With more Aus­tralian than French fash­ion schools in the world’s top 50, our as­pir­ing young de­sign­ers have the foun­da­tion they need to thrive.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Gly­nis Traill-Nash.

Did you know there are more Aus­tralian than French fash­ion schools in the world’s top 50?

There is more to fash­ion school than learn­ing de­sign. Take Mel­bourne de­signer Toni Mat­icevski, for ex­am­ple. Mat­icevski went through the Royal Mel­bourne In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (RMIT) 20 years ago, be­fore build­ing his epony­mous busi­ness into one of Aus­tralia’s fash­ion suc­cess sto­ries.

“It’s all about the ini­tia­tive you take your­self to make things bet­ter and learn,” says Mat­icevski. “I utilised my pat­tern­mak­ing teach­ers to share and show me as much as they knew.”

The fact that the fash­ion in­dus­try is chang­ing at such a rapid pace brings its own chal­lenges to ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, and Robyn Healy of RMIT ac­knowl­edges that to­day’s grad­u­ates need to be able to do so much more than sim­ply de­sign beau­ti­ful gar­ments.

“The sort of grad­u­ate you have now needs to be more multi-skilled. It’s im­por­tant now to get grad­u­ates with that flex­i­bil­ity,” Healy says.

RMIT was last year ranked by Busi­ness of Fash­ion (BoF) as the top fash­ion school in Aus­tralia, and 17th in the world, fol­lowed by Syd­ney’s Fash­ion De­sign Stu­dio TAFE (23) and the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney (28). No sur­prise that Lon­don’s Cen­tral Saint Martins topped the list and the United States had the most schools in the top 50, with 14. France, how­ever, had only two schools listed.

So what are Aus­tralian fash­ion schools do­ing right? The feed­back from heads of school at both RMIT and FDS is that it’s the mix of hands-on, ar­ti­sanal cre­ation and look­ing at what a mod­ern, chang­ing in­dus­try re­quires of grad­u­ates.

“We’ve tried to blend new tech­nol­ogy with what we call tra­di­tional be­spoke tech­nol­ogy. The po­tency is in the mix of the two,” says Healy.

An­drea Cainero and So­phie Drys­dale of FDS agree, pin­point­ing “a more ar­ti­san ap­proach to fash­ion, with a key fo­cus on in­no­va­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion”.

In­dus­try con­sul­ta­tion is key to cre­at­ing cur­ricu­lums that re­spond to a chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment. This can in­clude col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­dus­try on projects and prob­lem-solv­ing.

Healy adds that teach­ers at RMIT need to have a prac­tice of their own. “In the de­sign space they have to have the in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence and they have to be ac­tive,” he says. “We’re very much about the do­ing, and also cri­tiquing the do­ing.”

The lat­ter is some­thing that is hap­pen­ing in­creas­ingly since what were orig­i­nally vo­ca­tional cour­ses be­came bach­e­lor de­gree cour­ses three years ago. “With the higher-ed­u­ca­tion ap­proach, we’re en­gaged more in ap­plied re­search projects,” says Drys­dale. “We’re get­ting stu­dents to work on spe­cific prob­lems and re­solve them in line with in­dus­try.”

Teach­ing the busi­ness side of fash­ion has be­come a hot topic in re­cent years. This stream of study is in­cluded in cour­ses to a point. “You could prob­a­bly do a six-year fash­ion de­gree,” says Cainero. “That’s where we have to think about what we fo­cus on, what other short cour­ses could sup­port [stu­dents].” Drys­dale adds that while busi­ness is in­cluded in sec­ond and third year, some stu­dents fin­ish their de­gree and go on to do a post­grad­u­ate diploma in busi­ness.

Jessica Van grad­u­ated from FDS in 2015, and re­cently won the NSW/ACT Young Achiever Award in the Arts and Fash­ion cat­e­gory. She is one of those re­cent grad­u­ates now work­ing towards launch­ing her own la­bel, while work­ing full-time in a non-re­lated field. Van found the in­tern­ships she un­der­took as part of her study pro­gram to be just as im­por­tant as the sub­jects on of­fer.

“You have to be im­mersed in it to un­der­stand the strug­gles and pit­falls (in run­ning a busi­ness),” Van says. “The best thing (about the course) was be­ing taught by peo­ple in the in­dus­try with per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. There is such a great mix of the­ory and prac­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion, but also hands-on skills.”

Clothes by young Aus­tralian fash­ion de­sign­ers Sarah Schofield (this im­age and right) and Paul Cas­tro (top right).

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