Are you dreaming of becoming a designer? The obvious first step is a stint in fashion school. With so many prominent institutions across the globe, three of the region’s most revered creation share their experiences and tips for finding an establishment that’s right for you.
Jetting between Dubai, London, Paris and Milan, the world’s youngest couturier, Andrea Brocca, knows how to push boundaries. When choosing a school in which to hone his skills, the Italian-Sri-Lankan national applied to some of the world’s most prestigious courses. “My expectations before attending Central Saint Martins (CSM) was that it would be much more technical and less focused on social politics,” he begins. “It ended up being more of a sociological experience than a design experience, which was also very interesting. My expectation of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne was exactly what it was – very informative and quite conservative in a fabulous Haute Couture way,” Brocca adds.
The most important lessons he learnt from his time at both schools was how to thrive under pressure, to undertake quick but creative projects in less than two weeks, to present well, to look your best and learn how to pitch yourself as an industry leader. “At CSM, it was very social and trend-oriented. You could feel the backdrop of the social hierarchy affecting the socio-political dynamics around you. This made you understand the true nature of creative industries. It’s like a sect, there are leaders, and there are followers. Genuineness is scarce,” he notes.
Working several part-time jobs alongside his two educational experiences taught him how to balance humility with pride. “Remember one thing, we might be in the t-shirt and sneaker mass-market era. Still, your chances of standing out will be significantly higher by showing your individuality to the world through your work. Regardless of whether you may think you are unique or not, the one thing the world responds positively to is honesty in expression,” he says. Although his time in London wasn’t necessarily what he expected, he made the most of it by adapting. “Plus, the parties were wild,” he adds.
“I think fashion school is a lot about learning self-motivation. If you don’t push yourself, no one is going to push you to do it,” begins British-Lebanese jewelry maker Alexandra Hakim. Known for her handcrafted and sustainable pieces, she discovered her passion while studying for an Art Foundation at the prestigious CSM. She then got a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing at Rhode Island School of Design in the US. “I loved the fact that if you make a mistake, or something doesn’t turn out how you like, you can melt it down and start again,” she says of the craft.
“The best thing about fashion and art school is you end up with a community of professors and students who are like-minded and have very creative mindsets,” says Hakim. Although she admits that her experience in London wasn’t what she expected, citing it as ‘quite an aggressive environment’, ‘un-friendly’ and ‘quite pretentious’, she found her move to the States offered a completely different experience. “I made a lot of friends, and we would bounce ideas off one another. I owe a lot of what I make today to them,” she reminisces.
For those looking for the perfect school, Hakim suggests, “Take into consideration the context of the place you will be learning in. It is important to experiment as much as you can before you pick a particular path or subject matter.” For her, this means finding a school that gives you access to tools, materials, classes, courses and workshops that you may never get the opportunity to try otherwise. “Business-wise, when you’re studying design at fashion school, I don’t think they teach you enough about business. That is something that I learnt along the way of starting up my own business,” she concludes.
Malek Gheni shot to fame after his notable appearance on Project Runway Middle East. The Tunisian fashion designer who showcased his debut collection at Tunis Fashion Week in June 2019 studied at ESMOD in his home country. “There wasn’t much choice in Tunisia. That’s why I shifted my focus to international schools,” he explains. Like many, he imagined the experience to be much like you see in the movies, an artistic melting pot of like-minded people filled with color, texture, and entertainment. “It turns out it wasn’t all fun and games. It was pretty hard and serious most of the time but that didn’t stop me from excelling,” he says.
“I was given a safe place to express myself through my designs and learn the basics of fashion,” Gheni explains. He learned key skills, including sketching, moulding, sewing patterns, and Photoshop. He also developed his understanding of preparing a collection and presenting it, alongside the importance of teamwork, managing a team, and being organized. “Soak in every bit of information. Also, keep an open mind and see fashion through others’ perspectives so that you stay open to new unconventional ideas in the future,” he advises.
Gheni notes that fashion school can only help with the theory side of designing and that practice alone supports the development of some of the designers’ most important skills. “Only from working have I acquired communication skills that help me manage relationships with my clients and understand my customers’ needs and bring them to life,” he says. Other skills learnt through work included his becoming a good leader, developing an efficient working process and the importance of commercial skills, such as investing money back into the business.