Colin McDowell delivered a rather caustic post on his blog titled Graduate Fashion Shows: What's Gone Wrong? (link here.) It's provocative and actually something of a surprise. Mr. McDowell, who created a platform for London Design Talent, IMG of Fashion Fringe, and has written gorgeous books about John Galliano, Manolo Blahnik, Jean Paul Gaultier and more, has written for the London Sunday Times on fashion for the last fifteen years, refers to himself as "one of the world's leading fashion commentators - and one of the most outspoken." Indeed.
The opening set the tone: "The Spanish film director Luis Bunuel once said that "The opinion of the audience is conformity," by which I suspect he meant that we all like what we know."
This seemed very disingenuous, leading the reader by very presumptuous statements and milking some that are arguably reasonable as a case against the mediocrity and banality of fashion school students. While the argument was tempered for me by his further statement that the likes of Miuccia Prada, John Galliano and Marc Jacobs exemplify originality - and in many ways each do have the privilege of avant garde and money money money (finally, I do know the history of each), I also know that they collectively employ many fashion school graduates and that throngs of design houses have queued up for fashion school graduates.
Certainly, and for many reasons, some fashion students will strive for costumery, fashion for reality TV shows or a merchandising job. The years of fashion school are an opportunity and it is certainly an imperfect system because there is as much knowledge simply imbued as earned and learned. The finale for most may result in working with a design studio and that is where they will stretch and learn what they are capable of. Many designers skipped out of fashion school and it didn't inhibit them in the least. Others never applied, never went and maybe there was simply someone who impressed their own love of fashion or style or sewing or editorial and that was enough.
Mr. McDowell was harsh, I think; maybe he is correct that the Graduate Fashion shows won't attract retail shops or designers or bloggers/journalists ... but that is true in all modalities. Frankly, most buyers look for any reason to not look at any new things. Some combination of the lingering pain of the economic downturn and a natural antipathy for anything or anyone new. But not everyone is like that. There are always buyers and blogger/journalists looking and willing to have patience for someone new.
John Galliano had his graduating class collection bought by Mrs. Burstein, put in the South Moulton Street windows of Brown's and sold right out (as they should have, clothes angels would have fought for). Isabella Blow bought Alexander McQueen's group which is just now being auctioned off and John Galliano producing a film about her.
Perhaps Mr. McDowell is right and "so many - but by no means all - fashion departments in art colleges are staffed by second-hand roses: ex-designers, failed PR people and journalists who rarely go to the top fashion shows or have any conversation with the major designers." I hope not and can't imagine the effect of a stifling, stiff, mundane teaching facility on someone creative and young and vulnerable.
There was a discussion away from Mr. McDowell's blog with salient questions and reflections. A few:
"He's got it totally wrong...The lack of creativity is NOT necessarilly about the staff its about the students playing safe because they see that as the way to get a job....Also students these days have very little understanding of the creative process. MacDowell hasnt got a clue where to start he can see there is a problem but not from where it stems. The problem is with the students who lack drive and creativity and because many staff arent equipped on how to stimulate creativity because they assume their students will have bags of it then the scenario of safe collections arises. There are TOO many colleges and TOO many students these days."
"but of course it's about the staff. Who and how many they select???? is the first issue. They should then be responsible of guiding students through the creative process . Colleges should be exciting places where drive and excellence is engraved in their DNA. I think the whole system is wrong. But then Colleges are business and at the end it is all about money.. more students more money..."
"creativity must go hand in hand with an armour that protects the soul from the dark knights of this business...(now that is very Lord of the Rings)."
"But how many active designers are teaching or cooperating in the colleges...?? not sure in London..and it's not because they don't want too.. most designers I know would love to be 'connected' with colleges..but here is no place in the schools for a dose of reality or passing down useful knowledge.. I think the system is wrong and I think Colin does have a serious point about how the system is not working."
"Does he not realise that to create something TRULY original one does NOT go to press days!! one goes into oneself; research, research and then from that is born a fresh idea. I recently judged a graduate show and yes there was conformity ( and to be honest a few too many Dhoti pants) but the innovation was in the detailing and the concept and structure. Frankly I don't need to see a space age clown on rollerskates to see talent."