Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fashion Makes the Grade

Enrolment is up at Fashion schools, but is pop culture fuelling the trend?

What do Project Runway, The Hills, The Fashionista Diaries, and The Devil Wears Prada all have in common? They have all popularized the fashion industry and sent fashion school enrolments to skyrocket. Those educated in fashion used to be few and far between, but these days, young fashionistas are causing an uproar, forcing fashion schools to create more spots to fill this new found desire for fashion education. Project Runway is filmed at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, and since the show started airing in 2004 enrolment increased from 3197 to approximately 4000 in 2007. Mainstream America’s most well-known fashion school student, Lauren Conrad of the Hills, attends the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in California. FIDM’s enrolment in 2004 was 3191 and has since soared to 7500 in 2008. Coincidence? Not likely, but some may beg to differ.

The aforementioned shows have brought a large amount of attention to the industry, but do these shows and movies provide us with an accurate representation of the industry? The Hills follows a young woman that, in the span of two years, went from being a fashion magazine intern to appearing on the cover of that very magazine and showing her own line at LA Fashion Week. Project Runway launches a virtually unknown designer’s career by awarding the winner $100,000 to design their own line, a show at New York Fashion Week, and a spread in Elle Magazine. Talk to any new designer and they will surely tell you that these situations are not the norm. Many designers, in spite of being hugely talented, may never show at Fashion Week, and may never have their designs appear in a major magazine – and not for the lack of trying. So, are these shows setting up our young fashion enthusiasts for disappointment? Maybe not. If you watch The Fashionista Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada you may get a fairer representation of the industry. The Fashionista Diaries featured seven young interns that experienced the ups and downs of working in the industry – from losing a job to clashing opinions, low pay, and a rude and disrespectful boss. At the end of it all, only a couple of the fashionistas ended up with a paying job while the rest were left in the unemployment line. Similarly, The Devil Wears Prada showed viewers the trials and tribulations of the sometimes cutthroat fashion industry.

Celebrity designers have also popularized the industry and perhaps added fuel to the fire. Paris Hilton, Heidi Montag, J.Lo, P. Diddy, and even Eminem have their own fashion lines, making it seem like an easy task. They’ve attained fame and fortune, so with little or no fashion training or technical design skills these celebrities have decided to start their own fashion line? Yes, it sounds crazy and some fail, some succeed, but the cultural effects are lasting – young celebrity fans everywhere are convinced they can follow in the fabulous footsteps of their favourite star.

Although enrolment is up in fashion programs, jobs in fashion design, according to the US Department of Labour Bureau’s 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook, are going to slowly grow by only 5% until 2016. This is in large due to the fact that there is very little turnover and few new jobs are being created in the industry. Even worse, there is little or no job growth expected for buyers and purchasing managers until 2016. So why the high enrolment numbers? Well we can’t forget that there are so many fashion jobs outside of fashion design and buying. There are careers in fashion PR, fashion sales, fashion journalism, styling, wholesale, editorial, art direction, and retail – most of which are expected to grow in number in the coming years.

So pop culture may have caused more students to enrol in fashion programs or it may have simply reminded them of their already existing interest in fashion, but regardless of the cause, we can’t ignore the fact that students are signing up for fashion programs en masse. The positive side to fashion becoming a mainstream industry is that this once ‘dream career’ has made students see that fashion is an attainable sector to work in. Time will tell if the fashion industry’s over exposure in books, television, and movies is a good thing. In the meantime, it has encouraged creativity, eagerness, and has added a great sense of variety to the industry, and a little competition never hurt anyone!


Cassandre said...

Well written! I like the examples used. Fashionista Diaries was a great show!

cassandra ray said...

Good article, I love that you mentioned how the fashion industry is now "an attainable sector to work in."