How to gain a place on a BA degree
There are three key things that they are looking for at your interview: skills, knowledge and attitude.
You need to understand that while they might teach you a few things such as tailoring techniques or pattern cutting, you will really only be introduced to these topics. You will only get about 10 minutes a week with your assigned tutor, which you will show them everything you have worked on over the past week, they will advise you how to make those ideas work in terms of what materials might work better or what is missing from your design work BUT they will not demonstrate how to fix things they will give a list of ideas for you to research and investigate. You will be responsible for teaching yourself how to do all the complex techniques. So, when it comes time to interview they are going to want to know that you are capable of going off on your own and experimenting with techniques and that you will have the artist skills required to present your ideas in a way that people will understand what you have drawn.
You need to show that you can draw and that you can use your drawing skills to design. You need to show that you can use a variety of mediums and techniques to present your ideas. You need to show your ability to take one technique that you have learnt and that you can experiment with that one idea to create a number of different ideas through sampling. Eg: learning to knit in wool, then producing a number of samples made out of anything other than wool and producing a range of samples from different sized knitting needles. When it comes to the interview don’t be surprised if nobody cares about your polished portfolio and they really only care about your sketchbook work.
Again you need to understand that you will have lectures on cultural criticism and a history of visual culture but that no-one is going to teach you about the history of fashion. Also your knowledge of fashion is how you show the interviewer that you are interested in fashion. You should re-read the section on the knowledge you need to acquire in your foundation degree.
You also need to learn how to use the knowledge you already have to make a good impression. Anyone who works in design will always be interested in learning about different cultural movements and you are the expert of your own cultural movement. You need to learn how to talk about your own cultural influences intelligently. If you are an immigrant this can be about your families cultural history, if you are from outside of London it can be about the idiosyncrasies of your county and if you’re from London it should be about the idiosyncrasies of your borough or street. Ideally you can also link your identity through to a very small music and fashion movement to which you and your friends or family are a part of. Even better if you can analyse your identity in relation to cultural theorists, I will do another post on my favourite cultural theorists which helped me write about my own design inspiration and work.
There is a fixed idea that university lectures have about what a fashion student should be like, some of those ideas are based on who they were or who they would’ve liked to have been when they were your age, some of it is based on the mythic legends of people like Alexander McQueen, John Galiano and Sandra Rhodes. British myths and legends about what an eccentric talented designer should look like and how they should think. Some of it is slightly Nietzschen (read Thus Spake Zarathustra) in its ideal that the artist should be ready to sacrifice all happiness for the higher ideal of their art.
They want to believe that you are brave and experimental. This ideal, this character trait needs come across in everything, your portfolio, your sketchbook, your outfit, your test and how you talk about fashion in your interview.
Your test? Yes, your test. Plan for a possible test. You might be asked to design something (those drawing skills I told you to work on) or maybe who your favourite designers are (make sure you can name someone more interesting than Prada or Burberry – remember all that knowledge I told you to work on).
You should also read this article with commentary from some of the worlds leading fashion universities https://www.wgsn.com/blogs/10-things-you-should-know-before-studying-fashion/ and https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/education/how-to-get-into-the-best-fashion-schools . You should also see how the fashion universities rank https://www.businessoffashion.com/education/rankings/2015 .
How to do well on your BA degree
Phew. You’re in. Got your first maintenance grant. Buy a Mac with Photoshop and Illustrator. Buy a colour printer. Don’t listen to what they say on your library induction, you will literally spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on printing if you don’t buy your own, at least this way you only spend a couple of hundred. Go to all the freshman week parties, it will be your last chance to have some fun. Seriously.
Spend your first two years interning and developing your own style. Learn who you are, what you enjoy doing and which job would be most suited to your talents and temperament. Read Careers in Fashion and Textiles by Helen Goworek, think about which role would be best suited to you. Create a community of practice. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_of_practice scroll down to the section on how to create a successful community of practice.
A community of practice:This is a learning theory that describes how people learn to become fashion designers. It’s not just about doing everything you’re told to do in class. There is a lot of tacit knowledge involved in becoming a designer, you will also learn from your peers, at uni and in your internship. The main way this happens at uni is by looking at each other’s sketchbooks, this can be inspiring and give you lots of ideas. By analysing what is or isn’t working in their project and offering advice you get better at analysing your own work. It’s also super useful when you’re stuck but you have another 5 days before you see a tutor, they will help you resolve that issue there and then, and, if not them then another pupil, just keep on asking till someone offers a useful solution.
It is in your own interest to ensure your fellow pupils do well because any lecturer will tell you there are good year groups where everyone produces great work and bad year groups where everyone seems to be a bit mediocre. Bad years start with lots of bitchiness, people worried about others “stealing their ideas”, as if they invented the zip and will have low standards of work. Good years start with a cooperative atmosphere, people sharing information and the students push each other to do better. It is not just about how well you do, it’s also about how well you and your fellow pupils do, remember these people will go on to be your work network in layer years. It is also worth saying that, you don’t have to be friends with people to work well with them, these are professional relationships and you should treat your peers in a professional manner.
Third year, it’s not actually about your final collection. It’s actually about you creating the perfect portfolio for your dream job. This will be the total opposite to your BA interview, everyone who has done a BA can experiment. Someone who hires you wants to know that you can make finished professional designs and garments that they will be able to sell under their labels name ready for next season. They will also be about 10-20 years older than you and grew up in a time before Illustrator, this means that you as their junior designer will need to be able to use it.