taught this and you need to teach yourself. Go buy the 9 heads book and spend half an hour every day practising drawing from it. I had to draw the naked body about 100 times before I finally got the shape right. Once you have the shape right you need to practice drawing each section in one smooth swoop, don’t use an uncertain line that goes back and forth over the same spot in order to get the right shape. Once you have a smooth swoop when you draw the naked body practice drawing clothing onto the body. The final stage is to draw in a loose style by holding the very end of the pencil in your hand so that although your drawing is perfectly in proportion it appears as though you are drawing in a casual and relaxed manner.
Visual research (knowledge of contemporary art, photography, architecture) – when they send you to research your project go to the library and flick through all the books on these subjects. If it’s a big library try and spend a half a day in there every time just flicking through books. Learn some names of some unusual artists/architects/photographers.
Photography for your own research – photograph your friends clothes, hang outside London fashion week or Graduate fashion week and take pictures of people going in and take photographs of abstract things that you can use later as research, colours and textures, walls, cement, bricks, moss, dripping pipes, rubbish in the street, whatever.
The ability to experiment: stop throwing out the failures! Start a box with every little thing you have ever tried to do.
The history of fashion – you have already started this in your A-Level. Watch every documentary you can find on fashion, there are some free ones on YouTube and BBC iPlayer. Read books on it (I’ll send you my recommended watching and reading list later). Knowledge of who all the best bloggers are and who your favourites are on Tumblr and Pinterest – start following blogs, start your own Tumblr and Pinterest account, start collecting images. What are all the major fashion magazines and who they are targeted at – spend some time visiting book shops once a month, have a flick through, choose a favourite (and no you’re not allowed to say Look, Grazia, Hello or Vogue). Who is the head designer at all of the famous fashion houses – get on Vogue.com, read the reviews, learn. Who are the up and coming designers at London Fashion Week.
Your entire foundation year is about creating a portfolio for your BA degree interview.
You will start having interviews in January so you really only have 3 months on your foundation before you will need to put a portfolio together. You should also have a couple of sketchbooks FULL of ideas to show. You need to understand the terminology of fashion. A portfolio is a beautiful folder usually A4-A3 size that has the polished finished design work you have done. A sketchbook is a rough book full of ideas and works in progress, the sketchbook(s) could be A6-A2 size, they could be shop bought art sketchbooks but it’s much better if they’re handmade or a second hand book that you have drawn in and sort of destroyed. Fill it with your drawings, photography, experiments and the photos you have taken of your friends, triple bonus points for drawing over the top of their photos and designing details onto their clothes.
Don’t be surprised if nobody really cares about your finished work at this stage and the only thing that will get them excited in your interview is your sketchbook work.
Also this is the first time that you will meet fashion professionals, go over the list of questions and start asking your teachers about their work experience and knowledge of the industry.